I Take Photos of Dank Weed for a Living
Marcus Gary “Bubbleman” Richardson makes his living photographing dank nugs and hash. Though he’s been passionate about weed since he was a teenager, Bubbleman’s spent his whole adult life working in Canada’s semi-legal weed industry. After moving to British Columbia in the 90s, he began working at the medical dispensary The BC Compassion Club, growing cannabis for terminally-ill patients. In 1999, he and his wife decided to start their own business selling Bubble Bags—plant essence extractors used to make bubble hash at home—and he needed to photograph the product in order to sell it online. This was the start of his two-decade passion (and side hustle) shooting the types of photos that make your average #weedporn snaps look like mere shake.
After shooting Bubble Bags and a few of his friends’ hand-blown glass pipes, Bubbleman “went a little bit deeper, and because of that I attracted like-minded people. These were people who wanted [to document] the best weed, but also had a little more vision.” Such people included weed advocates and contributors to publications like High Times, National Geographic, and Cannabis Now, all which have since featured his photographs of gorgeous, crystal-covered herb. I sat down with the Bubbleman to discuss life as a cannabis photographer, what makes his work stand out from the excess of weed porn that saturates the web, and how he’s managed to earn a huge online following and the respect of some of the country’s most vocal weed proponents.
Bumblebee on the strain Medi Kush. Photo by the Bubbleman.
VICE: How did you get involved in cannabis photography?Marcus Gary “Bubbleman” Richardson: As I started Bubble Bags in the late 90s, the first thing I bought was a very high-end camera. I remember my buddy telling me, “You gotta check out this site called OverGrow.” I registered the name Bubbleman and started slinging my Bubble Bags, and of course I needed a camera to engage with the people in the community. I ended up getting a little Sony Cybershot and because of it, we were really able to shine in the way where we could just shoot anything and put it on the internet. This hadn’t really been done prior, if you could imagine.
Macro shot of resin-covered trim (a.k.a. the leftover leaves from a cannabis plant that can be used for hash extraction). Photo by the Bubbleman
How did taking photos for Bubble Bags turn into being published in established publications and books?
I met someone named Nick Zorro at the home of cannabis activist and author Robert Connell Clark in Amsterdam during the 2000 Cannabis Cup. Zorro had this beautiful cannabis magazine called Red Eye that he did out of his apartment back in the day.
When I walked in, there was a bowl full of 30 hash entries. I went over to the bowl and I dug around. I didn’t see them all, but I saw one and said, “That’s your winner.” At the end of the Cup, that entry won and Nick told me, “I want you to write for the magazine, I want to promote Bubble Bags, I want to promote your photos, and I want to promote everything you do.”
Nick’s help led to me working for Cannabis Culture, Skunk, Weed World, and countless other publications. I also have photos on the front cover and throughout Robert Connell Clark’s book Hashish, as well as work published in books by Ed Rosenthal and Mel Frank.
Close-up of a hash plant seed. Photo by the Bubbleman
Do you prefer to take pictures of hash or flowers?
I love them all. Shooting fresh growing bud is unreal, but I like working with what I call “solventless quiver” [a mix of three types of solventless hash—dry sift, bubblehash, and rosin]. Being able to bring those photos to much of the cannabis world has been an honor because it’s something people never saw before.
What shots stand out to you in your collection?
One of the most beautiful shots I’ve ever taken was of the isolated heads of cannabis resin away from everything else [on the plant]. By using different size dry sift screens, this basically created the most pure form of unadulterated phytocannabinoids that I had ever seen or experienced without any water soluble lost. Therefore, it was basically the cleanest and purest hash known to man at the time. That was the original 99.99%.
99.99% pure, unadulterated phytocannabinoids.Photo courtesy of the Bubbleman
With a variety of cannabis photos being posted from different people all the time, what separates the quality photos from the bad ones?
Just like at a Cannabis Cup, you have two groups: the super connoisseurs, and then the people who are just like, “I like weed.” It’s the same with photography. I post photos [on social media] because I want to share what I love, and it’s my perspective that I want to share. The bar is much lower for so many people because they’re not professional photographers. Their opinion is just as valid, but to a photographer, it’s completely different, sort of like how a bass player hears mainly the low-end in a concert, but everyone else hears a synergy of all the instruments.
What makes your photos stand out from the rest?
What I think might set me apart is that a lot of the young guys are trying to eliminate holding or touching the camera as much as possible. I went in to learn macro photography in an uncontrolled environment, which was just a garden full of flowers with bugs flying around. The Holy Grail macro shot is to get a bug flying mid-air, which you could never do on a rail system or tripod. Any movement is very visible when it comes to macro photographs, so you have to learn how to breathe and track your subject the same as a sniper. So maybe one of my advantages is I can shoot damn accurately at 5:1 (with the camera fully extended).
