There’s no doubt that weed has had a powerful presence in music, art and basically every creative scene you can think of. After all, even Bob Marley says, “When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself.” But what about when it comes to photography? I mean, taking a couple hits and running out to shoot something ‘artistic’ almost seems too easy. So to find out how weed affects photography, we spoke to 16 photographers of varying ages and disciplines about what it’s like to get high AF and manhandle a camera.
1. ‘Only bring your A game,’ Roberto Valenzuela, Wedding Photographer, 39
First, before I begin making my point, I want to let you know that I’ve never smoked weed or done any kind of drugs in my entire life. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen the effects of weed or any other mental stimulant on other people. I can only equate the effects of smoking anything with drinking wine. I think the most challenging issue adults experience with bringing their A-game to a photoshoot is their own inhibitions. During a photoshoot, there is always an unspoken adjustment period between the subject and the photographer. This is especially true if you’re working with that subject for the first time. Children on the other hand, don’t have any inhibitions. They do what they want and say what they please. Bringing your inner child could be a powerful tool to bring to a shoot. It would make the photographer more decisive, not have to second guess him or herself, and come up with the wildest ideas with great enthusiasm. People are attracted to personalities like that. They become instant leaders. For this reason, I don’t mind sharing a little wine with my clients before a shoot. It could help remove some inhibitions and help the subject relax.
2. ‘Your client will know you’re stoned,’ Jason Leiva, Advertising Photographer, 37
My use of Marijuana has played a very small part of my creative process, even less so as I’ve become older and more confident in my process and ability to think through my methodology.
In my younger days, it was a bit of an escape from the stress of long days, whatever personal issues I was having, and weeks of post-production. But ideation and problem solving wasn’t necessarily made better by a smoke break. However, it did occasionally help me focus or at least become interested in benign bullshit while I was locked in a darkroom retouching ad campaigns for days on end.
My creative process has changed over the years, but it has always been based in knowledge of my craft and the willingness to experiment. And sometimes, a little burn can assist in opening up that experimental side of your process. But it can also be a drawback. When time and deadlines are important, getting stoned didn’t always help. Sometimes I would walk in a creative director’s office with a “brilliant” idea, when in reality it was only brilliant to me inside my hazy mind. Also, dealing with clients while stoned isn’t a good practice. You know that paranoid voice in your head that keeps asking “if they can tell I’m stoned?” Dude, they know.
However, I think it helps me most often when I feel a bit stuck in my own process or just need to let go of some preconceptions. But it is by no means a way of daily inspiration. If you’re only creative when you are stoned, then you may have a bigger issue at hand when it comes to being creative at all.
As an independent artist, free from the confines of a daily gig, I’m free to burn whenever I feel like it. But these days I have less desire to take that path with any regularity. Really, it’s simply a vacation from myself for a couple hours and a chance to try something familiar with a slightly alternative state of mind. Sometimes the results are interesting, sometimes it just looks like I was stoned.
3. ‘Trust your inner voice,’ Celebrity Photographer, 32
I think if you can really be honest and ask yourself, ‘does this make me more creative and productive?’ and the answer is ‘yes,’ then sure, smoking weed is good for your photography career. I’ve definitely gotten high and wrote nonsensical notes-to-self that later turned into successful personal projects, so in those moments smoking was good for my photography. Then again, I’ve also gotten high and wasted hours getting sucked into a Law and Order SVU marathon. Obviously, this is not an effective use of time. It’s so personal. I know some wake and bake, all-day-every-day smokers who are really creative and get a lot of work done while stoned out of their minds. And if this is you, amazing then, smoke away! I personally can’t function that way—weed as a lifestyle for me would ruin my career. But as the occasional creative catalyst, or sleep aid before a big shoot, I’m a fan.
4. ‘Rely only on your own vision,’ Portrait Photographer, 41
I don’t think weed, or any drug for that matter, can necessarily make anyone a better photographer. I’ve never smoked before shooting a client job, but I’ve sometimes smoked before shooting some personal work while out wandering by myself or during the editing process. Smoking will affect people in differently, but for most, it will potentially allow us to look at something in a different way or to explore a new way of seeing.
I find now that I simply want to be razor-focused and aware of how I’m seeing, and to think about why I’m seeing the way I do. Being impaired can take away that clarity. It’s also worth remembering that editing something while high can make us think the most bizarre things look amazing. I would often go back to what I’d edited late at night while high, thinking I’d created something epic, only to look at it in the cold light of day the next morning and wonder why I ever thought what I was doing looked good!
With that said, there’s no denying that smoking weed has helped open up certain ways of approaching or seeing the work I want to create. I understand that for some, smoking weed is used as a tool and they do just that. The only real danger is becoming reliant on weed, or anything, really, and thinking that we need it before we can create the way we want to. I believe being reliant on anything other than your own vision and expertise is just taking you down the wrong path.
