The Profile of a Food Photographer – Xavier D. Buendia
Hi, my name is Xavier (Xavier D. Buendia) and I’m a food & lifestyle photographer.
I’ve been taking pictures all my life.
What makes my story special is that I made the decision to leave a career as a sommelier, followed my instincts and became a full time professional photographer.
I’ve been serious about photography for about 6 years and doing it full time for 2 but still nowadays I have the same love and passion for food and wine as I did when I first started working and studying Food and Beverage Management. The only thing that has changed is that now I enjoy taking pictures of food more than serving it. The pressure and stress can be similar to that in a fine dining restaurant.
I guess more than 10 years of experience in kitchens and restaurants at top level has given me the knowledge of what to look for when shooting food and I feel really comfortable in that environment.
What are the most important factors for you when setting up that perfect food shot?
That’s my secret ingredient, independent of the conditions. I just love shooting next to a window and being able to manipulate light to my advantage. You get that magical “Rembrandt Light” effect most admired by portrait photographers.
A well presented dish.
I don’t like to stage any of my shoots unless I really have to. Working with restaurants means my job is to portray the Chef’s creations and make them look as good as they are. Most of the times shoots take place during service and the dishes presented to me are going out to a customer so I have to be pretty quick and focused on what I’m doing to get the right shot.
When asked how I do things I always reply “Think like a chef, see like an artist” Chefs place things on a plate for a reason. I look at the dish and portray it, making it look even more interesting by placing it in a frame or by trying different angles. I tend to look for textures, volume, depth and colour. In a way you can say that we are both artists.
I try to grab inspiration from different sources that aren’t necessarily food related; design, paintings, architecture… anything that helps getting a better picture. It also makes you resourceful as a photographer.
Look at this picture, for example. It was shot at Silo and while Doug was touching up the dish, his arm, hand and the dish itself made a perfect Fibonacci Spiral. It is a bit soft on the focus but the moment and the design element is there and visually it works.
I shoot a lot in between jobs. Street photography is my other passion so I spend a lot of time practising technical stuff out there on the streets. It keeps me focused and in good “photographic shape”.
What type of equipment is necessary for food photography?
What works for me is a 50mm prime lens and a small reflector for food and drinks and wearing black, grey or white clothes.
If I’m shooting an interior or an event then I take a 24mm, a flash-gun , a tripod, of course, and lots of chewing gum…it helps with concentration.
That’s all I use and I like to travel light and compact. Since a lot of my shoots take place during service, I have to stay out of the way and have lots of mobility. I don’t use artificial lighting so strobes, umbrellas and all those are out of the equation.
Who are your photography inspirations?
Yes but they are not food photographers.
Elliott Erwitt is my all time favourite and I keep going back to his work in search for answers. I love his sense of aesthetics, humanity and humour. www.elliotterwitt.com
Bob Carlos Clarke and his provoking images. White Heat is my favourite of course! www.bobcarlosclarke.co.uk
And then several Street Photographers who have inspired me to follow my dream and become a freelancer:
Nicolas Godden: www.nicholasgooddenphotography.co.uk/
Marius Vieth: www.mariusvieth.com/
The Street Hunters Collective: http://www.streethunters.net/
Like I mentioned before, I search everywhere for inspiration. I prefer looking at restaurants and chef websites and see what they are doing rather than looking at other food photographers. I think it broadens my mind and helps me develop my style instead of forcing me to copy things I see.
Who have you worked with in Brighton or Sussex?
I guess you mean to eat.
In that case, Silo is amazing, not only their food which is extraordinary but the whole philosophy behind it is really inspiring.
Being half Mediterranean I have a thing for seafood so Riddle & Finns is my favourite when it comes to seafood.
Nordic Coffee Collective is my place for coffee and work. I spend most of my mornings there when I can’t concentrate at home. Their smoked salmon, pickled herring, waffles and cinnamon buns are delicious.
10 Green bottles for wine and The Plotting Parlour for cocktails. As you can tell I’m not a pub person.
Oh and Lee at Senor Buddha knows his tapas as well. And his wine selection is fantastic!
What has inspired you to become a food photographer?
After so long in the industry, I felt I had enough.
The long hours, the stress, the pressure, the lack of social life… all started to have an impact on who I was and what my life was becoming.
At some point I found myself more interested in taking pictures than anything else. I took a degree in photography, started shooting for friends and local magazines, learned as much as a could and started to put myself out there on the market. One thing led to another and here I am.
What do you think of the Brighton and Hove restaurant/ dining scene at the moment?
It is really exciting!
Coming from a place where food and wine are such an important part of the culture and lifestyle (I’m a 50/50 Catalan-Mexican) it is fascinating that so many places are offering such diversity in styles. I’m happy to see less food is being served on chopping boards and more adventurous dishes are emerging every day. It feels more like home.