Rena Durham's High Style Kid Shoots

by Jacqueline Tobin

Rena Durham

February 20, 2013

When asked to describe a typical day in her life, Los Angeles-based photographer Rena Durham says it is most often spent in a T-shirt, jeans and her Ed Hardy sneakers as she does what she loves most: working on photo shoots of children and teens. In fact, Durham is one of the most prolific teen celebrity photographers in the business today.

During her WPPI seminar in March, Durham will share examples from her portfolio and discuss her process from start to finish in creating a concept photo shoot, including where and how to find inspiration, how to create a storyline, location scouting, finding props, building a team (photo assistants, stylists, make-up artists, etc.) and casting models. Here, she gives us a glimpse into a recent assignment, done for the SS12 line of Fore!! Axel and Hudson, which she describes as a “super-cute, vintage, golf-inspired clothing line for boys.”

Durham explains that when discussing shoot ideas with the owner of the company, he told her he was looking for a laid-back, retro, California vibe for the shoot and wanted to know what ideas she could come up with based on that information. “I immediately thought about the vintage 1960s-inspired W magazine cover featuring Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie several years back,” she explains, “and thought it would be really fun to incorporate some of the same elements in the shoot with the boys. The company loved the idea.”

Not only did Durham come with the concept for the shoot, she was also responsible for the casting of the models and booking the location.

“When working with kids,” she advises, “you should always expect the unexpected. One of the boys didn’t want anything to do with getting his picture taken when he arrived, and when the stylist tried to get him into the clothes, he started running down the street in his diaper (he was the youngest of the boys cast). He eventually saw all the fun the other boys were having and decided to cooperate. In the end, we got some great images of him!” Durham also points out that, like anyone else, kids can have good and bad days. She advises casting more kids than you actually need, just in case.

She also had the production set to contend with. “I needed to create a set that would tie in each of the individual looks, and give the models something to interact with,” she explains. “The first thing I did was to make a list of the shots that I needed to capture on the day, and figure out what props were needed. I knew that I wanted to incorporate a vintage reclining lawn chair and inflatable pool. I started to think about what activities one would do if you were lounging poolside, and added the elements of reading the Sunday newspaper funnies, playing checkers, bird watching, etc. I definitely wanted to keep it fun, colorful and visually interesting.”

Durham says this shoot was the first time she had ever worked with so many young kids at once, and so she didn’t quite know what to expect. “Luckily I had a great team of people to assist me and the kids were amazing. Having a great team is vital to a successful shoot. However, you don’t want too many people trying to direct the shoot. It can be really confusing for the kids and frustrating for you, as the photographer.”

(Durham gives special thanks to groomer Gabrielle Melville, stylist Maly Siharath, photo assistant Robyn Vega, the wonderful people at Fore!! Axel and Hudson and all the phenomenal models, especially those pictured here: Jayden, Laz and Elias.)

1. Kids don’t have the same attention span as adults, so
take that into account; make sure you don’t overwork
them and give them plenty of breaks.

2. Having objects in both the foreground and background
add interest and dimension to the image.

3. Sometimes it can be hard to get kids to smile while
looking at the camera. I tell younger kids that I have a
monkey inside my camera, then I proceed to tell them of
all the silly and gross things the monkey likes to do (i.e. he
likes to pick his nose, burp, fart…all the things that make
parents cringe but that kids find hysterically funny). Then
I ask if the monkey is doing those things, and of course,
they always squeal with laughter, “Yes!!” (See the opposite
image—he was leaning in and looking into my
camera after I told him about the monkey.)

4. Try to have a child wrangler or an assistant on set
(someone who can assist you in keeping the kids
where they need to be). It definitely

“Editorial Style Concept Shoot for Kids” by Rena Durham will take place at WPPI on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m.

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