Miss Universe taps Filipino
photographer to do shoot

Tondo-born Raen Badua creates for Zozi Tunzi
her final glamorous moment

Zozi Tunzi in an African print dress shot by Raen Badua

It was around 3 a.m. when my phone rang. It was a Messenger call from my photographer friend based in Los Angeles, Filipino-American, Raen Badua. “They got me,” he said in a voice so excited that I snapped out of my grogginess. I realized what he was pertaining to.

The Miss Universe Organization got him to do the final shoot of Miss Universe 2019 Zozi Tunzi before she gives up the crown. The shots will be used on the inside pages and cover of the Miss Universe 2020 Program book. “You’re the only one who can relate to this at the moment,” he told me in Tagalog. “Do you want my playlist of South African house music for your shoot?” I even joked.

Raen Badua with Zozi Tunzi during the Miss Universe shoot

Raen has done shoots for MUO. It was Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray’s last official shoot as Miss Universe and the photos were used as cover and inside spreads of the 2019 Program book. He also did a fashion shoot with Pia Wurtzbach, Miss Universe 2015.

As a Filipino, Raen knew how strong the pageant culture in the Philippines is, and what Miss Universe is to Filipinos. “Miss Universe didn’t have to explain who they are,” Raen said. “They know that I know what Miss Universe is as a brand.”

Behind-the-scene shoot of Raen Badua with 2019 Miss Universe Zozi Tunzi in February 2021 (From official Miss Universe YouTube)

That was why he was given a free reign in producing the shoot—he got the entire glam team, from the makeup, hair, to wardrobe stylist. After consulting with the creative director from IMG, the shoot was all systems go.

Born and raised in Tondo, Manila. He moved to the US in June 2006 at age 20, and joined the US Army four months later. After spending six years in the military, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design at Sanford-brown College in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In his senior year, wanting to intern for a magazine, Raen joined Seventeen magazine in New York. The design director of Seventeen found Raen’s photography portfolio strong so he introduced him to the director of photography of Studio D at Hearst. He was given the internship. “That opportunity really opened doors for me,” Raen said.

For Zozi’s shoot, Raen wanted the look to be clean, modern and couture.

During his internship at Hearst, he got to assist different photographers in shoots for various magazines like Esquire, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar.

After completing a Bachelor’s degree, he pursued Master’s in Fashion Photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York. “I’ve had some amazing instructors from the industry,” he recalled, among them exhibit curators who worked for companies like Art + Commerce, Vogue and W. “I learned more about myself as photographer. It really helped me to find my voice and aesthetic.”

Touches of African elements for Zozi’s Miss Universe shoot

For Zozi’s shoot—her first and last as Miss Universe—Raen wanted the look to be clean, modern and couture. The approach was very editorial, more than commercial, with African elements such as colorful prints, large accessories as a homage to Zozi’s South African roots.

Unlike Raen’s shoot with Catriona which was rustic, romantic and was shot on location in a warehouse, Zozi’s shoot was done in a studio with only a white backdrop. “I wanted the focus to be just on Zozi,” he said.

Raen shoots Hollywood celebrities and music artists—Mason Gooding, Cassie, Tinashe, Amber Riley of Glee, Kevin Kwan

Raen flew to New York days before, to be in quarantine, and to prepare the team for the shoot. The MUO had to move the shoot because of a blizzard. When the shoot finally pushed through, the entire team was happy with the output though it was tiring. “I wanted to prove that I can shoot Miss Universe from other countries as well, not limited to Filipinos,” Raen said.

One of Catriona Gray’s Miss Universe program book shots by Raen Badua

It helped that the Miss Universe team was happy to work with. “I love working with Esther (Swan, MUO director for talent development) and the whole Miss Universe team because they trust me and my vision. And I also reciprocate trust that they give. I know when I work with them, everything will be taken care of.”

Aside from Miss Universe, Raen shoots Hollywood celebrities and music artists like Mason Gooding, Cassie, Tinashe, Amber Riley of Glee, singer songwriter Julia Michaels, New York Times best selling author Kevin Kwan of Crazy Rich Asians. He also had two billboards in Times Square for Spotify.

What is next for Raen?

He hopes his shoots with Miss Universe would be a regular thing. “It feels good to work with people who trust your vision.” He is even open to shooting the annual official glam shots of the candidates, a highly anticipated project by Miss Universe fans. “Can you shoot 70 to 90 girls?” I asked. “I’ve done it before,” he said. “I love capturing beautiful people who are inspiring.”

Raen has a busy career in Los Angeles and he hopes to continue getting more creative and inspiring projects. He has never really forgotten his Asian and Filipino roots as he tries to excel in a competitive industry,  “I hope to see more Filipinos and other Asians in the creative industry.” And probably get to work with them. He explained that having the perfect team is crucial to producing the best shoots, “I am always thankful to have such an amazing and talented team behind me.”

Zozi Tunzi
Photography Raen Badua
Stylist Raytell Bridges
Hairstyle Jenni Wimmerstedt
Makeup Jo Franco
Asst. Photographer Romeo Lacandola
Asst. Stylist Zach Lindsey

Catriona Gray
Photography Raen Badua
Stylist Raytell Bridges
Hairstyle Jenni Wimmerstedt
Makeup Soo Park
Asst. Photographer Michael Maniago

About author


He runs a GenZ website He was contributing editor of Inquirer’s To be You section where he built a network of student writers, student athletes and models and beauty pageant candidates including Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach who was its beauty correspondent, then beauty editor. He’s styled Wurtzbach and other beauty queens for shoots. He’s a stylist and a kettlebell aficionado.

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