TC: How did this specific High Times gig come about?
RP: Nico forwarded me an e-mail from one of the art guys, who was asking for shots of Bruce Banner without any further information. I sent a few shots over, then got a reply a few days later with more specifics, namely that it was for the annual Strongest Strains article (a big one that gets a lot of eyeballs) and that they wanted some shots from Denver, preferably with the shops that actually won the strongest strain awards.
They needed both live plant and dried nug shots, so I called up a few contacts to see who had a nice Bruce Banner #3 ready. I ended up shooting live plants at Strainwise and Kind Love — the live plant shots used in the issue are all from Strainwise, while the cover photo is of a dried nug from Kind Love. After I sent the initial photos in, Nico got back to me and indicated that it will possibly be the cover. Fortunately enough, that turned out to be the case!
TC: Are you going to frame the cover?
RP: I have a big archive of all my random publications and memorabilia from these first years of the marijuana industry, and this one will definitely be at the top of that heap. I’m picking up 5 or so of the issues to hold onto for the future.
TC: When did you get into the photography of weed?
RP: I had always been interested in cannabis as a subject, since I first discovered the overgrow.com forums back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. When the Ogden memo came down in 2009 and the dispensary scene started to blow up, I decided to take my passion public with a review blog called mmjincolorado.com. I was just going around and buying samples and taking “macro photos” of them using a $100 USB microscope. My blog caught the attention of the team at KindReviews, and they asked me to come on as a strain reviewer and writer. Eventually the photographer position opened up, and I was essentially handed the camera and told “don’t change it from these settings” … that’s where I got my start as a professional photographer.
TC: You regularly shoot strains for The Cannabist and other outlets, but you’re also working on a larger encyclopedic project, right?
RP: Yeah, I am working on putting all my data and photos together into a website project, which is called cannabisencyclopedia.com. It is still in the building phases, but I am hoping that it will be the most trusted and thorough source for strain information online. I also hope to have a variety of unique content that we are really only able to generate in Colorado such as tours of true industrial-sized grows, dispensary reviews, grower profiles, how-to videos, etc. We are hoping for a proper launch later this year.
TC: And you’re self-taught, right? When did you get started, and do you laugh when you see old shots of yours?
RP: Yeah, as I mentioned, I was basically given the KindReviews company DSLR camera and told to leave the settings alone. Being naturally curious, I wasn’t satisfied with that and started doing a lot of online research on photography basics and how to use my particular camera model. Then I just started experimenting like crazy. Once I figured out the basic variables to getting a good photo, I started to get really comfortable with the plants and the type of shoots that a cannabis photographer is required to handle, which is really the nuance of this particular niche that I’m occupying.
TC: Rolling Stone magazine called you “the biggest weed nerd in town.” That sound about right?
RP: That was probably the most honored I’ve ever been by a media mention, because I didn’t tell him to call me that; he just came and hung out for a few days, and I guess that was the natural description. There are only a handful of people in the world who are not growers or trimmers but spend most of their professional time handling cannabis. I spend 90% of my day photographing cannabis plants (or buds), editing cannabis photos, writing about cannabis and consuming cannabis — it really is all-encompassing, and I am definitely a nerd about it (as well as a variety of other topics) — so I would call that a fairly accurate description.
TC: Do you have any advice for other weed nerds on this nug-porn style of cannabis photography?
RP: The biggest thing that home photographers lack is proper lighting. When shooting something so tiny and at such a close distance, you really need to blast the subject with light to get any kind of depth of field. Depth of field is the term for how much of the subject is in clear focus — in cannabis photography, DoF is of paramount importance, while other photography styles normally do not focus on it as much and often want the out-of-focus areas (called “bokeh” in photography lingo) to make up the majority of the image. With cannabis, you’re trying to show every little trichome in all its crystalline glory, so the angle and setup of the shot, the lighting and the white balancing all play a huge role in getting a crisp, detailed photo. My basic tips for those who don’t have the proper macro lighting equipment: use slightly filtered natural light, custom white balance your camera (if available) and try to get your aperture as small as possible to maximize depth of field and get all those little trichome heads in clear focus.