“You are going to leave smelling like pot,” says the marijuana grower as he leads me into the grow room.
I look around at the sea of marijuana plants, towering over me by a foot, and branches weighed down with buds. I was there to photograph the pot growing operation in southeast Portland. An unexpected place to find myself, but as a news photographer, I’m used to being in an unexpected places.
Along with unexpected places, come unexpected photography challenges. And this assignment presented a few of those.
The white grow room was filled wall to wall with large, bushy plants. Two rows of netting were attached to the walls. We ducked and dodged netting as we moved around the room.
No big deal. I’m small and have been in tight places before while making photos.
Next challenge—dodging the sticky buds of the plant. The grower also warned me that should I brush against the bud with my lens, it would probably create a problem.
Check. Avoid sticky buds.
But by far, the biggest challenge was the overwhelming, blinding bright light. The grower donned ski goggles before he entered the room and handed me a pair of dark, blue tinted glasses.
The grow room is lit with high-powered Gavita lights, made in Holland especially for horticulture applications. All that super bright light was bouncing off silver reflectors mounted above them, and directing that light down, onto the plants. Since the walls and floor were also white, it’s not advisable to be in there without eye protection.
In addition, the Gavita lights themselves posed a challenge for taking photos of the plants because they exceeded the Kelvin scale on my digital cameras.
Let me back up a bit. Every visible light source, be it the sun or a fluorescent light, has a different color temperature. Color temperature is measured in photography in Kelvins (K). Cool bluish white colors are around 5,000 K and warmer colors (yellow or reddish) are around 2700-3000 K. In digital photography, cameras are programmed to handle a variety of Kelvins. There are white balance settings which make adjustments for standard lighting situations such as incandescent, fluorescent, daylight, etc. You can also control the Kelvin settings manually.
While our eyes can see a range of color spectrums, the camera must be told what to do. I shoot with a beautiful Canon 5dMkiii and it’s usually amazing at figuring out the correct light source. In this case though, it just couldn’t handle the Gavita lights.
I did some tests while manually controlling the Kelvin settings eventually choosing to use the lowest Kelvin setting on my camera, 2500. (It was close, but I still had to do some final light corrections in post-process editing.)
After that, making images was a breeze. The plant varieties were interesting to photograph. They are intricate and beautiful when you see them up close.
The growers were passionate and ran a careful and clean operation. And it was fascinating to see first-hand a new industry being created.
And yes, I did leave smelling like pot.