Can a pizza be edible art? I think so because my buddy Jim Griffin and his crew are known for their hand-crafted masterpieces. Their studio is a small bistro in the hamlet of Templeton — conveniently located a few miles from my house. Folks come from far and wide to eat their pizza. (Hidden tip: if you’re driving between LA and San Francisco on Hwy 101, Templeton is about half-way. So time your departure accordingly.) Click on the pic above to see those pies extra-large.
When Jim asked me to shoot a portfolio for his new website, I knew there was only one time to shoot–Friday night when the kitchen is hopping and the pies are flying. It had to be a Friday night because Jim wanted pix that looked like his food rather than over-styled fabrications. The challenge would be to shoot the food without creating a delay in the service.
So I set up shop right in the middle of the small, crowded kitchen on a Friday night. By small, I mean that the whole area measures about 250 s.f. — including the oven, the hot and cold prep lines, the front counter, and all the staff. My gear was one camera (5DM2), one lens (24-70mm f/2.8L) two Speedlites (580EX IIs), a Sto-Fen dome diffuser, an umbrella adapter, and…don’t miss this, a Cardellini clamp.
I had just a half-minute (at the most) to photograph the pizzas after they were prepped for service. Basically I used the ever-versatile Cardellini clamp to bolt a Speedlite to the adjacent table. I controlled the slave with the master in my camera’s hot shoe — which I disabled so that it would not throw on-camera flash at the usbject. “Disabled” means that the master sends the instructions to the slave(s) via a pre-flash and then remains dark when the shutter is open. As the distance between the slaved Speedlite and the pizzas did not change, I operated the Speedlites in Manual mode for consistency from flash to flash. When I shoot food moving out of the kitchen in the hands of the servers, then I switch to E-TTL because the subject-to-flash distance is variable.
My sensei, Joe McNally has the Justin clamp. I have the Cardellini. A Cardellini (which is also known as a “Matthellini”) is essentially a pair of vice jaws on a long threaded shaft. It will grab onto anything from a pane of glass to a large pipe and hold securely. In a restaurant kitchen, and everywhere else, the Cardellini will lock down securely and can be removed in a few seconds. To connect a Speedlite to a Cardellini, as you can see below, you need a swivel adapter and a cold shoe. You can read more about the Cardellini here in an article I wrote on PixSylated about how I used it to turn a ladder into a light stand.
The ambient light in the kitchen was bright fluorescent. The good — and the bad thing — about fluorescent is that it’s everywhere. Food benefits from the highlights created by directional light. To overcome the ambient light, as you can see below, I just dialed my shutter speed to a point where the camera did not record much of it.
If you’re wondering what the name of this place is…it’s Griff’s Bistro & Pizzeria. Unfortunately Griff’s is closed for the next six months as it re-builds after a mid-December kitchen fire (middle of the night, no one hurt). Believe me, it’ll be worth the wait…and the drive.
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