Creative Portraits That Explore Kids’ Imagination

April 29, 2021

By Brienne Walsh

Speaking with them for just a few minutes, you get the sense that Kahran and Regis Bethencourt—the duo behind Atlanta-based photography studio CreativeSoul Photography who specialize in photographing creative portraits of kids—are the rare couple that can both live together and work together, and still get along.

“We both shoot the photographs,” Kahran tells me.

“Kahran is the better photographer,” Regis interjects.

“You always say that,” she says with a laugh.

“I have trouble letting go of my ego,” he adds.

The couple, who started dating long distance—Kahran was in Oregon, Regis in Maryland—have been taking photographs for almost two decades. Regis has a degree in photography from Gwinnett Technical College, and Kahran has a background in computer science, marketing and graphic design. They developed their style by experimenting first in Kahran’s mother’s garage, and then in their own studio. Until 2016, Kahran worked a full-time job in marketing to help support them.

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In 2013, after photographing a number of Black kids whose hair had been straightened in order to get hired for jobs, the couple decided to focus on the natural beauty and creativity of kids—letting them be who they are. “To us, kids represent unlimited creativity,” Kahran says. As models, she notes, “they are usually down for anything.”

boy as afrofuturistic astronaut by creativesoul photography
Photographed with a Canon R5 and Canon RF 28-70mm f/2 L USM lens at 52mm, f/8 and 1/160 sec.

“Christopher is an aspiring astronaut who calls himself a ‘spacepreneur’ because he loves all things space-related. Our concept for this shoot was an Afrofuturistic Astronaut so we wanted to incorporate cultural elements along with futuristic pieces. We utilized two colored gels in this scene as well as atmospheric spray to give the futuristic space feel we were looking for. Our Canon 28-70mm lens allowed us to capture a variety of shots in this scene.”

The couple began offering commissioned shoots of creative portraits to parents. The parents book a shoot on CreativeSoul’s website and receive a questionnaire to fill out with their children. The questionnaire asks things like, “If your child could have the shoot of their dreams, what would it look like?”

Using the information gleaned from the questionnaire, Kahran and Regis develop a theme. Parents can book either a regular headshot session starting at $995 or a custom creative (or “AfroArt”) session starting at $2,395. All shoots include hair and makeup, but only the creative portraits include costumes. Although in the past they offered travel mini sessions in which they would photograph based on a theme—“steampunk” or “afrofuturism,” for instance—the couple has exclusively worked from their Atlanta studio since the pandemic began last March.

“Ironically, our business grew,” Kahran notes. Parents booked sessions as birthday presents for kids who missed birthday parties. Following safety protocols, they traveled to Atlanta from across the country. Kahran notes that generally, CreativeSoul does four shoots a week, for a total of 200 commissioned shoots a year. Those make up about 90 percent of their business.

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Kahran and Regis are intimately involved with every aspect of the creative portraits, which, with shipping and planning, generally take about a month to put together. The couple starts by making a mood board, which they share with the makeup artist and hair stylist. Regis then begins customizing a backdrop and any props used on set. For a recent shoot with a young girl named Midori, for example, Regis created a skyscape to stimulate “walking on the clouds.” Kahran, who has a long history working with fashion designers—CreativeSoul also collaborates on fashion shoots—reaches out to a designer whose work she thinks would fit the theme. Frequently, CreativeSoul works with Chicago-based clothing designer Alexandria Olivia and Amsterdam-based accessory designer RebelHearts, as well as clothing and accessories designers in Nigeria.

“I let the artists we collaborate with freely add on their ideas,” Kahran notes. “I find that we can get way more creative like that than if we were to micromanage.”

girl as mermaid by creativesoul photography
Photographed with a Canon R5 and Canon RF 28-70mm f/2 L lens at 44mm, f/2.2 and 1/160 sec.

“Details are so important in our work. When we are creating a character, we think about all of the small details that help to tell the story of our subject. For this shoot, our client asked for a mermaid theme, so we knew we wanted to put our own spin by adding afrocentric elements and details to her wardrobe. Our designer created a mermaid dress that incorporated African fabrics and jewels. Our makeup artist and hairstylist added their own elements to give this mermaid a whimsical feel. We used a textured blue canvas backdrop and blue colored gels on our lighting to give an underwater feel to the portrait.”

On the day of the shoot, Kahran is usually behind the lens and Regis manages the lighting. The couple uses a Canon R5 with a Canon EF 28-70mm f/2.8 L lens (they are Canon Explorers of Light). For lighting, they use Profoto B10 and B10+ packages, which they prefer because they are battery-operated and don’t leave trails of wires that are easy for kids to trip over.

During the shoot, CreativeSoul tries to make the experience fun for the kid being photographed. They only work with kids ages 4 to 16, to avoid tantrums, or having to chase restless babies around a set. Especially during the past year, when most kids were stuck at home, they try to make the experience really about the kid’s desires so that they can live on in the moment when they take the photographs home at the end.

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The base shoot price includes five digital prints and a $50 credit for a physical print, with options to add on additional products, including large-scale prints. Kahran and Regis do all of the post-production on the creative portraits. “If we do them, the images just feel like part of our style,” Kahran says.

CreativeSoul works at an enviable pace, and they’re about to get busier than ever. In 2017, a blogger featured some of their creative styled shoots, which lead to a book deal with St. Martin’s Press.

The resulting book, Glory, celebrates black beauty and features images of children from around the world living out their dreams as neuroscientists, DJs, and African kings and queens, to name just a few examples.

glory book of creative portraits by creativesoul photography

To collect photographs for the book, Kahran and Regis traveled around the United States and Europe, as well as to South Africa, Kenya and Ghana. The book was a continuation of a personal project they self-funded in 2016 when they traveled to eight countries in 35 days to photograph different kids. “We learned to always have our own power source,” Kahran laughs.

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Glory was released in October 2020 to much fanfare. Celebrities including Taraji P. Henson and Tyra Banks posted about the book on social media, and it was featured on BBC, NPR and ABC.

the me I choose to be by creativesoul photography

The couple just finished photographing their second book, The Me I Choose To Be, and are working on a second set of Glory images. In 2022, they will also release a calendar with Workman Publishing. This is on top of their commissioned shoots, as well as maintaining an online store in which they sell prints of their work, as well as a collection of school products featuring drawings of kids rocking their natural afros.

creative portraits calendar by creativesoul photography

“In a way, I really like being this busy,” says Kahran. “It forces us to stay creative and stay in the game.”

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In the future, the couple dreams of opening an experiential studio that will serve as a kind of museum, allowing people who aren’t necessarily paying for a session to experience their process. Ultimately, their goal remains the same as it was when they first started photographing kids in 2013: “We want to teach kids at an early age that they are born beautiful,” Kahran says. It sounds simple, but in practice, it’s revolutionary.