Penny de Los Santos: If you are not doing what you love, why not?

Note: I did not use any photographs by Penny de Los Santos in this post as I respect her copyrights. I could have easily copied and pasted her works from the web but I wanted to give her the respect that she deserves. I hope that when you use materials from the web, visual or literary, you ask for artist’s permission and that you give them the well deserved credit. To see Penny’s work please visit her website.

Penny de Los Santos, the photographer

Penny de Los Santos is an award winning, internationally published photographer, a senior contributing photographer to Saveur. and a contributing photographer for the National Geographic Magazine. She has won numerous awards and traveled all over United States and over 30 countries to capture some incredibly haunting images as a photographer.

I had an amazing opportunity (have no clue how I stumbled on the info about the FREE workshop but it’s only $149 to purchase now, for the three day marathon.) to watch her food photography workshop via CreativeLIVE a few weeks ago, albeit, intermittently. (did my family really need to eat three times a day?) By the end of the weekend, I learned five simple, but, oh-so- harder-than-you-think, lessons about photography. (Being that I am NOT a photographer, even one tiny sliver of a tip from this awesome professional is worth a million bucks. No Penny, I don’t have a million bucks to give you right now. May be later.)

Penny’s hardcore food photography tips:

1. Watch the camera angle – don’t just shoot from front and center. Find an interesting angle. A different perspective.
2. Light – always use natural light – coming from the side, preferably – and never use flash.
3. Edit the food if you have to. – spill the fries on the plate, next to the food, instead of having them in a separate bowl.
4. Food in prep – ‘people’ preparing food, hands, arms, in action, etc.
5. Photograph meals in process – people eating – not necessarily the action of putting food in their mouths but people surrounding the food. Their faces. Tell their stories.

Most importantly —> Food photography is not about food. It’s about people and culture. Huh? This tip blew me away. I could have stopped watching the workshop right then and there. I was good to go. But she made me stay.

(Ok, so this shot doesn’t use any of Penny’s tips but I was hungry so I was just thinking of making my Beet/Apple/Walnut sandwich. But it is from an interesting perspective, no?)

Penny de Los Santos, the motivational speaker,

Oh, sure she shared some great stories of her high adventures all over the world, described and critiqued some photos, and took photos in a teeny food truck on a Seattle street. She explained the “Why’s” and “How’s” of food photography and connected the dots for me.

But what enthralled me about her workshop were the stories of self-doubt and how her family pulled her out of negative thinking, and encouraged her to do whatever she wanted to do and to be whatever she wanted to be. Sounds simple, right? Well, not exactly, when she was in college, and wondered if she was good enough to succeed.

That’s when her brother asked,

“What if you ARE good enough?”

These words could not resonate at a better time than now as so many high school and college graduates are entering new phases in their lives this month, and are probably wondering this exact question. Andrew came home for the summer, after finishing his first year at college, questioning, what if he’s not good enough to pursue what he is interested in. (Where did the year go? I remember writing about his high school graduation last year like it was yesterday!) My best friend got laid off last week and is probably wondering what she could have done to make her position indispensable, and what if she’s not good enough to get another job. Her daughter will be starting college this fall, wondering what if she is not good enough to pursue Pre-Med. A friend’s husband lost his job when his department was eliminated and has to look for a new job in August. And he, too, might be wondering what if he’s not good enough to get a new job.

It is a tumultuous times indeed.

I, myself, have questioned, time to time, about my worth of being a blogger and a stay at home mom. I wondered, what if I am not good enough to be anything else, as if, being a mom wasn’t good enough.

But then, to add to the fire, she asked,

“If you are not doing what you love, why not?”

Since the workshop, I’ve been trying to find the answer to this question as these words resonated in the back of my mind, like a missing puzzle piece floating ‘around’ the jigsaw puzzle board, but not quite finding its place to land. These words inched their way into my consciousness again the other day when I saw a job posting that I wanted to apply to but didn’t. And then, it hit me.

I realized, the reason I couldn’t find the answer in the first place was because I wasn’t thinking to see if  I  knew what I love to do. I was automatically focusing on the “why not?” part, that I was blind to the meaning of the whole question.

And it also dawned on me that, like me, I don’t think most people know what it is that they love to do. What a revelation, huh?

So my question is,

“Are you doing what you love?”

Unless we stop and think, we are not conscious about this at all. We just do, blindly, without thinking, “Am I doing what I love?” Why? Because we have to pay bills, follow orders, go with the mainstream, or whatever. We just mindlessly do without thinking if we love to do it. Even Nike says, “Just do it!”

But I think we have a bigger reason why we just do.

We are afraid of failure.

And because of that fear, we just do whatever that comes along, not necessarily what we love. Because if we fail in what we love to do, then, what? Where do we go from there? We don’t want to face that rejection or failure, and being sub-par – the dead end to the road we’ve been striving to stay on – our dream job.

So more than just answering Penny’s question, find out what it is that you LOVE to do. Then, if you are afraid of failure or rejection, read what she says about preventing that. Her words are not just for seeking the perfect photography assignment but about life.

When I started my career, all I ever heard was no. So many doors never opened, and the number of times I felt I wasn’t good enough were endless. But still something inside me kept trying. I kept asking myself, “How can I get better? How can I grow?” And my answer to that never changed – and It still hasn’t changed:

Keep trying.
Work harder.
Stay out of your head.
Ask for advice.
Ask for honesty.
Stay open.

And no matter how bad the criticism or the word “no” feels, don’t stop believing in what you have to say photographically.
So, I say to all of you: What If you are good enough?

Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it. Whatever it is you want to be, you can be it. So go do it.

[from her blog]

These words should be written in every college campus entrance, every lobby of corporate headquarters and bathroom mirrors in every house.

So now, you have two questions, “What is it that you love to do?” and, “If you are not doing what you love, why not?”

You have some thinking to do. But before you go, watch Penny.

Do you know what you love to do? Are you doing it? If not, why not?