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The Evolution of Cannabis Photography

The Evolution of Cannabis Photography

Humans have recognized the agricultural value, industrial potential, and medicinal benefits of the cannabis plant for centuries. Historians argue that hemp was the world’s first agricultural crop, hemp fibers have long been utilized for material to make anything from rope to clothing, and the flowers and dried plant materials have been used to treat conditions like headachesnausea and upset stomach.

While these more obvious and tangible benefits are widely recognized, what about the awe a person can experience in the presence of a beautiful, growing cannabis plant, perfectly cured cannabis flowers, or even a masterfully extracted concentrate? Without even touching upon the ways a person can be affected by cannabis consumption, there is something to be said about the magic that can be exuded in the presence of the plant’s outwardly appearance.

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While the aesthetics aroused by the growing cannabis plant were first popularized in publications such as High Times during an era of prohibition, legalization has facilitated the evolution of cannabis photography. As acceptance and legalization spread throughout the United States and many other nations throughout the world, enthusiasts are no longer forced to hide their passion for the plant by setting up secret photo shoots in a basement or behind curtains, but rather they can proudly display their eye for beauty to the world.

Cannabis photography has evolved so much so in recent years that there is even a growing need for stock images of cannabis, in all forms, for media to use in publications. While popular stock photography providers have started adding small cannabis sections to their portfolios, one new company on the rise —Stock Pot Images — is placing cannabis in the limelight where it belongs.

Whaxy had the opportunity to speak with Ophelia Chong, founder of Stock Pot Images, and two of the incredibly talented company contributors, Ron Goldman and Justin McIvor. Below, we shared the Q&A with Ron and Justin followed by the interview with Ophelia.

What inspired you to start taking pictures of cannabis?

R: For me, it was the sheer beauty of the plant. It also combines the two things I am most passionate about in life . Farming and photography. So many people never get to see the plant up close and personally while it’s growing. I am fortunate to be able to work with cannabis plants every day and I want to share what I see with the rest of the world.

J: My mother was one of the original flower children in the San Francisco music scene, and I was introduced to this beautiful plant at a very young age. It inspired my creativity and led me on an amazing journey to where I am today. I have a beautiful family, a rewarding career in professional photography, and I’m very lucky to be able to share my love of cannabis with the world through my images.

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From your vantage point as a photographer, how has cannabis changed over the years?

R: The biggest change has occurred more recently with the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis and the accessibility that came along with that. I remember shooting cannabis in Hawaii in the early 80’s on film and having to mail the film off to friends on the mainland for processing. The fear of being arrested for growing and photographing a plant seems completely ridiculous but it was happening back then(and still is in certain states). There were times that the film I sent in was never returned from the processor due to them not wanting to be involved in something “illegal”.  Now that I can legally grow and photograph cannabis without the fear of getting in trouble, I am able to work in a much more comfortable environment and that comes through in my current images.

J: Through the advances in breeding and growing techniques, cannabis has flowered into  an even more beautiful plant then I remembered as a child of the seventies in Northern California. More color, thicker colas, incredible scents, and 30% THC levels have all come to the surface though the amazing work of growers the world over. These growers are the true secret to why cannabis is so much better in our modern world, and without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Where is the ‘canna-photo’ industry going from here? Are there new media opportunities?

R: I had stopped shooting commercial and stock photography the last couple of years due to the devaluation of professional photographers. The market has changed drastically with the digital era and anyone owning a camera  calling themselves a “pro” and willing to give away their work for pennies or free. When I happened to run across StockPot, I realized that it was a perfect way for me to resume doing what I loved so much. Unlike other areas of stock photography, this is a new market that is not yet flooded with millions of images due to the still limited access. As more and more states legalize, the need for cannabis images will continue to grow and that is very exciting!

J: I think print journalism will survive because people love the quality and tactile feel of print on paper, but I think the future is online and in the cloud. Our top tech inventors are working on virtual reality systems that will allow us to walk around a cannabis garden in a virtual world, although I think the real thing will always win out.

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What advice would you give to aspiring cannabis photographers?

R: Take the time to learn all aspects of this type of work. There are specific elements of shooting cannabis that differ greatly from other types of photography. Lighting and more so, color balancing in post processing, is crucial. The color temperature of High Pressure Sodium and LED lighting that is widely used in indoor cannabis cultivation is not photographically friendly at all.

Don’t be afraid to contact growers and offer your services for free while you are getting started. Many growers do not have the time or ability to get great images of their operations. I see so many bad images of great product in dispensaries, rec stores, and even magazines because the growers don’t have anyone available to get them the quality work they need. This relationship can be a win/win for all involved!

J: Take pictures of the things that you love and excite you, that you would do for free, and that you have good access to. Lots and lots of pictures, until your craft is up to the level of the PROFESSIONAL work you see in the cannabis industry. There is a lot of opportunity out there, you just need find a niche that hasn’t been properly brought to light and share it with the right audience. There will be a flood of new photographers entering the scene, but only those with amazing images, a good business sense, and something new to share will be able to make a living solely on cannabis photography.

