We had the good fortune of connecting with Rena O. and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rena, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I took a chance on a hobby and started an entirely new career path in 2010 when I established Rena O. Productions. Risks are what my business has thrived off of for the past 10 years. Had I not taken the risk to start my business – I would be living an unfulfilled life. After I graduated from college and completed 6 internships I still found myself jobless with no interview in sight. Out of frustration with the job market, I made an impulsive decision to start Rena O. Productions with a Best Buy credit card, a $500 camera, and no formal business or photography training. I had no lights, no off-camera flash, no light stands, no laptop, no photoshop lessons or formal training – just a camera and a will to succeed at all cost. As a professional creative and entrepreneur, I’ve sacrificed having a consistent income, schedule, and lifestyle in order to build a sustainable business. Your comfort, your finances, your relationships, and emotional well-being are all at risk when you are building your brand. I would put 10-20,000 miles on my car per year driving around the state and city going to photography and video workshops, building my portfolio, attending business meetings, and doing shoots of all kinds. As a result, I’ve missed friend’s weddings, pivotal family and friend events, and I’ve sacrificed living in luxury and buying the latest trends to purchase equipment. Nonetheless, with many risks comes many rewards. Taking consistent chances on myself and my business resulted in working with some of the top influencers, organizations, and community leaders in the city. In addition, I’ve had the opportunity to work with brands like Google Cloud, American Express, Ludarics Foundation, The Houston Astros, and NCAA. My latest risk was moving to Los Angeles, California. I decided to take Rena O. Productions to Hollywood to evolve professionally, creatively, and personally. Although it was a bold move to leave my base clientele, comfort zone, and safety net behind, I have already grown exponentially in all the above areas and look forward to running a bi-coastal business.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
What you are most proud of ? My proudest moment was being the Official Photographer for the 2016 Men’s Final Four Tournament. I spent 6 months documenting the NCAA’s community initiatives and the entire Final Four experience ranging from team arrivals to their Music Festival. Additionally, in 2019 I was given the privilege of being the only photographer allowed to take photos of Barack Obama during his speech at the 2019 National Diversity Conference. Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story? What sets me apart from most photographers is my customer service and ability to connect and capture a person’s authentic self. Anyone can take a picture, but I do my best to capture a person’s genuine energy, personality, and/or vision. Much of my success is rooted in consistency, being resourceful and a burning desire to live a fulfilled life doing what I truly love daily. My internships and educational journey was a great foundation but nothing could really prepare me for the journey of entrepreneurship. Some years consisted of me being a full-time entrepreneur and having my studio and other years consisted of me having 1- 3 other jobs. The main challenge I faced over the past 10 years has been work-life balance. For the first 7 years in business, I was a self-proclaimed workaholic working 12-14 hour days editing photos and videos, emailing prospects, watching youtube videos on lighting and photoshop techniques, and barely sleeping in between. In addition, I’d attend networking events, local organization meetings, and business workshops on a weekly basis to increase my knowledge and or my visibility in the community. I have personally handed my business card to hundreds of people over the past 10 years- if the number were close to one thousand I wouldn’t be surprised. Furthermore, networking and word of mouth referral have been the two main reasons for my success. Because of the above, I landed contracts and subcontracts with universities, public relations firms, start-up brands, influencers, designers, and established companies. From 2012-2015 I was on a steady incline of progress. Within a few years, I went from shooting friends, family, and events for free to being contracted to photograph content for social media promotions, marketing campaigns, and national and regional advertising initiatives. By 2016, I had attained my master’s degree in digital media studies, filmed a mini-documentary in Ecuador, and was awarded the contract to be the official photographer for the NCAA 2016 Men’s Final Four Tournament. On top of being a dedicated entrepreneur, I was also a full-time elective teacher between the years 2014-2017. Some years I was able to balance the chaos and some years I was editing during my lunch breaks, receiving calls during class, and leaving work to go straight to a shoot. To add some balance and adventure to my hectic schedule and busy lifestyle, I began traveling the world and documenting my experiences. By 2017, I’d traveled the U.S and many parts of the world. I visited countries like France, Brazil, St. Thomas, Ecuador, Greece, Egypt, and took frequent trips to Mexico. Whether I was traveling for a client or leisure, my camera was always with me and I have hundreds of photos of unreleased work from my travels I plan to launch in 2021 through various avenues ranging from fine art, print, and apparel. As of 2020, my work has been displayed on all platforms ranging from streaming services, newspapers, magazines, print advertising, billboards, and online. My portfolio has expanded to include Kehlani, Maroon 5, Jidenna, Joan Rivers, NBA Star Justise Winslow, Flo Rida, Kendrick Lamar, Faith Evans, and Barack Obama. Although I have no regrets for all the hard work, I spent much of 2019 recalibrating and reevaluating who I was, what I wanted, and how I wanted to achieve it. After 9 years of success, failure, comebacks, and contracts – I needed to lighten my load and practice better self-care and re-structure my business practices so I could actually thrive. Besides settling into the new Los Angles market, I have taken the time to begin developing an online course and e-guides for photographers wanting to evolve from amateur photographers to professionals. I’m excited to use my unique experiences and skills to educate and elevate others to take their photography business to a professional level. I look forward to integrating video production back into my services and expanding my team and portfolio to include more creatives, established brands, and artists of all backgrounds.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Everything on Grace’s ( in Upper Kirby) menu is delicious. I’ve celebrated almost every occasion there- engagements, graduations, Easter, Mother’s Day, and plenty of brunches. The ambiance is comforting and the service is always on point. I have honestly never heard one complaint about their food and I’m sure I’ve tasted just about everything on their menu. Houston is full of hidden gems. Parks like Buffalo Bayou Park and Herman Park are great for photoshoots and observing our skyline and bayous. Also, you won’t be disappointed by taking a tour of the Buffalo Soldier Museum, Houston Museum of African American Culture, and the Health Museum.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to give a shoutout to Ashley Smalls of Medley Inc. public relations firm. Her firm provided me with an internship during my graduate studies and multiple opportunities to work with their clientele over the years. I’ve seen her company evolve to cover festivals, conferences, capital campaigns, and top-notch social media marketing campaigns.
All photos by Rena O. of Rena O. Productions