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Making the most of mushrooms

Making the most of mushrooms - As the leaves fall off the trees and the nights get longer venturing outside into the damp and cold to take a photograph of a mushroom isn't something everyone will want to do. Here, two photographers who specialise in fungi photography tell us why we should be photographing mushrooms and how to capture them in their best light.

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Flowers and Plants

horse mushroom Horse Mushroom by John Leach.

With Autumn rapidly approaching now is the time to put on your boots and take a walk into your local woods to find some fungi species to photograph. Even though some types of mushroom can be found all year, the main season is just starting so there's at least three months of photographic opportunities to enjoy.

"Early morning is the best time to photograph mushrooms as there will normally be fresh fruiting bodies that haven't been attacked by foraging animals and insects," said fungi photographer John Leach.

Mushrooms aren't picky about where they grow, they can literally grow anywhere. But the best places to find them are in parks or woods in damp, moist conditions. Mushrooms also tend to grow to the peripheral edges of woodland rather than in the woods itself.

"They can grow on many different types of matter. Living or dead trees, dung, meadows, animal remains and leaves," said mushroom photographer Peter Hosey.

Once you have chosen your area to target you need to get your equipment and clothing together. Wrapping-up warm is a good piece of advice as is wearing over trousers to keep your legs dry when kneeling on the ground. As well as the obvious equipment such as your camera and a tripod a torch is useful to not only light your way but to also help hi-light any species you may find. If you don't like getting your hands dirty a pair of gloves and a small brush are also helpful pieces of equipment.

As mushrooms grow from the ground they can often be found covered in dirt and other pieces of vegetation. If you're going for the natural look leaving them how you find them is fine but some photographers chose to clean them or the surroundings a little first.

Spotted ToughshankSpotted Toughshank by John Leach.

"Some fungi are naturally wet or sticky and can have lots of things (leaves, grass, dead flies etc) stuck to them which if you try to brush off will damage the plant. Others can be very smooth and have nothing on them. I generally try to get pictures of them in their natural state.  However I do sometimes move twigs or leaves out of the way in order to get a fuller picture," said Peter.

As mushrooms are often found on the ground you will be spending a lot of time on your knees or even laid flat on your front. No one said this would be a simple stroll in the park and this is why practical clothing is essential. If you lay on the ground you will be able to capture the mushroom not only from the top of it's dome but you will also be able to take pictures underneath. This can also give your mushroom height adding drama to the texture, shapes and colours the mushrooms offer.

"With wild flowers and fungi you have to get down low and mingle with the dirt. Lying flat on your stomach in the middle of brambles with half a dozen tree roots sticking in your ribs is quite common. And then you have to contend with all the animal droppings too (and that includes dogs!). Getting the right angle is important and this can prove to be very difficult as many times the fungi is rarely growing in an ideal location. I don't have any one technique that I apply all the time simply because every picture requires something different but understanding what you want before taking the picture does help in understanding how best to capture it," said Peter.

Blushing Bracket Blushing Bracket by John Leach.

Getting close to the ground doesn't mean you have to be without a tripod. Low level tripods or ones where the legs extend so the tripod is almost horizontal to the ground can be purchased. "They can be expensive but they're worth it," said Peter. A tripod is an essential part of a mushroom photographers kit as where you take your photographs will be lacking in light and if you want to keep your ISO level low your camera will have a long exposure time and without a tripod this would result in camera shake. "Exposure times can range from ten seconds to a couple of minutes," said Peter. A remote or wireless trigger would also be a useful tool as this means you don't have to press the shutter release which can also cause camera shake. The electronic shutter curtain in modern cameras also helps with reducing shake as they work a lot smoother than the old mechanical ones did.

Peter always has his camera set in aperture priority and John Leach recommends you use a aperture value of around f22 to widen the focal point. Where mushrooms are found are usually cluttered places full of insects, leaves and other objects you may not want in your photograph .  Using a shallow depth of field by selecting a larger aperture value will mean the background is thrown out of focus and your mushroom is the centre of attention.

For even more impact you could get really close to your mushrooms and tighten the framing. "A good macro lens is essential. The sigma 105 is a good example," said John.

Of course you could be in a place where the background is worth photographing and for this a smaller aperture would be appropriate.

Anthracobia MelalomaAnthracobia Melaloma by John Leach.

"I have read quite a lot about how it 's important to get in close and fill the frame with your subject but to me the whole frame is the subject. The background is just as important as the foreground as too is the mid ground. It is all the individual parts of the image that make the overall picture. It all depends on what you are trying to achieve," said Pete.

Like any subject different approaches redeem different results and your approach will change depending on your needs. "Every subject requires a different approach depending on what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes a close up shot works better than a long shot."

Lighting in woods can be hard to find. Some photographers use flash but because the mushrooms have a shiny surface the flash can bounce back and burn out the image, even if you use a diffuser. Direct sunlight also does this and for this reason is the mushroom photographers worst enemy. Equipment such as reflectors helps with lighting in studios but when your're out walking this extra equipment can be a burden and end up slowing you down. If you don't mind the extra weight they can be an excellent way to bounce light up onto the underbelly of the mushroom. Although if your'e on your own it can prove to be a bit of a juggling act. For this reason most mushroom photographers rely on natural light.

Amethyst Deceiver

 Amethyst Deceiver by John Leach.

"You could also use an LED head torch. It's very useful for painting light onto a subject and you can wear it when you use it too. It's also much easier to bring out extra shadow and background information later in CS3," said John.

Even though most fungi photographers don't use flash.  Directional or off camera flash can achieve some interesting results. Experiment with bouncing the light off surrounding objects or try backlighting the mushroom for a different look.

Once you have the basics experimenting, having fun is the key to successful mushroom photography and in the words of Pete, "It beats working doesn't it!"

You can view more of Peter's work by visiting his website or looking at his magazine


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11 Nov 2008 7:42PM
I do fungi forays and this is very handy. I like the idea of the LED head torch will have to try it. The Amethyst Deceiver will be on my dinner plate if I was there. Mainly grow around beech and oak

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