By Charlie Pogacar | Photos by Rory Doyle


Social media platforms, especially Instagram, have become one of the most efficient ways for pizza shops to advertise their mouthwatering pies. Brands that can cut through the noise with high-quality, curated feeds have a better chance of being noticed, which can ultimately lead to more business.

Some operators may see other pizzerias’ feeds and wonder how much time and money have been invested in taking beautiful pictures. Of course, not every pizzeria can afford a social media coordinator or a freelance photographer. The good news for independent pizzeria operators, however, is that nearly all of them own a smartphone that should be up to the job—there’s no longer a need to buy an expensive camera or other equipment.

“There’s an old saying that the best camera is the one you’ve got,” says Rory Doyle, a professional photographer who also co-owns an independent Neapolitan-style pizzeria, Leña, in Cleveland, Mississippi, with his pizzaiola wife, Marisol. “Cameras on phones are very good these days. In the realm of social media, iPhones and other smartphones have gotten so good that they are perfectly capable of producing nice shots. It’s really just about finding ways to maximize the capability of your phone.”

Here are the top five photography tips from Doyle, who shoots for The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major media outlets and currently oversees Leña’s social media presence.


1) Shoot It Fresh

Pizzaiolos know that fresh pizza is the best pizza. Doyle suggests bringing that same mentality to shooting a pie for a social media post. “The [Neapolitan] pizza we serve at Leña’s tastes best immediately out of the oven,” Doyle says. “I think it also looks best right out of the oven—if you can photograph pizza young in its life, you’re going to get the best photo.” This also means you should plan ahead. Rather than noticing a pizza looks photogenic and trying to figure out the best place to shoot it, you might cook a pie with the intent of shooting it, having already set up where the photo shoot will take place.


2) Use Consistent Light

In an ideal world, all pizza makers would be able to photograph their creations in natural light, which often provides the best opportunity to get an Instagram-worthy shot. However, sometimes that simply isn’t an option—Doyle notes that many kitchens these days are intentionally dim. In lieu of having access to natural light, Doyle suggests pizza makers seek a consistent source of light. Light sources and light stands used for photography can be relatively affordable and will improve a pizza maker’s social media game almost overnight. 

“A constant light source can help you set up the photo and see what it’s going to look like before you shoot it,” Doyle says. “Constant light is different from a strobe light, which flickers for a millisecond. A light or multiple light sources—it could be a light stand, for example—are something you can use when the restaurant isn’t open and you have maybe a little bit more space to play with.”


3) Shoot Different Angles

Whether shooting on a phone or a digital camera, there’s never a risk in taking more photos rather than fewer. Doyle encourages pizza makers to try plenty of different vantage points when photographing a pizza. “One of the reasons to photograph it from different angles is that something that might look good on your viewfinder may not look as good once it’s blown up on your computer,” Doyle said. “If you have different shots from a lot of different angles, you may find something looks a bit better that way once you’re going to select your photo.”

Shooting from different angles will also give you a better sense of what works and what doesn’t. If somebody solely shoots their pies from overhead, for example, they might not realize some pizza toppings look better from the side. Having different types of pizza shots can also add much-needed variety to an Instagram feed and help pizzerias stand out from competitors.


4) Add Some Dimension

If you ever felt like shooting pizza can be surprisingly tricky, you’re not alone. Even professionals like Doyle sometimes view pizza, despite its natural sumptuousness, as a challenging subject. “In some ways, pizza is quite complicated to photograph,” Doyle says. “It’s a flat food product—there is no tall dimension to it besides maybe the rise of the crust or some larger toppings. But still, it’s flat to the table. In that sense, there can be some challenges.”

One of the best ways to overcome this hurdle is to photograph pies that have toppings with some dimension to them. For example, dollops of ricotta, cup-and-char pepperoni, or even garnishes like basil can help add compositional depth. Similarly, adding someone’s hand to a photo can help lend dimension and perspective. The same goes for color: Doyle notes that pizza can often be a lot of brown and yellow colors that don’t always jump off the page on their own. Colorful toppings or garnishes and background props—maybe a Parmesan or red pepper flake shaker—can help remedy this issue.


5) Get It Right

Pizzaioli may wonder if all of this trouble is even necessary. Can’t filters and basic editing skills be as helpful a tool as some of these tips? Doyle disagrees, saying pizza makers should strive to get the best possible photograph every time—and then worry about possibly making some small edits later. “If you can get the photo with all conditions as ideal as you can possibly get them, you shouldn’t have to make many edits,” Doyle said. “And iPhones specifically do a lot of weird things when autocorrecting an image—sometimes the phone goes way too far.”

Once a pizza maker feels comfortable shooting good images and establishing a baseline of quality in their photography, they can begin toying with manually editing their photos, Doyle suggests. One setting he points to is the “vignette” toggle on an iPhone, which can help focus the center of a photo by lightly darkening the corners of the photo.

Some or all of these elements can help an independent pizzeria gain a stronger social media following through superior photos. The bottom line, however, is that a social media presence is an affordable way to attract more business—so affordable that pizzaioli would be wise to optimize their social media presence, beginning with their photography. 

“It can be really time-consuming,” Doyle says. “But if you take a lot of pride in your pizza, curating an artistic feed of what that product is can be just as important. You want to put your best foot forward, and that’s certainly what we strive to do [at Leña].”   

Charlie Pogacar is PMQ’s senior editor.