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A Guide to Photographing Marijuana and CBD for Stock

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These eight experts are reimagining cannabis imagery through stock photography. Here are their top tips for capturing authentic work with marijuana.

In 2019, there was a 76% increase in cannabis-related jobs in the US. According to a recent poll, 84% of Americans support the legalization of cannabis use. A new report suggests that legal sales could reach nearly $30 billion by 2025. The cannabis industry is growing and evolving, ushering in an era of social change, legal reform, and big business.

As a result of these changes, media portrayals of cannabis have also shifted, and the demand for high-quality photos has increased. Shutterstock named “Cannabiz” one of its rising trends of 2020, as customer searches for the plant and associated branding are rising.

“I’ve been photographing cannabis professionally for ten years now, and when I started, I could basically count the cannabis photographers in the media world on my hands,” Allie Cassidy, the co-founder of the cannabis farm TKO Reserve Oregon and photographer behind Canna Obscura, tells us. “But, over the years, there have been more and more publications, media outlets, and brands, emerging and hungry for relatable, genuine content.’

“And it’s not even cannabis-specific publications that are searching for cannabis content. Thanks to Shutterstock, I’ve had my work featured globally — everywhere from fashion magazines to news outlets. Cannabis is a hot, trending topic right now.”

Here, eight experts discuss their top tips for taking pictures that sell.

Defy Stereotypes

That 84% of Americans who support legalization come from all backgrounds, varying in age, race, gender, and political stance. But for decades media portrayals of cannabis use have been rooted in harmful stereotypes. That’s finally changing, as science continues to debunk the “stoner” mythology of years past.

“It is so important that emerging cannabis photographers create content that de-stigmatizes the past images of cannabis culture,” Cassidy says. “It’s a huge key to creating marketable cannabis photos because a modern portrayal of cannabis lifestyles is what many brands/media outlets/buyers are eyeing. When it comes to conceptualizing a shoot that doesn’t play into past stereotypes, finding models that are diverse in terms of age, race, and personal style helps your work stand apart from the crowd.’

Cannabis photography is the key to destigmatizing its culture. Image by Canna Obscura.

“I’d also say a common cliche I try to avoid is the over-sexualization of women using cannabis. The most authentic cannabis images are relatable to today’s cannabis users — the soccer moms, the business professionals, the farmers.’

“It’s our role as photographers to depict this cultural movement as it’s emerging into mainstream life, so doing what we can to destroy those historic stereotypes helps normalize cannabis use. We have to remember that it was propaganda and media influence that drove cannabis underground to begin with, so we hold that same power to bring it back — loud and proud!”

Get to Know the Culture

The best way to avoid these stereotypes is to get to know the real people working behind-the-scenes in today’s cannabis industry. “I would say my biggest piece of advice would be to dive head-first into the modern culture of cannabis,” Cassidy adds. “Making friends with your local farmer, budtender, or cannabis enthusiast will help you create the most authentic (and thus marketable) cannabis stock photos.’

“The cannabis community is a relatively tight-knit group of passionate people who enjoy expressing their love for the plant, so finding subjects to photograph isn’t too difficult of a task. This can easily be done over social media, as well!’

Making friends with local cannabis enthusiasts authenticates your stock photos. Image by Canna Obscura.

“The most-purchased cannabis images these days portray a modern aesthetic of cannabis culture, so this is important to consider when conceptualizing a shoot. Take inspiration from mainstream industries, such as beauty, fashion, and interior design, and put your personal cannabis twist on them.’

“Staying on top of industry trends will really help you sell more images quickly. There are many social media accounts and modern cannabis publications that can help you stay on top of trends and inspire you to get creative with new trending cannabis subjects.”

Go to the Source

Getting to know your local cannabis culture won’t just give you authentic lifestyle images, it’ll also give you access to the right products. “When photographing dried cannabis flowers, I always start by trying to find the best-looking buds,” Canadian photographer Roxana Gonzalez says.

“It’s much better to get samples straight from a grower, but if that isn’t available, selecting the best possible quality nugs will give you an optimal result. Usually, the densest, most evenly shaped and properly manicured buds translate into a higher quality cannabis product and will appeal to a wider audience.’

Photograph cannabis samples straight from the grower, if possible. Image by Roxana Gonzalez.

“Also, remember to handle the buds carefully, especially if you’re planning to take macro shots of the trichomes (microscopic resin glands where the cannabinoids are stored). Trichomes are delicate and can burst when cannabis flowers come in contact with our fingers. Using a clip to hold the buds at the base of the stem is a great way to keep them in place for closeup photographs or macro shots.”

Carefully handle the buds when shooting to protect the integrity of the plant. Image by MexChriss. Gear: DJI Mavic pro drone, Hasselblad L1D-20c camera. Settings: Exposure 1/20 sec; f2.8; ISO 400.

Find Your Niche

Cannabis is a vast subject, so hone in on a particular field and think about your ideal image buyer. Researching trends not only in the cannabis industry as a whole, but also in your chosen sector will help you to create marketable photos.

