There was a point in time, not all that long ago, where photos of beautiful cannabis flowers could only be found in the centerfolds of specialty magazines that arrived wrapped in a tawdry opaque plastic, not unlike the similarly-illicit “skin mags.”
Macro photos of milky trichomes were something unheard of, other than perhaps scientific photos sequestered away in research laboratories that were brave enough to study the inner workings of the plant.
Now, with the click of one hashtag on social media, we all have access to a cascade of cannabis-centric photos capturing various stages of the plant’s growth cycle, finite macros of THC crystals and trich heads, and even editorial shots of stunning models partaking in fat joints and bong rips.
As you scrolled through these photos, have you wondered about what it t takes to become a cannabis photographer?
Just like many creative fields, it’s really a combination of practice, photo ability, and self-promotion.
Just ask Devin Stein and Oleg Zharsky. Both Seattle-based gentlemen have been working in the i502 industry as photographers, sometimes as a hobby, sometimes hired to make a grower look good.
Using their cannabis photos as a foundation, each has built an impressive following on Instagram.
Each of the photographers has always been intrigued by taking pictures.
Zharsky (@oleg.photos) began by taking photography as an elective in high school. Though he attended the Seattle Art Institute, it wasn’t until the past few years that photography became anything more than a hobby.
Stein (@thingsfromsteinfarm) always remembers taking photos and eventually began shooting product macros for a jewelry company that worked with stones and beads. He soon found that his interest wasn’t in jewelry, but the young photographer was inspired by the relationship with light and these stones.
This inspiration sparked a fire within him as he explored how to manipulate that marriage.
Zharsky first began taking cannabis photos out of necessity. He and a friend went into business delivering medical cannabis and they needed menu photos. As a hobby photographer, he took on the task and began tailoring equipment to capture the best photos of their product.
The industry has evolved from the days of medical delivery, and now the market is ripe with sticky new phenos and crystalline THC extracts. With the introduction of “THC diamonds,” Stein has found a niche. His exceptional photos of extracts are complemented by his experience shooting stones and jewelry.
Both Stein and Zharsky picked up skills that turned out relevant to their work with the cannabis plant by getting out into the world and just taking photos.
Working with weed has created its own set of challenges since every grow is a little different in terms of light or set-up.
Zharsky spent time rigging “nug stands,” or ways to best put the plants in a good light, before finding the right instruments to cater to his needs.
Both men recall a time that macro images absolutely changed the game in cannabis photography. It allowed cannabis photographers – and viewers – to get up close and personal with the plant, something Zharsky highly recommends for anyone interested in working with weed.
Once Zharsky began growing his own medical plants from seed to flower, he was able to gain more understanding into exactly what he should be capturing and how it might be best presented.
Macro photography was first documented in 1880 by pioneer Percy Smith. The technique was used to capture images of living organisms, such as flowers and bugs, from a very close range. These photographs are taken using a long barrel lens that is ideal for maintaining a finite focus from a very close range.
One of the very first cannabis photographers to bring macro into the industry was the iconic Erik Christiansen, who goes by the handle @erik.nugshots on Instagram.
Stein and Zharsky both commended him for being a pioneer in the industry.
Taking macro photos also allows both Stein and Zharsky to “stack” multiple macro images on top of one another for a crispier shot that pops off of the page, screen, or canvas.
Cannabis photographers hoping to find work in the industry are encouraged to use Instagram. The social network platform sometimes cracks down on cannabis photos (internet sales of cannabis are a big no-no, and sometimes accounts are erroneously flagged as selling product rather than pictures), but both men say it has been a good way to get more people viewing their work.
It also helps them see and appreciate the work of their peers, and to discuss various techniques and equipment that may be helpful in capturing just the right image.
Stein said this type of networking with fellow cannabis photographers is useful.
“Having peers that are trying to do the same thing but not step on each others’ toes is what the industry needs,” he said. “It’s really awesome to not only admire the work (of others) and be inspired by it but also have them respect me as a peer as we learn from each other.”
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