Emily Teater takes us through her dynamic process, from building a recipe to making a meal, styling it, and finally, photographing it.
At her home in Denver, CO editorial and commercial photographer, Emily Teater’s yard is filled with garden beds of fresh produce. Her passion for photography, food, and the people behind it led her to a career in food photography.
Teater pushes what she can do as a food photographer, creating her own recipes and growing much of her own food. Carefully planning and testing each recipe, she creates user friendly and visually pleasing dishes. Using different styles for her personal and brand work, she explores her different roles as photographer, stylist, and chef.
The Luupe speaks with Teater about her experience working in the food industry and her journey to becoming an all-hands professional photographer.
The Luupe: Can you describe your process of creating a recipe – from start to finish?
Emily Teater: Like anything, a recipe always starts with an idea. It doesn’t have to be a “new idea” or a reinvention of the wheel, it can be an inspiration of a dish your grandma made or something you tasted on a recent trip.
Once I have the idea, I start by writing down any and all ingredients that could be included. Next comes the shopping and then the fun begins. I typically have a visual of what it will look and taste like so I work towards that goal, tasting and adjusting as I go.
When it’s complete, I’ll make notes of what could make it better then do it again. Once I feel I have a solid recipe, I’ll send it to a friend or family member to try. This ensures that it’s easy to understand and follow. They send me feedback and with those adjustments, the recipe is ready to release to the world!
The Luupe: Before making something, do you consider how it will photograph, and how you’ll style it?
Teater: Always. The visual element is usually the biggest piece of what I do. We eat with our eyes first so that is the driving force behind everything from setting up a set, lighting, and shooting angles to when to start cooking and how long I’ll have to photograph an item before it no longer looks appetizing. Food is so diverse and each dish can tell a story so to not take all styling pieces into consideration when planning a shot would be a disservice to the food itself.
The Luupe: Are you a photographer, stylist, or chef first? And does it even matter?
Teater: I wear many hats but the one I wear best and most is photographer. I do a lot of my own styling and cooking so I keep those hats close by but I love when I get to work on a larger set with a stylist and chef.
Yes, I believe it matters because though one person can do it all when you can find a person who does one thing and they do it well, there is nothing quite like it. The electricity on a set with each key player doing what they love to the fullest extent is thrilling and always turns out amazing images full of life and story.
The Luupe: At what point did you know (and feel confident!) you wanted to spend your life creating, styling, and photographing food?
Teater: I knew I wanted to be a food photographer after I interned as a photographer’s assistant on my first cookbook shoot. I was already doing photography and have always loved food but I didn’t know much about bringing those two passions together. After that 2-week shoot out of town, I got home and told my husband, “I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.” The confidence took more time to build with experience, but the settled feeling of finding something I knew I wanted to pursue was there from day one.
The Luupe: Where do you find your inspiration?
Teater: Inspiration is everywhere. Planting, growing, and harvesting fresh food, the life experiences, and challenges that we endure, traveling to new places, memories, shared stories with friends, and beautiful light in unexpected places. I find inspiration throughout each day and use the notes app on my phone to jot down ideas when inspiration strikes. I’m also massively inspired by the photographers who have paved the way for me to make this dream a reality.
The Luupe: Can you talk about a recent job that was particularly exciting, challenging, rewarding and/or shifted how you think about the work that you do?
Yes! It’s a personal project that my husband and I started working on when things slowed down last March. We started making quarantine cooking videos together- he is the cameraman and I the “talent.” It is so fun to get to partner together on projects and learn more about video production, editing, and how hard it truly is to talk on camera while remembering to smile! It hasn’t changed much about what I do but I plan to start adding more video to my portfolio. You can see those videos on my IGTV.
The Luupe: What food, photo, and styling trends get you excited about the genre right now?
Teater: Farm to table food makes my heart so happy. Any kind of work that highlights where food comes from, who is behind the production of our food, or how to cook with in-season food is so nice to see. We have become so out of touch with our connection to food that I love when work has a strong meaning or story behind it.
The Luupe: Are there any that you’re tired of seeing?
Teater: I try to remain a positive influence on the people around me and that is especially true for the ever-present eyes of my daughters. Kids are such sponges so I have trained myself to be careful not to spread negativity in the way I speak or see the world. While I may not be interested in a certain trend/photographic style/food type, I try to remember that each of us is at a different part of our journey and something that is old to me may be brand new to someone else.
The Luupe: You’ve been doing remote content creation for food brands. How do you get a brand’s attention? How does this work differ from your personal work?
Teater: Relationship building! It is the ultimate tool in our business and that is true for any aspect of the industry. So I tend to start with an email and an open invitation to begin a relationship. That along with a strong portfolio has been my biggest key to success.
The Luupe: How does this work differ from your personal work?
Teater: My work for a brand is different than my personal work because a brand may have a style that is not the same as what I would lean towards. Working with brands means adapting to their style in order to serve their needs which in turn allows me to have the freedom to practice my personal style in my free time.
The Luupe: Food is linked so deeply to different people and culture. Is this something that you want to further explore through photography?
Teater: Absolutely. This was actually the year when I was planning a few bigger trips to explore food and culture but with the pandemic, I have had to take to learning through other means like reading and documentaries. It’s nice to have the world at our fingertips but I look forward to seeing and experiencing it myself.