As cannabis has gone mainstream, so has cannabis photography. Once the province of clandestine photographers who didn’t want to get caught and thus often published under assumed names, legalization has prompted many photographers – even established professionals – to add marijuana images to their portfolios and even specialize in it. A number of Alaska photographers have been moving into this area, finding ways to highlight the plant’s colors and natural beauty.
One of them is Whitney McLaren, an archaeologist who has been doing professional photography on the side for about six years. Adept at wedding, mushing, and pet photography, McLaren has a mobile setup of lights and cameras that she had already been using when she was given the opportunity to take some photos at dispensaries for the Weed Maps website.
“Unlike simple flowers, each cannabis plant
consists of different hairs, sugar and frost
that display their own unique beauty. There
is so much variation from plant to plant and it is fascinating.”
— Whitney McLaren
McLaren first photographed for Grass Station 49 in Fairbanks and found herself intrigued by the plant itself as a subject for her lens. What drew her, she said, was “all of the different textures and colors. There’s so much variation within the plant.”
McLaren takes her mobile studio to grow rooms and dispensaries and is skilled at photographing the plant as well as products made from it. These days most of her cannabis work is for Fairbanks dispensary GOOD Cannabis. Along with the images seen here, her website, The Dope Photographer, offers more examples of her intense closeups of flowers, extracts, edibles, and more.
Nell Bishop, who recently left Anchorage to return to her hometown of Fairbanks, has followed a similar path. She was working at Catalyst Cannabis Company in Anchorage when the need arose for some photographs to be used on the company’s website and social media accounts. “I took some pictures of their nugs for them,” she said.
Like McLaren, Bishop said she was drawn to the plant from an artistic standpoint.
“I really like the colors,” she said. “I think it’s a lot more interesting than other plants in nature.”
Bishop, who has also done product, archaeological, and aurora photography, said she is drawn to the plant in all of its stages, from seed to the final product on the shelf.
Phillip Izon, who along with his brother launched Kushtopia in Palmer, was a hobbyist with an emphasis on landscapes who also first started photographing the plant for promotion on his company website. But he, too, found something more in it.
“I am drawn to colors,” he said. “Vibrant and beautiful colors. Alaska is one of the most colorful and majestic places in the world. Cannabis is also majestic and colorful. Tons of shapes and different hues. Cannabis is my favorite plant in the world.”
Unlike the other two, Izon said he focuses primarily on the flowering stage in his work. His images, which now dominate the Kushtopia website, are taken 50 to 60 days into the growing process, capturing the flowers at their peak.
Having found their way into cannabis photography first for business purposes, each of these three photographers quickly discovered an immense artistic satisfaction from their work. They freely offered tips to budding photographers looking to photograph the plant for themselves.
Izon takes his pictures immediately after the lights go out in a grow room. He said this is when the colors are at their peak crispness and that taking the shots then means the flashes and lighting used for the photography itself won’t harm the plant. He said for those starting out, the camera doesn’t matter but the lighting does.
“Lights bring out the textures,” he said.
McLaren said “lighting can make or break your photo.” She uses a Nikon d810 with a macro lens but said that if lighting is sufficient, good photographs can be taken with a point-and-shoot or even a phone, given the technological advances in both devices.
Bishop feels that phones and inexpensive cameras can get adequate but not great photos and advises using a decent quality camera with a macro lens for starters as “an inexpensive way to feel it out and decide if you want to keep it up.”
As the work of all three demonstrates, the combination of close focus, an eye for details, and the patience to take a lot of pictures in order to capture the perfect one, cannabis photography is opening up an area of artistic pursuit that’s no longer underground.
“It’s a new thing in Alaska,” Bishop said.
And she, Izon, and McLaren are among those leading the way in how to do it.
David James is a freelance writer in Fairbanks. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.