How many times have you stood before a restaurant, looked at the awful photos of food and walked away? Yes, catching just that right photo, making that special meal look even more yummy is an art form. And we caught up with one of the best in the business as he snapped away at Sesame Restaurant in Dubrovnik. Award winning Xavier Buendia is a master at food photography.
And he has an international feel, based in Brighton in the UK, Xavier is, as he says, a beautiful mix of Mexican and Catalan. “I was raised to think of myself as a citizen of the world,” says Xavier. We caught up with him whilst he put his camera down for three seconds to find out why Dubrovnik inspires him and why food photography is an important tool for restaurants today.
How did you come into the world of photography?
From a very early age. I have always been taking photos and I always have a camera with me, but it started really as a hobby. I never really considered photography as a career. I can remember looking through pages of my grandfather’s Life magazine and Vogue being really blown away at the images. I used to be a sommelier, I did that for 15 years in fact. But I guess I had a midlife crisis and changed my career path. I really wanted to find something that made me happier. I’ve always been creative and artistic. In fact, it was my wife’s idea, she always said that I was very good with food and wine so why not combine this with my love of photography. My passion turned into my business. Like many things in life it all started with a friend who had a restaurant, I took some photos for me and then it exploded and within months I had lots of interest. Maybe I was in the right place at the right time. But you also make your own luck.
How important do you believe it is for restaurants to have good quality photos of their food?
The way you present yourself is very important. And restaurants should present their food in a way that truly represents the creative work that has gone into making the dish. It is a selling point of course. The food can be the most delicious homemade stew but if it doesn’t have the right attention to detail then it just isn’t going to succeed. One of the first lessons that I learned in the industry is that people eat with their eyes. You can have the most amazing gazpacho but if present it poorly it will just look like a tomato juice. Photos tell stories.
Everyone today is a budding photographer; everyone has a camera on their phones with enough megapixels to make a billboard advert. How has the rise of social media affected your industry?
It doesn’t affect us at all. I have seen it all before. I’ve seen owners ask their staff to take a quick photo of the meals with their smartphones. There is a very big difference between taking a photo and making a photograph. As professionals we are thinking about the light, the highlight, the background, the frame and the story we want to tell. Setting up the picture takes experience. But this takes a lot of experience.
Have you ever been to a restaurant and the food they produce for you to take images of isn’t up to standard?
Yes, it does happen sometimes. I tell them to take it back and tidy it up, or give them tips on how to make it look more presentable. I have to think firstly about my reputation and secondly that I am getting paid to do a job.
Is Dubrovnik a photographer’s dream?
Simply put yes! It is a very photogenic city, the light is changing all the time and there are interesting lines and contrasts. It has all the things that photographers are looking for. When I walk around the city I am never without my camera.
You have been fortunate to collect some recognition for your work, there are a few awards on your mantelpiece I believe?
Yes, the first award I won was back in 2016, in fact my first year working as a professional photographer. It was really a kick start for my career. I had two images selected for the finals and one got an award and the other a mention. I entered the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year awards, more out of curiosity. I believe it was pure luck but it's nice to get my work recognized.