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Rosemary and Potato Pizza

Rosemary and Potato Pizza

5 Ways Pizza and Photography are Similar

What does crafting a pizza from scratch and the photographic process have in common? Plenty, as it turns out.

I've been a photographer for more than 20 years, and an educator for just as long. I've had plenty of time to think about the photographic process and come up with analogies to help students understand various concepts. Whether or not these analogies come from a technical or creative perspective does not matter, and in many ways making pizza serves up plenty of fodder for making difficult photographic concepts more palatable and easy to understand.

In this article I will outline a few ways that crafting artisan pizzas and making photographs are more similar than not.

Observed Moments

Observed Moments

The Right Ingredients Matter

I've thought a lot about what makes a great pizza. I have many books from different authors, all of whom are fiercely opinionated about flour, water, tomatoes, cheese, and yeast. The ingredients in a pizza are really rather simple, at the most basic, and the same can be said for a photograph. The problem with both photography and pizza making, however, is that many are misled in thinking that there is a magic piece of technology or a holy tomato grown in volcanic soil that will lead to nirvana. We all chase these imaginary and mystical elements to give our work and our food that something extra. It's a cautionary tale really, because even though the right ingredients do matter, they are NOT everything. The ingredients that matter are probably just a bit different for each of us. My point in saying that ingredients matter is to make you step back and ask yourself if your ingredients are helping you reach your goals. Do the lenses you use, and even the format of the camera help move you towards the goals you have set for the work you do? Or do they distract from those goals? In your pizza making are San Marzano tomatoes grown in Italy the thing you need to hunt down and pay 3x the normal amount necessary? Possibly. But you should think about these things before blindly following advice. Think. Reflect. Decide. Then you will know what variables in your craft help your style shine most brightly.


Take Your Time

Slow Time, Lake Michigan

Slow Time, Lake Michigan

Put another way, do not rush. We are always rushing through our day, through our processes, through our making and editing, and this is detrimental to good craft, and good food. The French term mise en place (meeze-on-plahs) means everything in its place, and is used to describe the process of measuring, cutting, and organizing all the ingredients into discrete portions. Photographically, if we practice this philosophy of prepping and organizing our materials we will naturally slow down, and become more aware of the environment, of the talent on set, of potential speed bumps in the image making process. In the pizza making journey, having everything organized allows the artisan to focus on execution rather than searching for the basil under a pile of mushrooms.

Keep it Simple

Keeping It Simple…

Keeping It Simple…

Eager pizza novices often fall into the trap of piling on toppings until the weight, and moisture content, overwhelm the dough. This results in a pile of unevenly cooked ingredients atop of mushy 'crust' that stands no chance of supporting the load. I've seen this happen with photographers too, especially in the post production process. New tools, new plug-ins, techniques, and filters get piled on top of the base image which stands no chance of holding up under the weight of such manipulation. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of experimentation and of working through iterations on an image, but in the end I have found that paring things down to just the bare minimum often produces better images. Likewise, pick one or two toppings for your pizza-and let those shine on their own. Reducing the complexity of your processes and of the techniques you pile on top of your images is a surefire way to allow your personal vision to be clearly communicated.

Sometimes it's Better the Next Day

Oven-fresh pizza is amazing. There is no denying that fact. However, if you put distance between the process of making the pizza-of all the complexities of prepping ingredients, assembling, baking, and of course consuming--there can be a refreshing purity in day old pizza reheated on your stone. I haven't really been able to figure out why, but I acknowledge the fact that it is true. Distance. Time. Separation. These things put you in a different mindset, and that allows for both a new appreciation of the flavors of the pizza, and a new way of seeing the images you have captured. It's easy to make a knee-jerk reaction to the LCD screen on the camera, to pre-judge the success or failure of an image on a tiny 3" monitor, and this can lead to fewer saved shots, to fewer well seen images. This pre-judgment and the immediacy of the technology at our fingertips creates both distraction and expectation for what the final image will look like. My thought is that if we give ourselves time and distance from when the shutter is snapped, we will see our images with new eyes, and most likely a more astute mind as well.

Magic Happens

This is Magic

This is Magic

This is true for all art forms. Enter the Muse. That mysterious entity that visits us at the most random of times. We cannot force it, we can only embrace it and react to it as we are flooded by the serendipitous harmony of light and form, or the balance of ingredients perfectly blended with cheese and crust. Quite simply it is magic. The camera to me is a license to pursue this magic, whether in my backyard or in a foreign country. The kitchen is a place where I can craft delicious experiences and to share those creations with friends and family. 

The common element here is pursuit of the Muse and of the alchemy that occurs when everything aligns. It's not luck, because we all know that luck favors the prepared. Getting your ingredients right, and in order, along with honoring simplicity in your process are good ways to ensure that magic ensues. We cannot force it of course, but we can prepare for it, and so the next time you go out with a camera or sit down to a great meal, think about the parallels between all manner of creative endeavors. They are more connected than we may first believe. 

