Meet Rena Durham our December Spotlight!

Rena Durham is a photographer from Los Angeles, California and we are really looking forward to hearing her advice in regards to working commercial with celebrities, as well as portraits/headshots. She has already posted some helpful information for those of you how are Working with Tweens and Teens and those who are working on your marketing plans – keep in mind the Rule of Seven. Thanks Rena for joining us!

Tell us about yourself.
I have been married for almost 14 years now (can hardly believe it has been that long – seems like just yesterday we were saying”I Do”) and have the most amazing 9 year old son in the world (he truly is and I am so very blessed to have him in my life). I’m a Christian, an avid Harry Potter fan dreaming I wish I could be on the Gryffindor Quidditch team :o), an actress and voice over artist (most noted for voicing roles in video games such as World of Warcraft, Crackdown 2 and Bratz Babyz – I also am currently a cast member of Discovery Kidz Live! show in Simi Valley, California), singer (I used to be the lead singer of a recording group called “First Faze” back in 1994 – we were signed to a subsidiary of BMG records), dancer (Hop-Hop is my style) and photographer (I specialize in photographing Teens and Kids (most of whom are celebrities… from Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez to Zac Efron and the Jonas Brothers)… I am just a down to earth, real, authentic person who is generally a fun person to be around.

When did you decide to become a photographer? What does being a photographer mean for you?
I had enjoyed photography as a kid (I was friends with the group ‘Menudo’ and would borrow my mom’s Minolta 7000 and photograph them in concert or backstage, at the hotel, etc.) and everyone would tell me how great my photos were. I never thought of pursuing photography as a career though as I always considered it more of a hobby. My goals were to pursue a career in music, tv and film (which I still continue to pursue although it has taken a back seat at the current moment).

In 1999, I began doing red carpet photography after meeting a wonderful photographer who explained the ins and outs of shooting celebrities on the red carpet, how to gain access, etc. and I started going for it. I figured who wouldn’t want to photograph celebrities! It was a lot of work and late hours but it allowed me to build relationships with publicists and magazines and I started doing set visits and assignments for some teen magazines (I always enjoyed shooting for the teen mags and it really became my niche – I initially began submitting images I would take on the red carpet and then they started to give me assigned shoots). I also gained representation with my first photo agency (Zuma Press) and am currently syndicated through Retna, Ltd.

After the birth of my son in 2002, I decided that I didn’t want to be up all night editing photos of events (you need to get the images out as fast as possible so I would find myself up until midnight to 5 am editing and sending images to my agency depending on the event) and went out and bought some studio lighting. I asked publicists I knew if I could shoot their clients and began making a portfolio for myself, pitching those images to magazines, collecting tear sheets and developing a solid reputation as a photographer which opened up more opportunities. I love the creative aspect of photography. I love seeing something I have envisioned in my mind come to life on film (or a jpeg) and the reaction I get from the people I photograph when they see the images (or depending on who I am shooting – their parents, the magazines, the publicists, etc.).

Describe a typical day.
I don’t really have a typical day as my schedule really tends to vary quite a bit. During the week, I take my son to school and then get to the office around 8 am. I answer any e-mails and then I prepare for any shoots that I have that day. I have my calendar right in front of me the entire time (and write down everything I need to do – shoots, returning calls, editing, marketing, you name it so I can try and stick to it as best as I can). Some days I have headshot or comp card sessions for actors and models or celebrity shoots. Celebrity shoots require much more prep time and are generally longer sessions depending on how many looks/changes we do. I try and start my sessions around 10 am and either shoot in studio or on location. After the session, I get back to the office and download all the images from my cards to my hard drive and then do my initial edits. Throughout the day, I am also answering e-mails, returning phone calls, scheduling upcoming shoots, preparing for upcoming shoots (booking studios, catering, stylists, shopping for props, etc.) and communicating with publications either fulfilling their image requests, pitching new shoots to them, etc. Then depending on what time it is after all this and my on husband’s schedule, I will either pick up my son from school or begin the post processing on the image selects. Days I don’t have shoots, I am doing edits, retouches, post processing, etc. and trying to play catch up (on things I didn’t finish on my calendar). It always seems there are not quite enough hours in the day and sometimes you just need to set the work aside so you don’t neglect the people and things that truly matter. It’s easy to lose track of time so I find it to be really important to try and have official business hours and stick to them.

