Getting Ready
raven b. varona

We Got Ready with Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s Tour Photographer, Raven B. Varona, Last Night

Ahead of the iHeartRadio Music Awards.

By: Jodi Taylor
Photography: Tristan Kallas

If you’re not familiar with the name Raven Varona, you’re definitely familiar with her work. You know all of the incredible photos that filled your Instagram feed for five months of Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s OTR II tour? All Varona’s. Or Ravie B. as her 100k-plus followers know her. All of the aforementioned images earned the photographer an iHeartRadio nomination for Best Tour Photographer (well deserved, if you ask us), so naturally we gave her a call to see if we could sit in on her getting-ready sesh.

The air was calm in Varona’s hotel room as she and mom (her date for the night!) did their hair and makeup ahead of last night’s awards show in Los Angeles. An R&B playlist melodied in the background as Varona curled her own hair and applied a minimal makeup look using some of her favorite Fenty products. Her stylist, Kierra B., was beside her every step of the way, loading up her arms with bracelets, and making sure her cozy-chic two-piece Topshop outfit sat just right under a Forte Forte jacket. To complete the look, Varona and Kierra chose a pair of mirrored Ray-Bans, and after a few more photos alongside her boyfriend, mom, and glam team, our favorite tour photographer was out the door and on her way to the red carpet.

How she found out she was nominated:

“I was at home, and I received a DM from iHeart basically saying that I was going to be nominated and that they needed a photo of me. My initial reaction was that I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think it was legit, to be honest. I sent them a photo, and they sent me back what became the flyer for fan voting, and at that point it hit me. I was in shock.”

“I’m one of those people that doesn’t know how to celebrate the moment until it’s over. I’m so in my own head, and I was like, this is crazy. I was super flattered. That tour for me was already so life-changing that the award would be icing on the cake.”

“I called my mom first, then I told my boyfriend and all my friends. When it was announced, it became this sort of insane pandemonium between us. My friends were so excited, they were posting on their feeds, they were encouraging their friends and co-workers to vote. It’s been a surreal few months—it’s allowing me to relive being on tour.”

“I was really excited to bring my mom, as cliché as that sounds. I was excited to share that moment with her. My whole life she’s been there for every award, whether it’s been for theater or a cheerleading thing. Everybody wants to take their mom to an awards show, no matter which one it is. She doesn’t know how to use the internet, but somehow she’s figured out how to vote every day [laughs].”

“I was very nervous. I wasn’t nervous in the beginning because I was in the headspace that’s like, if I win, I win. If I lose, I lose. I already feel like I won with the way my year went.”

Her getting-ready vibe:

“There’s always music playing. Always, always. It’s usually Apple Music’s R&B playlist. When I’m getting ready, I like the background music to be something I maybe don’t really know. Nothing too crazy that’s going to distract me. I’ve been listening to Solange’s album.”

“My hair’s super curly, so that takes up a lot of my time. A lot of people think it’s easy to keep your curly hair natural, but it’s a lot of maintenance. I love this brand Pearls, they make a blueberry bliss leave-in conditioner and a blueberry gel, as well. I also use Cantu curling cream and an eco-styling gel.”

How she calms her nerves ahead of a big event:

“Normally, because I’m behind the camera, I get the normal butterflies. This time, because the focus was on me and something that I could win or lose, I was very nervous. I’ll sit with my mom and have her give me the ‘no matter what happens, everything will be OK’ talk when I’m nervous. I’m guilty of getting in my own head sometimes. I get up there and I start to overthink things and I’m nervous and I have to be reminded by people that love me that everything’s OK.”

“I felt like [this outfit] was the best balance between cozy and chic.”

“The jacket really pulled it together, and I appreciate Kierra [B., my stylist] bringing it last-minute.”

“I’ve been doing music photography since I started my career. It started as a hobby at first, then I started to book gigs. I’ve shot so many shows in New York, I went on tour with Future in 2015 for Purple Reign for about two weeks. Then, at the end of 2017, I went on tour with Jay for 4:44. That led to me doing Coachella, and then that led to me going on tour with them.”

The most surreal moments from tour:

“So many. For one, it was my first time going overseas and experiencing all of these countries. I got to meet all of these people from across the world. My favorite tour memory might be when we went to Rome because it had marked four years since I tweeted that I wanted to go on the first OTR tour. Flash forward, and I’m on the second OTR tour in Rome, documenting it. It was a very full-circle moment for me. It re-inspired me and reminded me that I was supposed to be there.”

Her packing strategy for tour:

“I’m consistent with skin care and outfits. I normally overpack when it comes to sneakers and clothes. I try to stay consistent with skin care because I’m drinking and eating different types of things. I swear by the Ole Henriksen brightening eye cream and moisturizer—it’s become a staple in my skin-care regimen. I love the Soap & Glory Vitamin C cleanser, [and] Neutrogena face wipes save my life.”

“I became a juicer recently, we did that on this last tour to maintain health and not get sick. We’d take ginger shots and drink juices with pineapple, grapefruit, spinach.”

The biggest misconception about tour life:

“It’s not all glitz and glam. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into every tour, especially one of this magnitude. You have to be mindful of everyone you work with. You all have different schedules, we’re all trying to do a job. You have to find your own personal time, and that’s really essential. There’s a lot of traveling involved. It definitely opens up your perception of the world.

“You’re constantly working, you work before the show, you work after it ends. Sometimes people only focus on the artist and they forget that there’s a whole tour crew, production, a stage, there’s so much involved.”

“If the show ended around 11:00 PM, we’d be turning in the photos at around 2:00 AM. It’s a quick turnaround. As soon as the show ends, we’re making selects and doing coloring. It’s something that the tour did so well, we did such a good job of getting these photos out in real time. To a lot of people it felt like they were there when they weren’t.”

“The biggest thing I’ve learned in all my experiences, and anything that’s led me to any sort of success, [is that] it starts with the relationships you build with other people. From a very young age, I’ve always been told that you shouldn’t look down on anybody unless you’re lifting them up. It’s really important to always be mindful of who you’re around, being open to helping other people, and being open to letting other people help you. It’s knowing that you’re not always right and that you’re not better than anybody else. In work and in life, in building any other foundation for a relationship.”

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