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Change is Inevitable

That’s what they say at least. From when one is young we are told that change is a thing that occurs, sometimes behind the curtain of life, and sometimes right out on center stage. Sometimes we forget this reality, and then life reminds us that it is indeed true. Occasionally we need to be gently shaken to remember the foundational truth of this axiom, and sometimes it just needs to be observed.

So that is what I did. I observed the change of light one frosty morning, as the sun peeked above the horizon, almost begrudgingly it seemed, and then I made this image.

1.8.19 8:35 am

1.8.19 8:35 am

Yeah, the sun doesn’t come up in Michigan till 8:11 am this time of year. It’s almost a crime. But Michigan does make up for the tardiness of Old Sol in the months of June, July, and August when it’s light until nearly 10 pm. And that is glorious. But I digress.

Change is inevitable. In all things at all times. I was made aware of this truth yet again when I ran past the same spot on a different day and at a different time. The light was as unremarkable on that day as it was remarkable on that morning. This external observation made me realize yet again the we cannot do anything to stop change in any aspect of our life.

1.12.19 12:04 pm

1.12.19 12:04 pm

What kind of profound truth is this? And what can we do with it? Stop trying doing the same thing you always do. Try something new. Look for opportunity. Ignore the naysayers. And lastly, just go with the flow.

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5 Miles of Blue

What color is the sky? In Michigan we usually say ‘gray’ this time of year. But today it’s a special shade of blue. But what exactly does that look like? Hard to say. I know in my mind what it looks like, I can see it there. But to describe it, or quantify it in any way other than to experience it would be doing this shade of blue a disservice.

That said, I did make a few photographs during my run. If you looked west the blue was distinctly different than if you looked east or north. My old iPhone may see the blue much differently than a new camera would. Cameras all have bias, as do our memories of the way things were. Photo psychologists (yes, there is such a thing) believe that photography alters how we remember things, how we perceive the world, and how we view ourselves. When we think of a blue sky, the blue we think of may indeed be colored by how our cameras record those blues.

So, what color is the sky in your mind? The images below are how the camera I carry with me everywhere (6S Plus from 2016) sees the color blue as it was today.

Is it your blue?

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West South West

41º 50’ 50.70”N, 86º 18’ 30.99 W

facing east.JPG

East North East

41º 50’ 50.70” N, 86º 18’ 30.99” W

I am thinking of this because recently I had a client who wanted a bunch of blue sky images to look exactly the same. Sure, Photoshop can do that. And I happily obliged and made them look pretty dang near the same blue. But it got me to thinking about all the things that make blue sky different both in the experience of blue and how we remember blue in our minds. Different cameras, location, time of day, time of year, atmospheric haze, humidity, and the list goes on. I say let the blues be different, and let the experience of seeing a beautiful Michigan blue sky on January 5, 2019 be one that is repeated more often than is deserved.

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Running Towards Something

Running is rarely an escape for me. But these days it is the best of escapes. Pounding feet on pavement provide a complement to the pounding heart and rhythmic music, and provide some solace from the self-doubt that creeps through my mind at the most inopportune times.

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Today it was snowing, a gentle type of snow that lays heavily on every leaf and blade of grass. I told myself I wasn’t going to make any pictures today. But it was a lie. I made two.

I’m a sucker for atmosphere, and a sucker for patterns that are only found along the roadside. There is something rather quieting in the experience of just looking out over the landscape or looking down at objects that seemed designed by an unseen force.

So these days I’m running. Running to escape, and running towards something new.

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This is Troy. We Ate Lunch Together.

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Lunch with friends is a good thing. It is an even better thing when your world implodes. Friends give perspective on what is important, or maybe what is not very important. Either way, they guide you.

South Bend, Indiana 12.19.18

South Bend, Indiana 12.19.18

The Place!

The Place!

Funny thing about the midwest: you CAN indeed find good food if you know where to look. True, it’s not like the culinary nirvana of the big cities, but South Bend has hidden gems. Cambodian Thai is one of those gems.

Sage Advice

Sage Advice

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

I just have to say that if you haven’t tried a Thai Iced Tea you are missing out on one of the greatest drinks on earth. The Cambodian Thai restaurant knows how to do it right.

Pad See Ew is on point

Pad See Ew is on point

Now back to the friend thing, and how important friends are. Friends get it when you don’t. They provide clarity, direction, compassion, and the truly important things that we often take for granted.

Chicken Satay anyone?

Chicken Satay anyone?

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We had a good talk, then we had a good walk

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A good walk after a good meal is a good thing. Take time out of your day to have a real conversation with a flesh and blood human being. It’s really all we have in the end.