Choose a particular cannabis genre when marketing your photos. Image by MexChriss.

“You have to know where to aim your images,” the team at MEX Production tells us. “For example, if you’re targeting the market for medicinal cannabis, you want to appeal to big corporations, and the photos have to be clean, with a sterile aesthetic. Since I have branched into the pharmaceutical industry, I’ve noticed that the buyers are mostly interested in laboratory photos of CBD oils as well as outdoor photos of fieldworkers on hemp fields. These are all trends I take into account.”

Do Your Research

If you’re unsure of what niche you want to pursue, absorb as much information as you can. The more you know, the more you can refine your vision. “For me, this niche is completely new. So, before shooting, I looked at dozens of websites, researched manufacturers, and read blogs and publications,” IRA_EVVA says. “I made sure to understand all the different cannabis and CBD forms, applications, packaging, and properties I could.’

“Just by reading so many articles, I immediately started dreaming up concepts for pictures and keywords. Look at manufacturers’ websites, subscribe to their newsletters, and study how they use photos in their website designs.’

“I always have a brainstorming session before any photo shoot. First, I write down the key objects I want to include — hemp leaf, bottle, test tube. In another column, I jot down some compositional approaches. In the third column, I write down colors I want to use, materials I’ll implement, or trendy visual solutions. This is how I come up with a lot of my ideas.”

Experiment

In 2020, there’s no one way to photograph cannabis, so get creative with your product shots. “I believe that in cannabis photography, in particular, it is important to experiment,” Ukrainian photographer Yarygin explains. “I would recommend shooting from different angles, experimenting with contrasting backgrounds, and using filters.’

Experiment with various angles, backgrounds, and filters when capturing your shot. Image by Yarygin.

“Find and photograph different strains and varieties, and take some macro shots, too. Highlight all the different parts of the plant: the leaves, stems, seeds, etc. Come up with different designs and use additional elements to set your work apart.”

Play with Light

“I always experiment with light sources and setups,” Gonzalez tells us. “I find the best results using softboxes with my cannabis shoots, since the trichomes are highly reflective and tend to give a dull appearance when using on-camera flash.’

“Also, photographing live plants under the grow lights can be challenging, if you are not familiar with white balance or light color temperature settings. I prefer to take my plants from under the grow lights and use my photography lights to have better control over the final result.’

“Finally, have fun with props and be creative in your approach! Cannabis, especially CBD, is becoming mainstream and can be found in an array of products, such as creams, balms, energy drinks, bath bombs, edibles, and many more.”

Add a Pop of Color

“I’ve been photographing cannabis professionally for several years, and my 2019 New Year’s resolution was to test out the market for cannabis stock,” the team at 420MediaCo tells us. “The response has been overwhelming, with over 1100 downloads in the first twelve months.” The secret? Authentic storytelling, diverse representation, and unusual compositions — including the occasional pop of color.

“I really enjoy creating color-based themes for products and flat lays,” 420MediaCo continues. “There are a limited number of ways you can shoot the plant — dried flower, joint, or smoking shot — so the challenge becomes repeatedly being able to produce fresh looks or new emotions with a visually similar product.’

“There has to be more to it. The goal is to create work that can help to visually de-stigmatize cannabis/hemp and its medical and recreational consumers, and you can do that by giving your photos your own style.’

The growing need for cannabis-related extracts creates a need for commercial content. Image by 420MediaCo. Gear: Canon 6D MKII camera, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens. Settings: Exposure 1/320 sec; f2.8; ISO 2500.

“Over the last year, we’ve also seen an increased interest in extracts and cultivation shots. Cannabis and Hemp CBD are real emerging markets, with growing needs for commercial content. Cannabis vape and macro flower images are very popular right now.”

Stay Unique

“Setting yourself apart, even if it’s just a little bit, can be a recipe for success,” nevodka tells us. “Try not to get so inspired by the work of others that you end up copying what they’ve already done. I always try to take a look at any subject from a different point of view. To do this, I’ll often read Wikipedia pages and do other research on the subject while preparing for a shoot. I try to think past the obvious and get conceptual, and that often results in meaningful shots.”

Aim for Variety

“There are still a lot of themes and niche topics within the cannabis industry that haven’t yet been covered by photographers,” IRA_EVVA adds. “It’s always worth taking a look at what has already been uploaded and trying to find subjects that don’t exist yet.’

Variety in your photography lends to satisfying various needs for different clients. Image by IRA_EVVA.

“For example, when studying manufacturers’ websites, you might notice that a certain method, application, or product hasn’t been covered. Take that idea and run with it! Also, try to use different styles and genres, from flat lay and still life to lifestyle images and portraits. It’s important to have variety in your portfolio, so you can satisfy different needs for different buyers.”

