Mike Piscitelli Visualizes Personal Flavor
There is a drink for every Starbucks customer. Tea or Coffee? Iced or Hot? Venti or Tall? The combinations are almost infinite. Every drink reflects the person ordering, their tastes and personalities distilled into a drink. But the customization doesn’t only come from in front of the counter. Behind the counter, each Starbucks employee engages with the orders they fulfill in their own personal way.
For the launch of Starbucks’ newest drinks, Teavana Shaken Iced Teas, photographer Mike Piscitelli shot real life Starbucks baristas who make these drinks every day. He got them in the process of shaking the same tea that they serve to their customers. The clearly visible excitement wasn’t hammed up for the photographs, though. Working with actual employees is a little different from using actors and models. Usually, “real life” people need to be coaxed out a little bit through performance. Not so with the Starbucks baristas. “They were really into being Starbucks employees,” Mike explains. It didn’t hurt that Mike had built a fun and retro playlist for everyone to listen and jam out to. (He called it “90s Summertime School Girls” and it featured singers like Jewel and Natalie Imbruglia.)
Not only did he get them in action, but he also got their signature shakes. In the ads, behind each of these drink makers is a light drawing of the way they handle their own shakers, bringing the same customization to the images as customers add to their drinks. “That’s them building it,” Mike explains the real time light paintings. “None of them were posed, that’s all movement.”
They achieved the look by attaching LED lights to the shakers and the hands of each barista, and shooting the shaking process in the pitch black. They tried a few different methods, but once they figured out the technical aspect, it was all about getting the authentic movements on camera.
It was a lot of fun, but there was also a lot of anticipation. “It’s a two and a half second exposure and it takes eight seconds for the camera and computer to process it,” Mike explains. “So you shoot it and then wait. In the dark.” Everyone huddled around those screens. Mike, his crew, 72andSunny (the agency that coordinated the project), and Starbucks, all waiting in that blacked out sound stage. Seconds ticked by in the dark and in the quiet, until the shot appeared on screen. “The patterns turned out insane.”
Mike says the shoot was one of the easiest he’s had to date. Not because the process was simple (it took two sound stages, multiple set ups, and an incredible amount of planning), but because everyone was so genuinely excited and happy to be there. That makes all the difference in the world.