Alan Gastelum: Inspiration Is Brewing

Apr 13, 2018
Photographer Spotlight

We’d all agree that detailed pre-planning is generally recommended when preparing for a photoshoot, but it isn’t always mandatory. Just ask Los Angeles-based photographer Alan Gastelum, who relied on an organic shooting process inspired by his surroundings to create images for Intelligentsia Coffee.

Intelligentsia, known for their commitment to fair and responsible sourcing and for pioneering direct trade practices in the coffee industry, wanted images of authentic experiences in their cafés. Aware of Alan’s work for other coffee brands from previous collaborations, Intelligentsia’s marketing manager Britt Berg suggested Alan for the project.

Intelligentsia latte and exterior architecture by Alan Gastelum

The shoot took place at three Intelligentsia coffee bars in Los Angeles. Conceptually, the project would show each store as it looks every day, showing a real environment that a customer would experience on any given visit. With this in mind, the decision was made to shoot using only available, natural light, both to eliminate the “staged” feel of shots and to avoid distracting the customers with bright flashes going off. Tabletop images for various coffee drinks were required for the shoot, and the team decided that these should also be done with natural light.

Pour over coffee brewing at Intelligentsia by Alan Gastelum

Because this was more of a reportage style shoot, the pre-production calls were more focused on scheduling and less with creative. We had our checklist of imagery we needed to get, but most of the images were spontaneous.

Alan had to stay on his toes throughout the shoot, waiting for someone to set down a coffee mug or move into the right light. Perfect lighting situations and casual interactions that would make for a great image can pass in just a moment. Though the shoot generally moved quickly, he also took time to wait for specific shots that he thought would be worth it.

I sat for ten minutes waiting for someone to sit down in this frame. The sun peeking through the window was in a perfect position. To my surprise, someone finally sat down and I was able to capture this shot (below) within the first four frames.

Sunlight window at Intelligentsia coffee bar by Alan Gastelum

Relying exclusively on natural light proved difficult in some situations. One of the coffee bars was laid out in a long rectangle, and the only light source came from a large front window at the front of the store. Alan had to shoot with a higher ISO and compose some images very carefully to take advantage of the available light.

Intelligentsia barista making drinks by Alan Gastelum

Taking a break from the low light in the café, Alan headed to the back alley and discovered a beautiful wall. Inspired, he borrowed each barista for two minutes and took their portraits in the alleyway. Staying flexible and being open to ideas as they arose gave Alan the ability to transcend the creative brief and deliver an assortment of images that exceeded the client's expectations.

Intelligentsia exterior and barista portrait by Alan Gastelum

Needless to say, the folks at Intelligentsia were excited about the images, and have begun releasing them through their Instagram account. Alan thoroughly enjoyed the experience and is eager to work with Intelligentsia in the future! 

Latte on blue tile by Alan Gastelum


Client: Intelligentsia Coffee

Marketing Manager: Britt Berg

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