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.
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
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
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.
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.