With the rise in popularity of social media and the new legal standing of the plant in some places, how has cannabis photography changed over the years
Well, there’s the fact that there is now a professional industry for cannabis photographers, whether it’s shooting the bud or shooting the resin. Since we don’t have scratch-and-sniff computer screens, e-commerce requires photos to engage the viewer so that they purchase the product. As a result, cannabis photography is a very important part of sales, as is videography. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
It’s gotten more professional in the sense that we don’t have to hide, we’re getting paid real wages (and not just a half pound of weed) with checks at the end of the day. We’re able to shoot in gardens that are legal, and there’s no risk of being arrested or have our equipment taken away because we’re photographing an illegal garden, which was always the case for me up until three or four years ago. As cannabis use continues to be normalized, cannabis photography will continue to be normalized as well.
See more photos taken by the Bubbleman below, and visit his website and Instagram. Follow Tyler Curtis on Twitter.
Marcus Gary "Bubbleman" Richardson makes his living photographing dank nugs and hash. With over 20 years of experience, he makes the average #weedporn photos look like mere shake.
A Guide to Photographing Cannabis Flower
This two-part series will show you how to photograph cannabis, regardless of your experience level. Get tips on how to take pictures of live plants, harvested buds, and concentrates, as well as how to shoot indoors and outdoors. There’s something for beginners, experts, and everyone in between.
W e live in a day and age where photography and technology have enabled anyone at any skill level to easily capture the beauty of what they see. This is true for cannabis enthusiasts as well, and we can share our experiences with such a visually stunning plant in a way that has never been done before.
In this installment, we’ll focus on photographing cannabis flower in its different forms. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have any experience with photography. With the proper tools and a little bit of knowledge, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to create captivating images of cannabis.
Eliminating the Barrier to Entry
Getting into cannabis photography is easier now more than ever, with technology like smartphones bringing people together and making it easier to take pictures.
Today, taking high-resolution images is simply more accessible to more people, regardless of budget.
Not only do more people own devices capable of taking photos, but this abundance of devices has lowered the cost of high-end equipment like DSLR cameras, as technology manufacturers compete for the attention of consumers. Today, taking high-resolution images is simply more accessible to more people, regardless of budget.
The stigma around cannabis is lessening, thanks in large part to digital platforms. Major social media outlets are now beginning to demand that cannabis-related content be treated fairly. Creatives are engaging in social media to share their experiences with cannabis and the trend is gaining momentum every day.
Why Photograph Cannabis?
If you identify as a creative, the intrinsic value of capturing the beauty and aesthetic of cannabis may be the only reason you need to start taking pictures. But there are many other reasons to get started.
Share on Social Media
Utilizing and leveraging social media to share photos is a great way to gain inspiration, present your own portfolio, and connect with fellow cannabis creatives. Instagram, Reddit, and a host of other social media platforms have communities where you can view and share cannabis photography.
Keep a Grow Journal
One of the best ways to inspire creativity with cannabis photography is to grow at home. Capturing cannabis as it transitions through the grow cycle will allow you to take different types of pictures as your plants change and mature. Taking pictures of your harvested crop will also make for great content.
Keep a Strain Log
Maintaining a photographic strain log is a great way to track the various cannabis varieties that move through your collection.
Create Art Prints & More
The sky’s the limit for you to share your work across various mediums. Creating art prints for canvasses is a tangible alternative to digital sharing, and cannabis prints translate well to other formats, including textiles for upholstery and fashion.
Getting Started to Photograph Cannabis
If you are brand new to photography and not sure where to start, fear not. Start small and use what you have. You don’t need to invest in expensive camera gear to get great shots of cannabis.
As mentioned above, cameras on smartphones are very capable of capturing stunning images with ease. You can even make a few modest improvements to your mobile phone setup without breaking the bank.
There are a few key differences between photographing living cannabis plants and photographing cured flowers. These differences will impact everything from the gear you need to the types of images you will be producing, so choose your subject beforehand.
(Patrick Bennett for Leafly)
Living plant subjects will either come from your own garden or from gardens that you visit. Shooting in gardens will give you more variety in subject matter. As plants grow and transition, you’ll be forced to shoot them at different angles and in different lighting conditions.
Using filters is imperative in some lighting situations—like when purple LEDs or yellow HPS bulbs are around.
