If you live in the Philadelphia area, you are likely familiar with Pizza Jawn. This brick and mortar pizza shop on Main Street in Manayunk has become a staple in the local Philadelphia pizza scene.
What is Pizza Jawn?
The owners of Pizza Jawn, Dave and Ana Lee, have been close friends of mine for quite some time. Dave and I went all the way back to Great Valley High School, and it was his passion with the art of dough making that pushed him to read and test hundreds of recipes over the years.
After successfully nailing down his signature recipes for pizza dough, Dave opened a mobile pizza company which spent 2 years popping up at private events and weddings in Philadelphia. However when the pandemic hit, and the event scene in Philadelphia was cancelled indefinitely, Dave and Ana took the risky decision to go all in on this store front property and turn Pizza Jawn into one of Manayunk’s finest food establishments.
How to go about photographing pizza?
This was my first time visiting this pizza shop in Philadelphia and I wanted to bring my camera along to capture a few food photography shots for an old friend. Photographing pizza has always been one of the more challenging food shots for me, however learning the proper techniques has helped tremendously when it comes to pulling off the perfect shot of that crust, sauce and toppings.
Here are some pizza photography tips. Most important to this process is using a full-frame camera and some high end lenses to help you get maximum resolution and a shallow depth of field. Of course your lens will depend on how exactly you want to compose your pizza photograph, maybe shooting the pizza as a whole or just individual slices.
In my case I used the mirrorless Canon R5 camera body and two lenses, the RF 85mm 1.2 and the RF 35mm macro 1.8. I often try to avoid using wide angle lenses with food to prevent any distortion of the food photography, but the macro is great for getting closeup details you could not photograph otherwise.
Choose your lighting style for the best results
In this case with Pizza Jawn, we went completely mobile not bringing any lights, committing solely to using available light from the windows in his Manayunk pizza shop. The natural light from the sun gave us well lit food photography which makes a big impact when photographing the closeups of spicy green peppers, melted cheese and pepperoni. These pizza toppings are part of the brand and when making commercial pizza photographs, you have to make sure they look enticing and make the viewer want to take their first bite!
One trick to doing this is making sure your light source is only coming from one angle, for example just the left side or just the right side. This will help eliminate the highlights on the cheese getting over exposed and blown out. And because grease can be an issue with pizza food photography, you want to make sure your photographs are both deliciously inviting and realistic. If you had to pick a day for available light food photography, you’d be best off having your pizza photoshoot in the mid to late afternoon, just before sunset.
Food stylists who specialize in pizza photography
A lot of people spend time styling the pizzas for pizza photography; however I prefer to work more naturally and capture the food true to form, without elaborate modifications. When you see the photographs, you can be the judge of whether this was successful or not. Generally with smaller food photography shoots it’s not possible to bring in a professional food stylist in Philadelphia. Of course the approach needs to vary depending on the exact type of photographs you’re shooting and who the client is. If your final food photograph is going to be used in an advertising campaign, the brand will most likely want a meticulously made perfect pizza.
If the food photographs are for use on the Instagram and social media pages of the shop, there will more likely be a preference for realistic food photographs. There are also some typical shots you’ll see when photographing pizza, like the shot of a slice of pizza being carefully extracted from the pie with the mozzarella cheese stretching. These are your typical mouthwatering food photography shots that will land you some commercial clients.
What are the different types of pizza at Pizza Jawn?
There are three types of pizza I photographed at Pizza Jawn. The first was their Detroit style pizza, which uses a thick focaccia like dough that creates an airy center along with a caramelized cheddar and pepper jack cheese crust. The second was their Grandma style pizza, which uses a longer fermented dough with a sesame seed bottom. And the third was the Round style pizza, which uses two types of flour blended and cooked at a higher temperature but shorter bake time.
All of these pizzas were covered with fresh toppings and deserved that “straight out of the oven” look, which requires photographing the pizzas hot and fresh. A pizza can become cold in just a few minutes, which will make the cheese look a little lumpy and extra greasy. So my advice for pizza photography is always to have your mobile food photography setup ready to go and shoot the pizza as it comes out of the oven for the freshest food pictures.
The results of pizza photography
In the end, the goal of the food photographer is to make the pizza look fresh and authentic. This is done with the combination of the equipment, technical decisions like focus and depth of field, the lighting, a freshly made pizza and lastly the editing to make the food photographs feel natural.
Getting excellent shots of pizza isn’t easy, but pizza is always in demand, so great pizza images will always require a skilled food photographer in Philadelphia to ensure the pictures are magazine and advertising quality. Feel free to leave comments below and let me know if you’ve been to Pizza Jawn before.
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