I worked on a cover shoot for Golf Course Industry magazine back in 2011, for GIE Media based in Ohio. The shoot involved a head groundskeeper and the story was about the great job he was doing taking care of the oldest public course in America. Fast forward a few years, and the art director for Cannabis Times, another GIE title, contacted me to shoot another cover story about grass of a different variety. In fact, they had me shoot two different cannabis farms for a couple different stories.
I’ve photographed presidents, royalty, billionaire CEOs and top executives and I’ve even shot in Cook County (Illinois) Jail a couple times, but the security at the two marijuana farms was the tightest I’ve ever encountered. I underwent a background check before I was hired for the shoots. Every door we went in required a key code to enter. And every corner of the facility, from the exterior to the cultivation rooms was under video surveillance. The State of Illinois regularly conducts checks on the facilities too. To say they run a tight ship would be an understatement.
I knew nothing about cultivating marijuana before I did these shoots and had never photographed in a grow room before. But I learned pretty quickly that they’re brightly lit... really brightly lit. Most of the workers wear sunglasses. But the color temperature of the hot lamps is something altogether different. My photos were coming out with a very yellow tint that needed to be corrected in processing afterwards.
Uncorrected 2500K raw file (left) and color balanced (2100K, +24 Tint) finished file
After shooting in the grow rooms, we moved into the lab, where their top ‘scientist’– if that’s what you call him– was tweaking the plants to produce the best strains possible. Again, I don’t understand any of it, but it was interesting watching him clip the plants, and siphoning off the resin in the lab. Apparently this guy was highly sought after; he was flown in from Colorado (where else?) on a regular basis to help out in their lab.
Both facilities are growing the marijuana for the potentially huge medical marijuana market. A lot of investors were involved in both facilities and there was a cautious excitement for the potential in their product.
I’ve never smoked pot- honestly, I have zero interest in it. But I was impressed with what I saw at these facilities. Yeah, some of the workers looked like they’d smoked too much weed, and there was a weird vibe outside one of the places, but the people in charge were professional businessmen and women and knew their stuff (and their cannabis).
I’ve been in a lot of unusual situations in my career but these shoots were fun and I learned a lot. And that’s ultimately why I chose to be a photographer. I love to work in places few others get to see, collaborating with interesting people and having fun at the same time, and this ticked all the boxes for me.
Gear | Canon 1DX Mark2, 24-105mm f/4L II USM and 70-200mm f/2.8L II USM