But shooting in a garden has its disadvantages. Often, you will have very little control over lighting. Using filters is imperative in some lighting situations—like when purple LEDs or yellow HPS bulbs are around—and be sure to adjust your in-camera white-balancing. Keep in mind that modifying photos in post-production may be your only hope for achieving certain shots.
Unless you can physically move plants to a controlled area, which is highly unlikely if you are a guest in someone else’s garden, you will need to operate as a mobile setup. This will limit your ability to provide additional light sources, modify backgrounds, and achieve stability with external hardware like tripods.
(Patrick Bennett for Leafly)
The easiest and most efficient way to approach photographing cured flowers is to treat it like product photography. You will have total control over all environmental factors: where the light comes from, how strong it is, and what spectrum it’s in.
Background color and distance are also in your control. You can shoot with or without props, on location or in a studio, and even in a light box. The downside to photographing cured flowers in a studio is that certain composures may require you to spend money on additional hardware.
Practice Makes Perfect
You will become a better cannabis photographer with every picture you take. Experiment and try the following:
- Shoot the same subject from multiple angles
- Experiment with contrasting backgrounds and creative foreground props
- Don’t be afraid to zoom out for an establishing shot or to get in close, even really close, for a good macro
- Shoot from above, from below, or even through a filter
- For living plants, photograph everything from the leaves and stems to the seeds
Try to take a picture of every strain you come across. Having a social media account will inspire you to post more, shoot more, and engage with like-minded cannabis photographers.
Advanced Gear for Cannabis Photographers
Try out cannabis photography for a little while, and if it’s something that you want to pursue seriously, either as a hobby or as a potential career path, below is a list of recommended gear to help get you ready to take professional-level images.
For high-resolution images, you’ll need to invest in a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera of some kind. This will allow you to change lenses, control advanced composure settings like white balance, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, and it will produce raw images that allow for a much greater level of control in post-production image editing.
Detailed close-up shots of cannabis require physical stability of the camera. Even when using a professional-level DSLR equipped with an image-stabilizing lens, producing a blur-free, hand-held photograph is incredibly difficult. Keep a tripod on hand to eliminate blurring and to allow you to operate hands-free.
In order to create a dynamic composure, additional light is often required, especially for macro photography. For optimal control of the image, use supplemental lighting equipment such as flashes, strobes, or continuous lights.
(Patrick Bennett for Leafly)
For extremely close, fine-detailed shots of cannabis, you will have to invest in a macro lens. These lenses allow you to produce vivid detail that is difficult to recreate with a wider lens.
Remote Shutter Control
A remote control for your shutter will eliminate shutter shake that occurs when you press the button on your camera. This will allow you to go hands-free and will greatly improve your ability to stabilize photographs, especially macros. Many DSLR cameras have Wi-Fi capabilities that let you control the shutter through your smartphone.
Recommended Settings for DSLR Cameras
DSLR cameras will give you much greater control over the composure of your image. Each situation will require a different setting on your camera, but below are some recommended settings to get you started working with cannabis as a subject.
Use Low Shutter Speeds for Tripod Shots
With a stabilized camera on a tripod, using a low shutter speed will let in more light and create brighter images by keeping the shutter open for longer. Since most cannabis-related images don’t require movement, this will help you use the maximum amount of available light to illuminate the details of your subject.
Adjust White Balance for the Light Spectrum
When shooting in gardens that contain yellow lights such as HPS, you will need to balance the light in your camera. Adjusting light balance to a “Tungsten” setting will help tremendously. For some images, post-production editing may be required for better light-balancing.
Increase the F-Stop for Macro
Setting the aperture can be complicated to master. To help understand aperture better, adjust it according to the focal distance to your subject. Since cannabis is highly contoured, close-up images will require a big, open F-stop to capture as much depth and detail as possible and to eliminate blur in the background and foreground of the image.
Always Aim for a Low ISO
As a general principle of photography, only increase the ISO in your DSLR if you absolutely need to. A higher ISO will add noise and graininess to your photos, which isn’t easily fixed in post-production.
The Art of Post-Production Editing
(Patrick Bennett for Leafly)
Post-production editing software is one of the best tools to clean up and organize your cannabis photographs. Even basic photo-editing software that comes with most computers will give you the ability to make many adjustments to your images. There are a lot of options available on the market, but it ultimately comes down to preference. Keep in mind that post-production editing can get very technical, and some of it will require a level of mastery that only comes with experience.
Whether you begin your cannabis photography journey with your smartphone or from behind the lens of a DSLR, there are limitless options for how to catalog your favorite aspects of cannabis in picture. Experimenting with different styles is key and it’s one of the most thrilling parts of your new hobby.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have any experience. This guide will show you what you need to know to take beautiful pictures of cannabis flowers.