MASIA-tOKYO-DIEGO-ARENAS-gastronomer-lifestyle

The Culinary Photographer

Written by Gastronomer Lifestyle

Innovation Issue, 2024 

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He’s shot for Sühring, Baan Tepa, Paste, Igniv, Haoma, Mia, Blue by Alain Ducasse, Adhoc, Vaso, Keller, Wana Yook, Jhol, Maison Dunand… The list goes on and on. So, it may just be high time to turn the lens towards this prolific food photographer and somewhat silent player in Thailand’s culinary scene. 

It shouldn’t come as a shock that someone with a good eye for edible subjects has a background in cooking. When Barcelona-born Diego Arenas was 20, he decided to try his luck in the hospitality industry by applying for work at hotels in Ibiza. He landed a job working as a kitchen assistant for a hotel that served 800 guests breakfast daily. The experience validated a passion for F&B and set him off on a journey of training in several restaurants across Barcelona, ranging from tapas bars to more elevated dining. Eventually, Arenas would discover the art of culinary styling and photography and co-found Kema Food Culture and Kema Food Academy, offering food styling and photography services and training. 

In 2019, charmed by Thailand’s vibrant cuisine culture, Diego moved to Bangkok and has since been gaining the trust of many of the country’s leading restaurants and chefs to photograph their creations. Gastronomer Lifestyle chats with the photographer about his work and how one comes to do what he does.

PORTRAIT-DIEGO-ARENAS-gastronomer-lifestyle

Q: How long have you been doing photography now?
A: Unofficially, close to 10 years but professionally for about five years. 

Q: How did you get into culinary photography specifically?
A: It was during the time I had my own studio for gastronomic photography and styling. My curiosity for photography began to awaken. I already understood the rules and techniques of composition, art direction, photo retouching, and all the camera settings. Blending that with the unique advantage of understanding cooking and how a chef thinks, my journey as a food photographer began with quite a high bar—photographing a restaurant in Barcelona with three Michelin stars.

Q: What’s unique about food photography compared to other types of photography?
A: Particularly in food photography, it is crucial to understand what happens inside the dish when taking a photo. You must be able to identify if something is wrong, dry, lacks sheen or freshness. Understanding and interpreting the real colours of the food during the photo editing process and knowing the language of a restaurant are also vital. So, it’s more than just photographic technique.


Q: As someone with a culinary background, how important is presentation to food?
A: Presentation is everything, as we eat with our eyes first. Additionally, with social media, we experience the meal before even reaching the restaurant. Therefore, caring about the presentation and having good photography will spark the viewer’s desire and curiosity to come try those dishes.


Q: Are there any dos and don’ts that you can share with our audience about food photography?
A: The only advice I can give is to train your eye. Follow chefs or food photographers on social media, look at their photos, and observe how chefs plate their creations. The most common mistake I see is hiring a photographer who is not specialised in food photography for projects where the focus is on the food.

Q: How would you define “food styling”?
A: Food styling is a completely different profession from that of a photographer. To be a food stylist, it is important to know how to cook. On the other hand, to be a food photographer, it is not necessary; I just happen to have knowledge of both worlds.


Q: Do you have to go to school to be a food stylist or food photographer?
A: I have always been a self-taught person. In my case and based on my personal experience, I learned by working. During my time as a gastronomic stylist, I had the opportunity to work with many food photographers and learn from them.


Q: What do you think of Bangkok’s culinary scene?
A: The culinary scene in Bangkok is truly incredible, encompassing both local street food and the numerous chefs and restaurants doing exceptional work, positioning Bangkok as one of the world’s most important gastronomic cities. The culinary experience any foodie desires can be found in a city like Bangkok. It’s what drew me here.


Q: How was 2023 for you and what are you looking forward to in 2024?
A: 2023 was a fantastic year. I was practically booked every month and got to work with many incredible chefs. Thanks to them and their creations, I have been able to improve my own artistic skills.
For 2024, I will continue to give my best as a food photographer, promote my personal brand outside of Thailand, and hopefully undertake some more artistic personal projects.


You can follow Diego’s work at diegoarenasphotographer.com or IG @diegoarenasphoto_.

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