You’d be amazed at how long it can take concentrate photographer Dave Tomanovich to post a single picture on Instagram. His latest snap of Holy Hash’s Headband and Stardawg cross spotlights each angular nook and cranny of the live resin, glowing amber like a precious stone. This shot may look deceptively simple, but behind the scenes, it could have taken hours for the 640 x 640-pixel frame to premiere on Tomanovich’s account, @daves_not_h3r3_man.
He is not a point-shoot-post kind of guy — cannabis photography is his full-time job. And it has attracted more than 30,000 followers to his Instagram page.
“I’ll be 45 this year,” he says. “Up until three years ago, I sort of tongue-in-cheek said, ‘I wish I knew what I was going to do when I grow up.’ I never thought I could get paid to take pictures of anything, let alone something that I’m really passionate about. This is a literal life dream come true.”
When Tomanovich first moved to Colorado in 2012, he didn’t own any professional photography equipment. But a few years later, when major undiagnosed health issues cost him his job building water wells, Tomanovich’s family saw the loss as an opportunity, lending him the money to upgrade from consumer gear, launching a whole new career.
“The extraction community is extremely secretive,” he says, but “the photography community is very supportive and very helpful, in part maybe because it’s small enough that people don’t feel threatened by other people.”
Armed with his Canon 6D and a few macro lenses (MP-E 65mm and 100mm L, if you’re wondering), Tomanovich has a long client list, including Colorado-based cannabis companies like Oil Well Concentrates and AllGreens Extraction Co.
“I don’t have my own garden, so this is all typically medical or recreational market stuff,” he says. He’s also a big fan of nature photography, which is why you’ll see photos of tigers and elk next to cannabis buds and extracts in his feed.
When Tomanovich started establishing himself as a macro photographer, he quickly realized that he wasn’t going to get a crystal-clear, high-quality shot on the first go. “When you do a portrait, typically you can get a person’s face, as much of the face you want, in focus,” he says. “Macro stuff, that’s almost always impossible. It’s hard to get a nug from the front to the back in focus.”
So instead, Tomanovich has to snap hundreds of shots, visually documenting each and every single millimeter of the product. To help, he uses a macro rail, which allows Tomanovich to move his camera in tiny increments.
Next, Tomanovich takes these pictures, uploads them into a photo-stacking software called Zerene, which will digitally assemble all the sharpest parts of all of the individual photos, and creates the perfect composite that his followers will see on Instagram. Then the likes and comments start rolling in.
This prolonged process isn’t as much of an undertaking when it comes to flower, or even THCA crystals, because the products are static and don’t budge in the middle of a photoshoot. But with other concentrates, which can be runny and unpredictable, Tomanovich is dealing with a more high-maintenance subject.
“If it’s saucy and they don’t want to stay on the dabber, they spread out,” he explains. “[Concentrates] don’t stay the same shape from the beginning of the shoot to the end of it… the challenge is to keep everything in place to do the stack or to edit it the right way so it doesn’t look weird.”
As a result, Tomanovich doesn’t recommend this kind of photography for the casual, consumer-grade, side-hustle hobbyist. And a smartphone camera definitely isn’t going to cut it.
“Our phones are pretty damn amazing, and [the photos] look really good on the phone,” he says. “But when you put it on a computer screen or you want to print it, that’s when you see this is a phone picture.”
Still, he says aspiring photographers don’t need to invest in $10,000 worth of gear just yet.
“My best piece of advice would be more of a general photography thing: Pick up a DSLR and learn how to use that in a manual mode,” Tomanovich says. “Learn everything about the camera.”
After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Tomanovich was only an amateur.
“I got really sick when I was 35, sick enough that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to work again, if I was going to provide for myself,” he says. “I still have health issues, but to be able to do my life’s dream as a job — it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.