When you’re young I would say drugs help you tackle your fears. Ask that stranger if you can take his or her picture. Ask that model or celebrity to be in an awkward position. Help push your passion. Be able to focus intently. But it could also backfire, and I’ve put my foot in my mouth numerous times because of weed.
7. ‘See beyond,’ Billy Murray, Editor-in-Chief of Resource Magazine, 24 (IG: @_billymurray)
For many, many years of my life, I was a massive stoner. Back in the day, as far back as high school, I could roll a gram into a blunt, smoke it, then go about my day without any inhibition. In fact, that was often when I would ace tests, write music, which is one of my biggest past times, or have extremely intense, open-minded and deep conversations with friends about the meaning of life, accessing the bullshit expectations of society and our plans to excel above that. I know, I know, it sounds like the lyrics of a Grateful Dead song, but really, this lifestyle, which included many more factors than simply smoking pot, is truly how I discovered that the only thing I ever want to do is create shit for a living.
However, something changed in my late teens. Increasingly, smoking weed made me paranoid and very anti-social, self-conscious, and unable to carry myself with confidence in public. I guess the simplest explanation would be that I just grew out of it. Of course, if I was high, feeling like that all day, I wouldn’t be able to function in any facet of my life, aside from getting stoned and eating pizza in bed. And when it comes to photography, it was only very recently that I’ve become confident in my abilities and locked in my process. Weed makes me second guess that, and overthink everything I’m doing. At the end of the day, it makes me so critical of my work and overcome with self-doubt that I end up getting nothing done.
That said, I would by lying if I said I ‘don’t smoke.’ Like many photographers, I sometimes suffer from pretty intense insomnia and I’m outwardly against relying on pills or other medications for sleep or anxiety. But a puff or two of weed before bed is a solid tool for putting my mind at ease, as long as I don’t smoke too much. Basically, I wouldn’t say smoking weed has ever made me create better work, but I respect weed culture in the sense that, from a young age, it helped me see beyond the straight and narrow, copy and paste life path that society says will lead to happiness, but in reality leaves many of us unfulfilled.
Beer seems to be the more usual professional lubricant.
Using marijuana while I’m shooting is cool for me, whether I smoke it, or have some edibles, because I seem to be more creative and free with less rules and less fear. Also, having a quick smoke between set ups gives me a freakin’ break! It gives me a second to breathe, reflect on what I’ve already shot that day, and come up with that extra kick in the ass for the next round of shooting.
After smoking, I can ‘see’ a little more, I laugh a little more, and I’m more empathetic, which makes for a great shoot. So I don’t know if marijuana makes me a “better” photographer, but it certainly makes me a little more fun during the process!
11. ‘Just drink instead,’ Brad Trent, Photographer, 57
It doesn’t help me…it puts me right to bed! That’s why I don’t smoke weed and drink so fucking much wine!
12. ‘If I had ADD it would help me focus,’ Tam N, Photographer, 32
I feel super impaired, unable to even keep a conversation going. Whenever I get high with Lauren, I’m always a few topics behind. I know my brain is so slow when I’m high. That said, my brother who has diagnosed ADD is an agent and a mild dose actually helps him focus. But only indica, which is a downer. When he smokes sativa, he gets random and slow like me too. Basically, stimulants help clam him down and depressants speed him up, which is the complete opposite for non-ADD/ADHD people.
13. ‘There is a time and a place for it,’ Photographer, 35
Being a better photographer is a really broad statement. Does being a better photographer mean I’m being more creative? Or does it mean I’m executing better? I think one could say that being better at either of those things would constitute as being a better photographer. Anyway, I think there was a time that I believed smoking weed opened up my creativity and allowed me to think outside the realms of my own limitations. However, it has definitely affected my ability to execute as I’ve gotten older. So I guess I believe there is a time and a place for it. It is wonderful for spurring creativity, but awful for sustaining productivity.
14. ‘Don’t fall into the rabbit hole,’ Pat Black, Photographer, 25
I am 25 years old and have never smoked weed, but for my friends that do it it helps them relax, take their time, and not to become stressed out by the clients and the struggles of being on set.
I’ve watched people let everything they care about slip through their fingers when they lose self-control, but the same thing happens if someone drinks too much or gambles to much—it depends so much on how driven and responsible they are. For myself, I know I would probably fall into that rabbit hole so that’s why I try to stay away from it.
15. ‘Shooting Dead,’ Peter Hurley, Photographer, 47
I turn into a zombie on that stuff so I think it’s dependent upon the human being who’s firin’ it up.
16. ‘Be your professional best,’ Karaminder Singh Ghuman, Photographer, 35
I’ve barely smoke weed, but when I’m shooting I need all my wits about me. Often times, it’s not about being creative, it’s about managing time, the client, the subject and putting out fires and being creative with all the limiting factors. I believe any intoxicant (weed, alcohol, etc.) is a hindrance to being your professional best.