All images by Xavier D. Buendia. Used with permission.
“My name is Xavier and I’m a freelance Food & Lifestyle photographer / street photographer based in Brighton, UK.” he says in his introductory email to me. “I’m 33 and I’ve been a full time photographer for about two years now and things are just starting to happen.”
Xavier is a food and lifestyle photographer and works with restaurants, chefs, and no shortage of food. He worked for 10 years in restaurants and hotels studying to become a sommelier. Of course, he’s always had a big passion for food and wine. That vigor burned out after a while and when he turned 30, he decided to become a photographer.
You see, Xavier did it right. He worked part time at cafes and bars to support his art. But he also immersed himself in the culture that he worked to work in. When he finally got his degree in photography, he got to shooting full time.
“Now I take great pride on what I do, I try to transmit my passion on every picture I take and strongly believe that hard work and dedication pay off.”
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Xavier: I’ve been taking pictures since an early age. I probably got my first camera when I was about 10 or 11 but I would only snap during family holidays and school events. I started developing an interest in photography when I was 25 living and working in New York. I really wanted to document that period in time I knew I would hardly get that opportunity again. From there on I’ve been learning as much as possible and practicing a lot.
Phoblographer: How did you get into food photography?
Xavier: It felt natural to do food photography as I spent 10 + years in the food and beverage industry. After flirting with other types of photography, food is what challenged me the most and got me the best results. Although I got into photography as a way to escape from the stress and pressure of my job as a sommelier, I never lost my love and passion for food and wine. I wanted to specialize in restaurant, bar and hotel photography as that’s an environment I’m comfortable in and the photography is less staged and styled than your traditional food photography; also, I know a trick or two on how to talk to a chef or restaurateur. They can be a bit intimidating if you’re not familiar with the environment.
Phoblographer: Your work is a combination of both lifestyle and fine art. It’s lifestyle because of the lighting and settings, but it’s also fine art because of your use of whites, negative space and contrast of colors. What influences your creative vision and how did you go about developing it?
Xavier: I’m glad you noticed that, Chris. Let’s go by parts. Before studying photography, I spent years taking art lessons of all sorts (painting, sketching, design, music…) these have an effect on how I approach photography. I tend to look for line, shape, colour, texture, volume and rhythm (a bit like the basic principles of fine art) but I grab rhythm from music as I think photography must have a pleasant rhythm on the way it is composed and the way colours work together.
When it comes to light, I learnt to see and analyze a scene from an artistic point of view, therefore I spend a lot of time studying natural light and its effects and as you noticed, I’m not afraid of whites. I know it’s advisable to expose properly and try not to go into pure blacks and pure whites, but it works for me.
The lifestyle element on my photos helps a lot with what I do. Restaurants call me because they want pictures that ultimately will help them attract new clients. I have to make those pictures appealing and desirable without altering the dish itself. I always say that what you see on my pictures is what you will get on the table.
A sense of aesthetics and design is what influences my creative vision. I don’t know exactly how I developed it but it’s taking a lot of practice and education. It’s all about problem solving and making things work.
Phoblographer: Your images are simple in the presentation, but they’re done in such a way that the average food photographer won’t be able to do them necessarily and that has to do with lighting. So talk to us about your use of lighting and how it helps to define your creative vision.
Xavier: It’s all about the light!
Restaurants take a very long time of planning, a big part of their design is the ambiance they offer and that has to do a lot with the light they use. I observe their use of light, try to set up as close to a window as possible and incorporate both into the shoot.
If natural light is not an option, I bounce a flash up at the ceiling and deal with white balance later (white china is your best ally) The main thing is to get the dish well lit get a touch of that ambience light into the dish.
I shoot food as I perceive it, as the chefs put them together and I try to capture that first impression as good as I can. There really is nothing special about it, just the love for food and a huge respect and admiration for the people behind it. I always say I think as a chef and see as an artist. That’s how I define my creative vision.
Phoblographer: When you approach a new food photography gig, what’s the process typically like? Do you go on and explore areas/restaurants first?
Xavier: I do a fair amount of research, see who’s doing what and what is their philosophy, If I like what I see and share their vision on food and drinks which has to be fairly ethical, then I approach them. I might be losing out some business here but I want to work with the right people.
Usually a booking comes in a week in advance, we exchange a few emails, a couple of calls and it’s on. A day or two before the shoot I go and have a research meal at the restaurant without telling them so it’s fair for everyone and based on that and what they would like I style our shoot.
I do a lot of research beforehand so I know as much as I can about the business and the chef. Trust me, they really appreciate that.
Phoblographer: How did you get into the business side of food photography and how much time is spent shooting vs doing other work like networking?
Xavier: By accident really, I desperately ran away as far as I could as fast as I could from the food industry that my aim was to do fine art, street and motor sport photography. I did a few food shoots here and there but nothing significant in terms of business.
Then this new restaurant opened in Brighton (Silo), they are a big sensation and a friend of mine suggested we go there and write a blog post or something so we do a bit of networking; we did a couple of pictures and a month later I get an email from their PR office saying the owner loved my work and wanted me to be their photographer. Those pictures are still reference to my work, when a new client says they want a particular style they ask if I can do the “Silo shots” for them.
Nowadays shooting is possibly 1% of my time. I’m an emerging photographer and I’m learning how to run a business. Most of my time is spent networking, sharing content on social media, marketing, researching, accounting, planning, writing blog posts, budgeting, designing postcards and flyers and getting in touch with new clients and agencies.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use?
Xavier: I use a Nikon D800 body
– Nikon 50mm f/1.8
– Nikon 24-120mm f/4
– Nissin Di622 mark II flashgun
– 30 cm silver/white reflector
– I’m currently switching tripods as I fell in love with a Sirui tripod
– And always wear black, grey or white when shooting dishes. You might get mistaken for a waiter but there won’t be any odd color casts on your food.
Phoblographer: Food photography is dominated these days by lifestyle work. Where do you see it going from there? What trends do you see popping up in the future?
Xavier: Indeed! Food is also about the experience and the people working with it, it has to tell a story and be inspiring. As long as it’s done cleverly, treated with respect and photographers understand that food is more than a subject to photograph, I don’t mind where it’s going.
In terms of new trends, I like this new bright style with colour backgrounds constantly used in advertisement. I see that flash and harsh light/shadows are making a comeback. Whatever it is , I do hope it’s exciting.