Keep it Natural

While variety and experimentation are crucial, it’s also important to stay authentic and true-to-life. “It seems to me like everyone’s getting tired of those aesthetically ‘flawless,’ artificial-looking photos that were popular years ago,” Olha Khomenko tells us. “Now, I’ve noticed that naturalness and vitality are more relevant. Buyers want photos of real people in natural and realistic settings.’

Play with light and angles when capturing your image. Image by Olha Khomenko.

“It doesn’t have to be complicated, either. Even a simple leaf can look extraordinary if it’s shot using an attractive play of light and shadow. Create an atmosphere, and don’t be afraid of a little asymmetry. Sometimes you can get an interesting shot by breaking the ‘rules,’ so feel free to use unusual combinations of props — and your imagination.”

Want to learn more about cutting-edge creative trends? Check these out.

These eight experts are reimagining cannabis imagery through stock photography. Here are their top tips for capturing authentic work with marijuana.

Pictures of Marijuana for Parents

Photos in Different Stages of Growth and Use

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John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

These pictures show marijuana, also known as cannabis or weed, in varying stages of growth, processing, and use. You may be concerned about plants you find growing in and around your home. Or, you may wonder whether what you discovered in your child’s room is marijuana or indicates your child may be using marijuana.

Even if you live in a jurisdiction where marijuana is legal, there are age restrictions and your child can end up on the wrong side of the law. You should prepare to have a conversation with your child about the risks involved in using or selling marijuana when underage.

Marijuana Plant Growing in a Pot

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Cavan Images, LLC / Taxi / Getty Images

If you find plants around your home that look similar to the marijuana plant in the photo, someone in your household is trying to grow their own weed. The plants have changed considerably in recent decades as they have been bred to produce more buds.

Leaves on a Marijuana Plant

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Gary Morrison / Getty Images

If you see plants like this growing around your home, chances are they did not just pop-up in the wild—they were purposely cultivated. Cannabis plants have a palmate leaf with serrated leaflets. You are likely to recognize them from popular art. While there are plants with similar leaves, the serration pattern for Cannabis is distinctive.

Chopped Up Marijuana Plant

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Steve Cicero / Getty Images

Marijuana is dried and chopped up to prepare it for use and sale. The stems are usually removed.

Marijuana Joints

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Levi Bianco / Getty Images

If your child is using marijuana, you may be likely to find rolled joints of marijuana cigarettes. You may also find rolling papers. Your child may claim that these are hand-rolled tobacco cigarettes, which would also be a concern.

Small Amount of Marijuana Ready for Sale

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Michael Betts / Getty Images

You may find a small amount of marijuana your child has acquired for personal use to smoke. It is probably readily available in your community.

Plastic Bag Full of Marijuana

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Nate Brown / EyeEm / Getty Images

You may also find larger quantities of marijuana in a plastic zip-lock bag. You might find smaller plastic bags with residue inside. This can trigger concerns that your child is transporting or selling marijuana rather than obtaining it for personal use.

Marijuana Bud

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Oksana Smith / EyeEm / Getty Images

Marijuana buds are higher in THC than other parts of the plant and are sold at a premium. As marijuana has been increasingly bred to produce more buds, you may find this type of marijuana in your home. It is probably much more potent than the average street-grade weed.

Close Up of Marijuana Bud

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Michael Thomas / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you look closely at a marijuana bud, you will see the fine “hairs” and leaves that make up the bud after it is dried.

Processed Marijuana Buds

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Sinisa Kukic / Getty Images

If you find a larger quantity of processed marijuana buds in your home, someone either has an expensive habit or they are selling weed to their friends.

Indoor Marijuana Grow Operation

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Jeff Rotman / naturepl.com / Getty Images

If you see this many marijuana plants growing indoors, you have stumbled upon a major indoor marijuana grow operation. Leave the scene immediately and call 9-1-1 if it is not a legal operation.

You Found Some Marijuana, Now What?

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Richard T. Nowitz / Getty Images

First of all, don’t over-react. Before you force your child into a professional drug treatment program that you may not be able to afford and they may not even need, take a step back and try to evaluate the situation.

It may be that your child has experimented with marijuana use or tried it a couple of times with their friends. That happens a lot more these days than it may have happened when you were in school.

Forty-four percent of all students have tried weed by 12th grade according to the National Institutes of Health.   That means that your child probably has friends who are smoking marijuana or at least know someone who is.

Your child’s involvement in marijuana may have just been a passing curiosity, or it may be more than that. Before you react, you need to assess just what your child’s level of involvement is with marijuana.

How do you do that? The best advice available is the simplest—ask your child.

Whether or not adolescents become involved in drugs—or stay involved—may be related to their parents’ attitudes about drug use. Having a matter-of-fact, rational discussion with your child about marijuana may be the best way to approach the situation.

Of course, your child’s use of marijuana may be more involved than simple experimentation, depending on how much of the drug you found. If so, they may not be as willing to talk to you about it. In this case, you will need to educate your child on the legal risks of transporting or selling marijuana.

Parents may want to know what marijuana looks like in all stages of development and use. See photos that can help you check what you find at home. ]]>