Interview: Stock Photographer Shamia Casiano Discusses How She Got Started, #MagicalBlackGirlStock, and More
Shamia Casiano is a stock photographer we connected with recently via Pexel as we were searching for a stock picture to use for one of our blog posts. After finding the appropriate picture, we reached out to Shamia on IG to notify her that we were using her image and the rest is history. Here we are now with an exclusive interview with the talented stock photographer with a great eye, who isn't just good snapping photos, she's also a designer and gamer.
After reading our Q&A with Shamia, be sure to follow her on social media and support her new endeavor on Patreon. if you need stock photos or design help, definitely hit her up ASAP!
What originally inspired you to pick up a camera? And what type of camera do you shoot with?
I grew up studying acting, film, and theater, so I’ve always had a passion for visual storytelling, but to be honest, photography intimidated me for a long time. I always thought you had to have the most expensive equipment in order to be considered a “real photographer.” I always thought you had to be in galleries and art shows. The photography industry felt pretentious and elitist in many ways, especially to a girl like me who grew up poor and in the hood. But I always dabbled every chance I got, snapping a few trees or road signs with my little heap point and shoot back in the day. It wasn’t until 2011 when my husband got me a Canon t2i for Christmas that year that I started shooting for actual pay—I couldn’t even believe it. People actually thought I was good enough to hire for their engagement shoots and weddings! But it just taught me that you never know until you put yourself out there and try!
In terms of my equipment, I like to shoot almost exclusively on my iPhone actually! I know, I know. I still shoot with my t2i here and there. But we all literally have some of the best cameras right in our back pocket! I mean, we pay enough for them, why not use it, right? Using my phone allows me shoot, edit, and upload at a moment’s notice and as a photographer, it’s essential to be ready for that one shot, because it could be gone in seconds, if you let it.
You're the founder of #MagicalBlackGirlStock. Tell us about this.
As an entrepreneur, I spend a lot of my time looking for and using stock images. Anyone who uses stock images knows two things for certain: first of all, stock images are great for memes because they are so cheesy and ridiculous. Second, and most importantly, they are seriously lacking in diversity! When you think of stock images, you probably imagine a white dude in a business suit giving a thumbs up against a white background—so original, right? Personally, as a black woman, I was tired of not seeing black and brown women doing cool shit in stock photography. Like, we enjoy smoothies and yoga and laughing and coffee shops, too.
So like any good entrepreneur, instead of complaining about it, I decided to create a solution. And thus, #MagicalBlackGirlStock was born, a stock image library that predominantly features women of color doing dope shit. I also made an executive decision (literally last week) to take it a step further and change the way I provided the content. Unlike Getty or Shutter, I decided to make my stock image library a Patreon-based one! Instead of just uploading a series of images onto a static site for people to aimlessly download, I thought it would be much cooler to get those as passionate as I am about WOC representation in stock photos a chance to be a part of the process. So at certain reward levels, my patrons can vote on what the next theme of stock photos could be! I also have an option that allows people access to me to shoot custom stock images for their brand or blog! I wanted something that was more personal and a way to get feedback directly from those who actually want what I’m creating, so that the quality of my work is always improving by those who are as passionate about this stuff as I am.
What led you to become a stock photographer? Also, where else can we find your work besides Pexels?
I never thought in a million years I’d become a stock photographer, first and foremost. Originally, I started out as portrait/engagement photographer and I shot a few weddings (mostly as second photographer), but weddings gave me such anxiety, I could not see myself creating any long-term goals following that path. But portrait shoots were still fun and paid the bills, kind of, so I still took on those clients for a while.
I had created a stock image folder at the request of someone in a mastermind group I was a part of, so I already knew I had a natural eye for it. But it wasn’t until last year, in a conversation I had with my mentor and biz coach at the time, Erika Ashley, where she encouraged me to submit my photography to sites like Pexels and to sell my premium images on Creative Market. From there, I made the decision to at least see where this road could lead to. Today I have 4.8 million views on Pexels and create passive income selling on Creative Market!
Next month, I’m going to be exclusively selling my photography in my patreon-based stock image library: patreon.com/shamia
Have you done song or album cover photography work for any artists?
I’ve done more design-focused work for artists vs. photography actually! I’ve had a couple of artists approach me to use my stock photography as their cover and it was extremely flattering! My dream would be to shoot for a Kanye West album, though! Putting that into the universe, right here and now.
What do you enjoy most about being a stock photographer?
The part I enjoy the most about being a stock photographer, more specifically, is that I am not tied down by seasons or even clients! I can literally snap, edit, and upload a photo I want to use as stock and it could literally sell right then and there. I don’t have to wait for wedding season, I don’t have to wait for client feedback and a million rounds of editing. It’s just me, my smartphone, and my instincts.
Your IG bio states that you are also a designer and gamer. Tell us more about that.
I’ve actually been a designer and gamer for much longer than I’ve been doing photography—I know, go figure, right? I do design work (logos, branding, social media posts, etc) while I build up my reputation as a stock photographer and I stream gaming part-time on the side of all that! I’m huge a fan of FPS games and just recently started playing Mobile Legends on my phone, which I have to be careful with. I literally earn my living based on my phone being at full battery almost 24/7, so I constantly have to be mindful of my battery percentage even more now that I’ve been sucked into this mobile MOBA!
Where would you say is your favorite place for taking pictures? The beach, cityscapes, mountains, etc?
I’m a born and bred Jersey girl from the hood - but I would have to say the beach is my most favorite place in the world. I don’t even care if it’s winter or summer, being near the ocean and the sand is like a spiritual experience for me. My goal is to move to a quiet, small beach town somewhere with my husband and our dog.
We used your "Hi Haters" photograph as the thumbnail for an article on The CAB Portal blog; thanks for taking that dope picture! How did you come up with the idea to shoot that picture as well as the other ones that use scrabble letters?
Hahah, you’re so welcome! I’m so thrilled that a music-related brand decided to use it! I was actually jamming out to music and creating these images based on what I listening to when I created that image and the others (Fun fact: Rae Sremmurd’s “Throw Sum Mo” inspired the “hi haters” one specifically)! I came up with the idea scrolling mindlessly through social media. I was on Facebook and one of my friends changed their cover photo to something hilarious spelled out in Scrabble letters - and I thought, “Wow this would be great concept/literal text-based stock photos!” So I made a note on my phone and over two days I just sat in my living room or in bed, headphones in, just creating these images.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a stock photographer like you? Where do they even start?
Whether or not you want to be a stock photographer full time or just on the side to pay some bills, I bet you already have some shots on your phone you could start selling and showcasing today! This is especially true if you’re a huge fan of Instagram, since you’ve already sort of trained yourself into using filters and perfectly curating your IG feed, right? The stock industry has moved past boring, staged photos. We are living in an Instagram, Tumblr aesthetic-loving society and stock images that keep this in mind do the absolute best! People want to look and feel like an influencer, so they want stock photos that showcase those feels. And if you’ve already got some outtakes prepped on your phone, take a chance and post some freebies on sites like Pexels and sell your best shots on sites like Creative Market. Don’t underestimate or undersell yourself, try it out and if you don’t enjoy it, then you won’t have done much extra work. Also don’t be afraid to sell items with your stock photos either. I’ve been reading a lot of successful stock photographers using sites like Red Bubble and Zazzle, to sell their art on phone cases, blankets, etc. So always be open to news ways to showcase your stock photography!