Q&A With Food Photographer Taylor Mathis

Mouthwatering. That’s the only way to describe Taylor Mathis’ food photography. As one of the up-and-coming names in the industry, Taylor’s unique style captures American culture and cuisine in a truly remarkable way.

Last week we had the chance to ask him a few questions. Here’s what the ex-collegiate athlete had to say:

cL: First of all, could you tell us how you got started? What drove you to food photography and photography in general?

Taylor Mathis

Photography is something that I have always been interested in, but it wasn’t until college that I began to look at it as a career. After high school, I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a swimming scholarship where I swam for my first three years. During my senior year, I was left with about 25 or so extra hours a week that were no longer dedicated to being in the pool. I used this extra time to pursue my interest in photography. I took some dark room classes at the student union and started messing around with a Canon Rebel and shooting all over Madison. I ended up getting a photography show at the student union. As graduation approached the economic collapse of 2008 occurred. This made me think twice about pursuing my degree in financial planning. After graduation, I attended Brooks Institute of Photography for about a year and a half. I wasn’t looking to get a degree, but I wanted to learn the technical side and how commercial photography worked. In the fall of 2009, I moved back to Charlotte, NC, and started my business. I began with a concentration in weddings and portraiture, but quickly transferred to food and lifestyle. Over the last 4 years, I have been working in Charlotte and growing my business.

In your mind, what’s the biggest challenge associated with food photography?

There are many difficulties that come with shooting food. The biggest challenge is dealing with how a dish will change over time. A dish will look its freshest when it is first plated. As it sits, sauces will harden and possibly begin to separate. Salads will begin to wilt and soups and dips may begin to develop a film on top of them. Some foods like ice cream or soufflé are very time dependent and must be photographed very quickly once on set. Every food will have its own specific challenges, but by staying organized and planning the shot out in advance, you will be able to capture the shot that you need!

Everyone always wants to know the answer to this one: What’s in your essential gear bag?

The lighting gear that I bring with me will depend on where I am shooting, but the three lenses that I always bring with me are the Canon 100mm Macro, 50mm f/1.4, and 17-40 f/4. I use the Macro lens for about 75% of my shots. The 50mm and 17-40mm I primarily use of overhead shots of table spreads. On a full frame camera, I have found that whenever I am shooting, one of these lenses will help me get the shot I need.

You work a lot with southern cuisine. You even have a cookbook, The Southern Tailgaiting Cookbook. What’s your favorite part of shooting this style of cuisine and why are you passionate about it?

I love meeting the people who create the dishes. There is a story behind every dish. When you see how much care and love that they put into the dishes they create, you can’t help but get excited about creating a beautiful picture of that dish! My favorite assignment was one on barbecue sandwiches. It was lot of fun visiting different pit masters and learning about the time and attention they put into creating their pulled pork masterpieces.

Your photos look like they involve lots of natural light. Are you a chaser of the light or a creative strobist that makes it look natural and why do you choose that method?

I try and create a natural light look in all my photos. I have found this natural look is best created using one light source and controlling the contrast on set with fill cards. I love finding a beautiful window to shoot by, but many times this isn’t possible. If there is great natural light, I will choose that first, but I have created artificial solutions to allow me to create this window light look at any time.  Depending on where I am shooting, I will use whatever I think will work best for that situation.

From your point of view, what’s trending in food photography now? Is there a style that’s dominant?

Food photography has changed and evolved of the past few decades. With digital being available everywhere, gone are the days of waiting to check Polaroids to see the final shot. With this, the styling techniques have evolved as well. I have noticed that overhead shots with “rustic” or “vintage” props are very popular. Whatever the style, I think that a successful food photo is one that makes the viewer hungry!  

What drove you to create your e-books and how do you choose a theme for each?

Photographing FOOD is a downloadable PDF series that I created to help all levels of photographers improve their food photography. The series originated from a series of food photography tips that I created for my food blog Taylor Takes A Taste. In photographing FOOD, I decided to extend these blog posts into 35-40 page full color PDFs that approach food photography one topic at a time. Personally, I have a hard time reading through a 300-page book, so I wanted to divide the information up into smaller portions that are easy to understand and at the same time build upon each other. The topics in the series include Window Lighting, Color and Camera, Shooting At Night, Ingredient and Process Shots, After The Shot, Outdoors & Travel, Backgrounds, and Modifying Light. In each issue, you will find behind the scenes and step-by-step examples of how I created each shot. The themes come from focusing on a certain aspect of photography and discussing how it related to taking pictures of food.     

Ok, your favorite food to eat and photograph?

Wow! That’s a tough one!  As a general rule, I don’t eat the food that has been touched when in front of the camera, but when there are leftovers that weren’t shot, I will eat just about anything. I love shooting dishes with vibrant colors and textures! It could be a still life of beautiful heirloom tomatoes or a stand of intricately designed cupcakes. If it is full of color, I will enjoy shooting it!

Where has your work been featured? 

Magazines such as Southern Living, American Way, Garden and Gun, Our State and Charlotte Magazine. I also write a weekly food photography post for Fstoppers.com

Where can we view more of your work?

You can view my portfolio at Taylor Mathis Photography, on the food blog Taylor Takes A Taste.



Topher Kelly FOLLOW >

Topher Kelly is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive. Follow Topher on Twitter@Topher_LIVE.