Pizza is delicious. But when it comes to pizza photography, it is one of the most difficult type of food shoots to pull off.
But learning to photograph pizza is one of the most important skills for a food photographer.
Here are seven tips to help you take stunning images of the world’s beloved food.
What’s the Right Equipment for Pizza Photos
To shoot pizza, use a camera with a full-frame sensor. This is ideal because of the higher resolution and depth-of-field.
Your lens choice will depend on how you wish to frame the shot.
If you want to shoot one or two pizzas from overhead then a 50mm lens is a good choice. It will allow you to get more into the frame. Especially if you have a camera with a full-frame sensor.
Otherwise, a longer focal length would be suitable for most types of pizza photography, like an 85 mm or a 100mm.
Don’t use a wide angle lens, though. It will distort your pizza photography. Keep your wide angle for tablescapes or larger food scenes.
Lighting for Pizza Photography
The kind of lighting you choose for your pizza photography can vary. It will depend on your skill level and the end-use of the images.
If you are shooting for your blog or stock photography, you have more wiggle room. You don’t need to be as exacting as you would for a commercial pizza shoot.
You can use direct sunlight or natural lighting and get creative with your styling and camera angles.
It’s important to get your lighting right before you shoot. Editing can make a big difference in your food photography. But it cannot make a poorly lit image look great.
Make sure your light is directional. And watch the highlights. Melted cheese has a lot of shine and can look greasy.
A good approach is to light from the side. This reduces the highlights on the cheese. To further manage the highlights, bring them down in post-production.
Use a fill card opposite your light source. This will ensure that your scene is evenly lit by bouncing the light back onto the subject.
Backlighting can emphasize texture, but it will also emphasize any grease.
Side lighting is the safest option for pizza photography.
How to Style Pizza for the Camera
Styling pizza is difficult. There are so many parts that need to come together in the right proportions to make it look tempting.
There are food stylists who specialise in pizza because it can be such a fussy and critical job.
You can buy or make your own pizza dough or pizza bases.
Whichever you choose, partially cook the pizza base. Then top it with sauce and fillings. This way the ingredients don’t have to stay in the oven long. If they do, they’ll wrinkle and dry out.
One of the things that you have to watch for is the amount of sauce you spread on the base. You need much less sauce in photography than you would when preparing pizza to eat. The sauce dilutes the look of the cheese.
Brush a thin layer of sauce over the base. Once the base is baked, add sauce along the edges of the pizza. Use a small brush or eyedropper.
When food stylists work with tomato sauce, they often drain it on paper towel. This gets rid of any excess water that can make the food soggy.
The usual cheese for pizza photography is mozzarella. Part-skim mozzarella works better than whole milk mozzarella because it stays whiter.
Buy whole blocks and grate them yourself to get the exact look and thickness you want for the strands. Keep it refrigerated until they are ready to use.
If you are shooting pizza for a client, you should pretest the product. This way you’ll learn best how to the get the look that they want. Cheeses all behave differently because of the moisture factor.
When shooting for a major brand, photographers rent a pizza oven or have the client supply one. Regular ovens don’t reach temperatures that are hot enough.
Of course, you don’t need to go to this extent or expense, depending on what the food image is for.
How to Photograph the Cheese Pull
I’m mentioning the “cheese pull” here because of how appealing it is. And it’s in demand when it comes to pizza photography.
Cheese pull happens when you lift a slice of pizza away. And the cheese stretches between the pulled slice and the rest of the pizza.
For this type of shoot, string mozzarella works best. Peel apart the cheese in long, thin strands. This should be about 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch wide. It will create that stringy look where you lift the pizza away from the rest of the pie.
You will also need some shredded mozzarella.
Someone will have to help you hold the spatula under the piece that will be pulled out. You will also have to cut a piece of cardboard into a template.
Place this under the slice of pizza to keep it straight and firm.
To create the cheese pull:
- Place the pizza crust on a pan and cut the desired slice into the crust using scissors or a sharp knife.
- Place the string cheese across the cuts. Make it thicker in some areas and thinner and others to create the stringy, “holey” look. Scatter a few torn bits across the rest of the pizza.
- Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella to hide the string cheese pieces. Make sure not to put too much cheese at the tip of your cut slice. This will weigh it down and cause the tip to bend downward when pulled out.
- Add the toppings. If using mushrooms, saute them on one side for a golden brown colour before adding them to the pizza. Don’t place toppings over the cuts of the pizza as they will interfere with the cheese pull
- Place the pizza in the hot oven and bake until the cheese melts but before it starts to bubble and brown.
- Put a cardboard template under the cut slice. Let the pizza sit for a few minutes or the cheese will be too liquid to stretch.
- Get your assistant to place a spatula under the cardboard template. This holds the slice. Then move it up and away from the pizza in small increments while you shoot.
(The Food Stylists Handbook – Denise Vivaldo)
The cheese pull is not easy and on commercial shoots, it can take half a day to get the shot!
But if you do commercial photography, then you will be asked to do this kind of shoot at some point.
How to Focus for Pizza Photography
A common problem when shooting pizza is the amount of the dish you can get in focus.
Consider how you’re going to use the image and the style you are going for.
If you’re shooting for your blog or an editorial style image, a shallower depth of field can work. It can draw the eye to a particular point of focus, like a pizza slice or the pizza pull.
Oftentimes, you will likely want your pizza subjects pretty sharp throughout
This will be more of a must if you’re shooting for commercial clients.
You will need to shoot at a much lower (high number) f-stop. Use f/11 or f/16. This means that there will be a lot less light hitting your sensor.
If you are shooting with natural light, you can use a longer exposure and a tripod.
If you are using artificial lights, you will need quite a bit of power.
A good solution is to use focus stacking.
This is a technique where you take three or more images with different focus points. And then blend them together in Photoshop.
It’s a lot easier than it sounds. And it’s a great approach to take when you need an image where every part of the food is sharp and in focus.
How to Make Pizza Look Fresh
Another reason pizza is so difficult to style is that it needs to be shot quickly.
It requires a hot, fresh and bubbly “straight out of the oven” look, which disappears in a very short time. It can take only a few minutes before the pizza becomes cold, congealed and greasy.
You need to be organized and plan everything in advance. From your lighting to having your pizza base and toppings ready.
Once the pizza comes out of the oven, you have a very short window to get the shot.
I recommend that you prepare an extra pizza to use as a stand-in while you get your lighting right.
Once you like how your shot is looking, replace the stand-in with the “hero”. This is the pizza that is meant to be in the final shot.
How to Edit Pizza Photography for a Natural Look
This is not the time to use Lightroom presets or Instagram filters.
Presets work for many genres of photography. But they rarely work well with food.
The aim of food photography is for your subjects to look as natural as possible. After all, you’re selling food; it needs to appeal to the senses and look appetizing.
Colour is such an important part of food photography. You need to have total control of it–something a preset can’t give you.
Presets can create strange and unnatural colour tones. These are especially obvious in the shadows and highlights.
If you have taken care with your lighting, you most likely will not need to do a lot of post-production.
When you’re editing, punch up the vibrance instead of your saturation. Work individually with the colour sliders in Lightroom to give your pizza photography a natural boost.
A few tweaks is all you need to take your pictures from decent to fabulous.
Great pizza images are very much in demand. Take some time to practice getting some shots.
Pizza photography isn’t the easiest, but it’s definitely a way to challenge yourself. And it’ll help you grow your skills as a food photographer.