Throughout time, people have been uniting over coffee; for many, a cup of joe is a vital part of their day. It’s more than just hot bean water. It’s a lifestyle, a consolation, an energy boost. That is why the beverage that is coffee is truly embedded and celebrated in our culture.
Consequently, the influence of coffee can be felt universally, with many beautiful stories transpiring as a result. BLK & Bold, the first black-owned, nationally distributed coffee brand, is a prime example of that. The Des Moines, Iowa-based company pledges 5% of its profits to initiatives aligned with sustaining youth programming, enhancing workforce development, and eradicating youth homelessness across the US.
BLK & Bold’s goal is to unite coffee lovers worldwide through a common goal of investing in the community, specifically for the youth. In partnership with leading food service company Compass Group, they recently released their first-ever barista book entitled Recipes for Impact, with 100% of the proceeds going to their For Our Youth program.
The man behind the book’s pictures was Greensboro, North Carolina-based photographer Dhanraj Emanuel. Dhanraj is an esteemed food and beverage photographer who creates clean, timeless, and artful images that cut through the clutter of communication and highlight the meaningful connections between people and food.
My work has a feel that falls between advertising and editorial, believable and authentic yet clean and artful.
This project was created by retail-vending company Canteen, one of Compass’ brands for BLK & Bold. Last year, Dhanraj reached out to Mark Kaminski, a creative director at Compass, and met for a portfolio review.
Mark liked my portfolio for the variety of shots I had in it. He especially appreciated the use of color, design, and lighting in my work and the fact that I am comfortable shooting on location and in the studio. As a result, he thought I would be a good fit for the book project.
Dhanraj did a lot of preplanning with Compass in preparation for the assignment, from where to shoot to the color palate and lighting, with the photographer drawing inspiration from his cultural heritage.
I come from a country (India) where color is everywhere, and it plays a significant role culturally. Over the past year, I’ve been incorporating a more expansive color palate in my work, and I was happy to have the freedom to use vibrant backgrounds in my shots.
Featuring 32 hand-picked recipes over 76 pages, Dhanraj’s mouth-watering images and BLK & Bold’s detailed instructions is sure to bring out the barista in everyone.
When I think of the brand, I think of luxury, sophistication, specialty, vibrancy, and authenticity, qualities I tried to replicate in the shoot.
Dhanraj needed the use of the facilities at Compass for various coffee machines, specialty gadgets, and products in their kitchen. Shooting on location was logistically more manageable for the client, so they decided to shoot in their cafeteria and studio. They shot on two separate days for 10 hours per day. One day in the studio and the other in the cafeteria.
We planned it carefully and took backgrounds and props we thought had a high chance of being used, and things worked out well.
Because this book was for charity, the budget was limited, so Dhanraj had a minimal crew of four people. But this worked well, as the small group dynamic allowed for an intimate and harmonious environment. On location was the Creative Director Mark Kaminski, who collected the recipes, managed the entire project, and styled the drinks, his assistant Alina Kosmala, and Dhanraj’s assistant, Amber Hogan.
The energy on set was great. We all got along well and everyone jumped in to take care of things- regardless of their role, changing a background, moving a garnish, or topping off a drink. It was a team effort.
Dhanraj has several years of experience shooting drinks and, as a result, was very comfortable on set connecting with the subjects and tweaking lights as needed to get the optimal shots.
I love shooting beverages, and glass is a fun challenge, especially the double-walled ones.
As Dhanraj was shooting 16 shots a day, the biggest logistical challenge was completing it in the allotted time and without being repetitive in composition.
Every shoot is a learning experience. On this one, I learned that I can move quickly and still get good results, and I don’t need to overthink things. Keeping it simple is key.
And it wasn’t just photographic wisdom that Dhanraj gained from the assignment!
I am a hot coffee person, and I drink hot coffee even on sweltering summer days. We had so much coffee on the set, and it was a taste fest! I reluctantly tasted cold brew for the first time and was pleasantly shocked at how good it was! I’m a fan. I always regarded cold brew as a fad, but I’m now a convert.
See more of Dhanraj’s work on his website.