Tell us your most memorable photo shoot.
I would say that celebrity-wise it would be my photo shoot with actor Zac Efron. I did a spec shoot (which is a shoot not for any publication in particular but rather a shoot I set up with him on my own that I planned to pitch to multiple magazines). I photographed him the day before High School Musical 1 came out and he had no idea how successful it would become (who knew!) … That shoot ran in just about every teen magazine worldwide.

What are your favorite subjects to photograph? And how would you describe your style?
My favorite subjects to photograph are kids through teens (and celebrities). I have been doing it for over 13 years and am truly just a big kid myself so I feel really comfortable with this age group. I am really easy going, relatable and down to earth. I always find it difficult to explain my style…I guess for the most part I would say that my images tend to really pop, they are colorful, displaying strength and energetic. I was featured on the [Framed] Show for my work with celebrities – that should also give you an idea of my personality and style. [RENA DURHAM] Young Celebrity Portraiture | [FRAMED]

Where do you find your inspiration?
I believe you can find inspiration just about anywhere. I have been inspired by other photographer’s, magazines, films, music, books, art … Inspiration is all around you, you just have to look.

What’s your favorite image?
I don’t know if I have a favorite single image. I think lately I have been loving many of the concept shoots that I have done as editorials for La Petite as well as in the upcoming Feb issue of Babiekins. I also love the Fore! Axel and Hudson shoot. There have been so many images lately that I have been wild about, it’s pretty hard to narrow them down but I will share some of them here.

If you could buy anything for your studio, what would it be and why?
I don’t have an actual studio of my own. I have a home studio where I do many of my headshot sessions but for the most part I rent different studios depending on who/what I am shooting or I shoot on location. I live in Chatsworth, California which is about a 30-40 minute drive from Hollywood so for some of my celebrity clients (and magazines) it’s much easier for them for me to rent a studio centrally located to the Hollywood area. I’d love to eventually have my own professional natural light studio (with black out capabilities) centrally located where I could also rent it out to other photographers though…we’ll have to see what the future holds.

What are the biggest personal or professional challenges you face? Anything you’d do differently?
Having boundaries and prioritizing my family time is  a continual challenge. It is really easy for me to get caught up with work (editing into the evening hours and not spending time with family). Creating business hours and sticking to them…it’s difficult but a necessity. It is also really difficult right now with the economy being the way it is. Many of the publications I have worked with just don’t have the budgets that they once did for photo shoots so I am finding it more and more necessary to market myself and get out there and hustle again.

Future goals?
I would love to continue shooting celebrities for publications but would like to expand into doing more fashion-oriented shoots with a bit more edge than the normal tween mag shoot (would love to do shoots for magazines like Teen Vogue or Seventeen) as well as do editorials and commercial shoots for kids fashion magazines (would love to shoot for magazines like Vogue Bambini) and clothing companies. I recently shot the Fore! Axel and Hudson SS12 Campaign (worked with 9 of the most adorable 5 year old boys) and I had a blast.

Advice for other photographers?
Let’s see… where to begin? I think it is important to figure out what it is you love to photograph and specialize in that area rather than being a photographer that does everything… There are plenty of photographers out there. Figure out what differentiates you from them and capitalize on that… What makes you uniquely you and really market those strengths.

Also, don’t be afraid to say ‘No’. Someone once told me, that if it’s not a Heck Yes! It’s a Heck No! This comes in handy when deciding what assignments to take – are you excited about shooting a newborn session? Wedding? Corporate gathering? What about the pricing? Is someone trying to get you to work for free? or promising you tear sheets or credit? or future opportunities? Don’t be afraid of saying no. Otherwise you will burn out because you are overworked and underpaid. If you don’t value your work, no one else will. I’m not saying never work for free but just weigh the pros and cons and if ultimately you are reluctant and uneasy about saying yes, realize that it is okay to say no.

Not everyone is going like your style and that is okay. Some people like Coke Zero (yes!) Some people like Pepsi (me – not so much)… you’re not going to appeal to everyone. That goes for pricing too. You aren’t going to be in everyone’s budget – and that is also okay.

Surround yourself with people that are YOUR people. There are your people and there are people that are NOT your people. lol You know, the ones that bring you down and tell you that you can’t do this and that, the negative people… surround yourself with people that are for you! That are your tribe and call on those people.

Be a person that people want to work with – I’ve heard quite a few stories of photographers going around like prima donnas – it’ll eventually bite you in the butt. ::

December 13, 2011 - 11:36 am

Jennifer Folz - Thanks Rena, love your work and hearing more about what you do! Look forward to catching you on the forum this month. Merry Christmas!

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