How To Get Professional Level Cannabis Photography Without Breaking Your Budget
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Content marketing can be expensive, especially if you're relying on high quality photography, video, and written content. But the investment is worth it, especially when you carefully cultivate (pun intended) your content strategy to match well with your business goals and the needs of your customers.
As a professional, full-service photography and video production agency, The Hood Collective offers premium yet affordable photography services that can meet almost any budget. But even if you connect with a professional for certain projects, your daily content needs may exceed what you can afford, and so there are times you need to rely on your own photography skills, or the skills of one of your employees.
In today's post, we're looking at how your cannabis company, whether you're a dispensary, farm, indoor grower, or CBD or hemp retailer, can get top notch photography with little to no marketing budget.
Start With Great Cannabis
You may not be a great photographer, but if you're in the cannabis industry, you're probably a great judge of cannabis. When you want to create amazing photographs of your cannabis plants, make sure you pick out the best looking plants, the most amazing flower, etc. To be quite honest, when it comes to eye-catching photography, picking out the right subject, whether it's a cannabis plant, product packaging, a model, or a beautiful vista, compensates for a lot of otherwise amateur photography.
The same principle applies to shooting product photography. It's amazing how often the packaging our clients provide us has scratches, nicks, or other blemishes on them. Carefully inspect what you are going to shoot, because any problems will be more obvious after you've photographed it. This is why professional food photographers don't actually use real, edible food, but instead stage everything to look just right for the camera.
Why is this extra important when you're an amateur photographer trying to get by on little or no budget? Because you won't have the ability to fix it in post. For example, we've gone into grow rooms and taken shots of beautiful flowers, not really noticing that some of the leaves had turned brown (which apparently isn't unusual). For us, this is no big deal, as we can just go into Photoshop and seamlessly turn the brown into green in a way that no one will ever notice. But if you don't have access to professional photo editing, you better make sure you pick out the perfect subject before you start snapping pics.
Establish A Sustainable Photography Workflow
Another important consideration when you're on a budget is creating a photography workflow that will allow you to accomplish your goals. I'm assuming that your hope is to create recurring photography content for your website and social media. If, on the other hand, you are just needing a few high quality photos for your home page or marketing materials (such as a brochure or paid magazine ad), then you definitely need to budget in a professional, even if it's a local freelancer.
But small cannabis businesses, such as individual dispensaries or small farms just starting out, likely aren't going to have the funds to support having professional shots done on a recurring basis. This is why it's so imperative that you come up with a workflow that you can afford but that will yield the kind of photographic content you're hoping for.
For example, if you are a cannabis or CBD brand that's selling a mix of prerolls, extracts, and flower, and you know that you will regularly need product shots for your online store, then you'll want to invest in a light box or similar set up that makes it easy for even non-professionals to get clean, sharp product photos. If, on the other hand, your an outdoor farm that wants to up your Instagram game, then you might invest in a better camera and a tripod, even if that camera is just the latest iPhone. Or maybe you want to start a lifestyle campaign around your brand. In that case, you need to partner with some local influencers who can regularly do photo shoots with your product, in exchange for free gifts or some other perks.
The point is, identify exactly the type of photography content that you need and figure out how to create a workflow that will yield high quality photos at an affordable and sustainable price point.
Now let's look at some specific gear that you should be investing in if you plan to produce your own photography assets. You'll notice that camera is way down on the list, and there's a reason for that, as we point out below.
Stabilize, Stabilize, Stabilize
One of the biggest mistakes an amateur photographer makes is not stabilizing the camera. Instead of putting their camera on a tripod, they hold it in their hands, which leads to photos that are less sharp than they should be, if not outright blurry. Whatever camera you decide to go with, make sure it's not moving when you push the shutter, and your photos will immediately improve in quality.
No matter what device you're using to take photos, there are plenty of options for keeping it stable. Even iPhones have stands and attachments that allow you to connect them to a standard tripod. If you're going to be doing a lot of different kinds of photography, you'll need a versatile stabilization solution that can adapt to various scenarios. But in some cases, you may need more than one tripod to accomplish everything you need it to. Fortunately, there are plenty of cheap tripods and stands to choose from that will accomplish the job just fine.
"But wait a minute," I can hear you saying. I see professional photographers who are shooting hand held all the time, and their photos look extremely sharp and in focus. The response to this is pretty simple: they are professionals and they know what they are doing. Generally speaking, they are closing down the aperture enough and speeding up the shutter, and thereby compensating for going hand held by adding extra light. This allows them to get a wider depth of field and/or minimize the amount of time the shutter is actually open (to 1/150th of a second or even less) so that the resulting pictures will be in focus. (It is not because they have super steady hands. Photographers aren't surgeons.)
Amateur photographers are likely using the standard settings and have no control over things like shutter speed and aperture. This is why stabilization is so essential.