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What are your favorite plants or products to shoot?

R: As a commercial grower, I love to shoot everything I grow whether it’s cannabis, tomatoes, peppers, basil, eggplant, you name it! Having specialized in macro and food photography over the years, I find that I am drawn to vivid colors, patterns, shapes, and intricate details all of which cannabis and other plants provide.

J: Every plant I photograph is unique, never the same thing twice. I enjoy bringing light to my images in a unique way that accentuates the beauty of cannabis. I’m just as happy in a 600 plant gardens as I am photographing tiny trichomes through a microscope. Finding the beauty and bringing it to light is my mission, and I couldn’t be happier.

I’m sure you’ve seen some crazy gardens. What about the craziest?

R: Growing outdoors and constantly facing the dangers of law enforcement and “rip-off’s” we adapted by placing our plants high up in trees. It was always a challenge to get them up there and watered and cared for until harvest but we never lost a single one to the people hunting them down!

J: Probably a 40,000 plant outdoor garden in Mendocino County takes the cake, unfortunately it never made it to harvest, but we can dream can’t we?

Below is the Q&A with Stock Pot Images founder, Ophelia Chong (photo below).

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What role does professional cannabis photography play in the corporate world?

O: With legalization coming in California in 2016 and another 10 states on the verge of also legalizing, I am working towards the mainstream consumer for Stock Pot Images. My goal is to serve the larger community with images that speak about the true users and communities. Before Stock Pot Images, the stock images available to corporations were the stereotypical shots of “stoners”, sketchy doctors, half naked nurses, a bud rolling out of a pill bottle, overall not the real community at large.

Also a big factor in the lack of professional photography is access, photographers who have been working in the field have risked their livelihood by shooting cannabis. At Stock Pot we have people like Ron and Justin, who have been shooting for decades and established a reputation for artistry and are trusted by growers and users; access a non-cannabis photographer does not have. Stock Pot offers authenticity that healthcare, ad agencies, print and web need to reach a market that has been underground for 78 years. This industry is only going to grow with decriminalization and with the influx of venture capital. Our goal is to be the best supplier of images for healthcare, advertising, print and web, we have ramped up quickly to meet those needs in only 5 months since our launch on 4/20/2015.

Curation is key when your business is content. What is your process for sourcing the best?

O: My process at first was to reach out to the photographers I have worked with for over 15 years in my position as creative director in publishing and as an art director for photo agencies and magazines. Then it was sourcing out my best grads from the Art Center College of Design, where I teach photography. The second round was to find the best out there. I was introduced to the best and I also cold called photographers that in the business. Now I am taking new photographers onto the team from word of mouth, they find me.

The photographers I work with are the top in their fields, food, product, and lifestyle. The most common thread is the fact they can combine two passions, photography and cannabis. We have photographers in CO, CA, WA, NY, TX, TN, OR, Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador. The most interesting photographer to sign on in the last month is a retired Sheriff narcotics detective. After he retired, he joined LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). We have images of evidence from drug raids, the aftermath of raids on grow houses, images not available at any other stock agency.

Where did the idea for Stock Pot Images come from?

O: The idea to photograph Cannabis has been brewing in my head for a while and I’ve encouraging my students to add it to their portfolios for a few years. Last January 8th, I was in the shower and the idea of a stock agency specializing in only cannabis popped into my head between the shampoo and conditioner. I did a search online and found nothing. I then went to Getty and Corbis and looked at their collections. Both lacked depth and reality and offered only the most stereotypical imagery that did not speak the truth about the real communities.

Within two weeks I was funded, and six weeks I had the LLC. I ramped up quickly to launch on 4/20 and since then I have been acquiring more collections and attending conferences to network our images. I love the people I’ve met and I am honored to work with the best in the business. I wake up everyday loving what I do and the strides our team is making in showing the best images in the business.

I am very excited about where this industry is heading, however I would caution anyone entering to seek the truth in the industry rather than the dollar sign, this is a community that does not tolerate inauthenticity. I am proud to offer that authenticity that appeals to the cannabis community and to mainstream media.

Below are a few more of the beautiful photos which can be found among the Stock Pot Images collection.

Non-Digital: Shot on 4 x 5 film camera of Cannabis leaves and colored in the film process

Non-Digital: Shot on 4 x 5 film camera of Cannabis leaves and colored in the film process.

Table top with ground cannabis, buds, grinder, leaves and joints. Lew Roberstson is one of the top food and table top photographers in the US.

Table top with ground cannabis, buds, grinder, leaves and joints. Lew Roberstson is one of the top food and table top photographers in the US.

Sunset trichomes come to life under high magnification.

Sunset trichomes come to life under high magnification.

Two portraits of Military Vets with PTSD, part of a series from #OperationOverMed by retired Marine Staff Sergeant Mike Whiter.

Two portraits of Military Vets with PTSD, part of a series from #OperationOverMed by retired Marine Staff Sergeant Mike Whiter.

A portrait series of Melissa Etheridge by Robiee Ziegler.

A portrait series of Melissa Etheridge by Robiee Ziegler.

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