Behind The Lens: Shareef Stradford

In today’s digitized era, music and photography go hand and hand, whether that be through visual efforts or capturing live concerts. Shareef Stradford, better known as Whoisreef, is a multifaceted music and events photographer who’s worked with some of hip-hop’s biggest names while building out an eye-grabbing portfolio.

His portfolio is both illuminating and arresting, creating an atmosphere that propels viewers onto the cinematic journey of live concerts through their screens. Reef has worked on several BTS sets and concerts, and photographed artists like NoCap, Rod Wave, Lil Durk, Lil Baby, 21 Savage, and many more. The warmth of his palette strikes a presence that makes the biggest acts of music right seem familiar.

We spoke to Reef about stepping into photography, evolving in the digital era, and capturing moments in hip-hop to name a few topics. Read below!

Talk to me about how you fell into being a director and behind the camera, what really led to you turning that passion into a career?

Honestly, it starts from way longer than most people might know, I was filming YouTube videos for a sneaker channel I had back when I was in 7th or 8th grade… I ended up quitting that and selling my camera I had because I was super depressed and needed the money. A few years later I started using the editing skills I acquired from editing the sneaker videos to make fan-made Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi videos on Instagram. I gained a lot of traction doing that so I decided to actually start making original content myself. 

Being from South Carolina where the music scene has grown exponentially, there have obviously been a lot more opportunities for creatives such as yourself to shine. Talk a bit about why it’s so important to have creative directors and photographers document the culture.

I feel it’s very important to have creatives document the South Carolina culture because although we have a far way to go, I feel like it is the most underrated and overlooked state in all of music and sports. If we have nobody telling our story then who will ever look into it?

You shot some really dope pictures of NoCap and Rod Wave while they were on tour, walk me through that moment and how it came together.

Haha this is a crazy story. So NoCap’s brother posted on his Instagram story that Cap needed a photographer for tour about a week before the Charlotte show, I swiped up on the post and got no reply so I was kinda bummed out but it was whatever to me because I had my mindset on shooting the show no matter what way or how I got in. Literally 2 hours before the show started I got a DM from Foreign, he told me to pull up to the show and I got to work with them at the show and afterward at the studio.

Outside of that, do you have any other endeavors that you want to get into? Streetwear and music management also seem to be a big part of your life.

Yes, I actually want to get into the business side of music. As I get older I’m starting to get more and more into fashion, I definitely want to start a clothing brand in the future. I’m not exactly sure what the future holds for me but I do know that I will most likely be an exec or CEO of a company before I’m 25.

Out of all the artists and creatives you’ve been able to capture, what’s been your favorite concert or gig to catch on camera?

Honestly, I would say the Lil Baby and Durk show, I went through a lot to be able to shoot that show and I will say, it was well worth it.

Do you feel like, with the Internet and social media, that directors and photographers such as yourself are getting the credit they deserve or is there still a long way to go?

Although I do feel like there is a long way to go, I’m starting to change my whole mindset when it comes to things like that. I’ll put it like this: if you’re hard and you have your own style you’re going to get recognized for your work no matter what. You could play me a random song without any tags and if it’s produced by somebody like Pierre Bourne you would be able to identify it right off the bat. I want that same feeling with my work.

I want the world to be able to see a picture taken or video filmed by me and say “I can tell that is reef’s work.” I spent years chasing exposure and credit I deserved before I realized that most of it didn’t matter at all. It’s just all a temporary feeling caused by social media.

In regards to evolving in your work, what are some things you plan on doing in the future to grow as a photographer?

Some things I plan on doing as a photographer that I feel like would help evolve my work is going on a tour, shooting an album cover and I want to switch over from only shooting digital to shooting film.

Elsewhere in photography, check out our interview with Anissa Baty!

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