Shine The Right Lighting On Your Cannabis Subjects
Lighting is always important when it comes to photography, but even more so when cannabis is involved. Shooting outdoor cannabis is easy enough. Head out early in the morning right after sunrise, or late in the evening. This time is known as 'golden hour' because of the soft, warm light, as opposed to the high contrast light when the sun is high overhead. If you can't shoot at these most desirable times, waiting for an overcast day is another good alternative.
But photographing cannabis in an indoor environment is a whole different animal. If you are an indoor grow, your cannabis is probably lit on a regular schedule, where approximately half the time it's in pitch dark, and the rest of the time it is being lit by very specific HPS or LED lighting. These tend to create weird color hues that make photography very difficult. We're able to shoot in these grow rooms and adjust the color temperature in post, but even so it's not perfect. An amateur who's got no idea how to use Photoshop is going to be in trouble, which is why so many cannabis photos on Instagram have strange yellow, green, or even purple casts to them.
If you want premium cannabis photography in this environment, without hiring a professional, you'll need to invest in some good lighting solutions. Fortunately, entry level LED lights and soft boxes are not too expensive, and are becoming cheaper all the time. Once again, identify your exact workflow scenario and invest in lights that will accommodate your needs.
Find The Right Backdrop For Your Cannabis Photos
Another consideration is what kind of background you want for your photos. This can be as simple as making sure to point your camera in such a way so as not to show a cluttered backdrop, such as a utility closet or shed. When your documenting in-process cannabis grows, whether indoors or out, there's only so much you can do in terms of isolating a single plant or single flower.
One option is to hang a backdrop behind your subject. This might just be a white or black sheet on the other side of the plant you're shooting, which has the added benefit of blocking out or diffusing unwanted light while allowing you to better focus your LED's or soft boxes.
But for product photography or specific types of flower photography, you might need to be able to completely isolate your subject and then convert it to a solid white, solid black, or any other color or pattern. This will obviously require some Photoshop skills, but shooting on a solid color backdrop will make it much easier to remove the background in Photoshop later on. In these cases, you'll probably want to set up a separate shooting station where you can move a bud, a flower, or an entire plant, as necessary.
One common workflow involves shooting the cannabis yourself, and then turning over the raw images to a professional who specializes in retouching photos. This is obviously more expensive than keeping the entire workflow DIY, but it's definitely cheaper than hiring a photographer to do the entire process. In these instances, you'll want to work closely with your retoucher to ensure you're providing them the quality of image they need to create the desired finished product.
Invest In The Right Camera For Your Cannabis Photography
Most people assume that the camera is the first thing they need to worry about, and where the bulk of the money needs to go. But the truth is that a professional photographer can take amazing photos with a cheap disposable film camera, let alone a modern smart phone, while an amateur could be gifted the most expensive camera in the world and still end up with crap photos. This is why professionals continue to command the salaries that they do, because of the years of training that's gone into their craft.
But if you are going the DIY photography route, the reality is that a camera is the least of your concerns. Most of us already carry an amazingly advanced camera in our pockets everywhere we go. What you need to do is identify the type of photography you want, and then invest in a camera and supporting gear that makes sense. If that's an iPhone, you'll still be able to capture amazing photos, all you'll need is a bit of practice.
If you're most interested in product photography, it might be a good idea to invest in a DSLR or mirrorless camera. This can be on the low end or in the prosumer category. What you'll spend the bulk of your money on is a really good macro lens. This is a type of lens that helps to enlarge your subject, and is perfect for high quality cannabis product photography. But these lenses can be quite expensive (over a thousand dollars on the high end) and so you might want to scour the used market to find one that matches your needs.
Find A Photographer Already On Your Team
To this point, we've mostly been focused on the gear and techniques involved with cannabis photography. But what about the person doing the photography? This might be you. If that's the case, we recommend before you invest a lot of money in gear, you're sure that photography is something you're truly interested in. Taking on such an endeavor is best reserved for those people who have a true passion for photography and are willing to invest the time to get really good.
Before you immediately give up and turn to a professional agency, you should look internally. Is there someone on your team already who's an amateur photographer and would be interested in overseeing your content creation needs? Or perhaps you have a family member or close friend who could take on this role? There are a lot of people out there who love doing photography and video production, and even if they aren't professionals, they have a talent and passion for it.
Of course, it may turn out that doing all of the photography internally, while possible, is more trouble than it's worth. This is when you want to find a professional photography team that's willing to customize and scale up their services as your business grows.
Partner With The Cannabis Photographers At The Hood Collective
When you decide it's time to invest in professional cannabis photography for your farm or dispensary, The Hood Collective is ready to help. We offer affordable, fully-tailored solutions that fit any marketing budget. Best of all, our team of photographers specialize in the cannabis industry, meaning we are uniquely positioned to help growing (pun intended!) businesses like yours.
The Hood Collective has proven success producing magazine-quality cannabis photography, including drone photography.
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.