Sure the wildflowers are mostly done blooming but the mushrooms are peaking. Now is the perfect time to search out some of our mycological wonders. But put on your grubbiest jeans because to get really fantastic fungi photos, you need to get LOW…usually laying on your belly.
Getting eye-to-eye with “The King”… The King Bolete (Boletus edulis), Superior National Forest, Minnesota. August 26th. [Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens with 1.4x tele-extender; f5.6 at 1/250 second, ISO 800; flash at -0.5ev]
1. GET DOWN AND DIRTY
There are a few species that grow on standing trees, some even sprout conveniently at head-height (Sulphur Shelf, Oyster Mushroom, Shelving Tooth, Birch Polypore) but the vast majority are on the forest floor or very low to the ground on fallen logs.
2. WIDE ANGLE FUN
If I find a relatively large mushroom in an uncluttered setting, I often like to play with a WIDE view to show the habitat of the fungus. I use a 10-20mm Sigma lens on a 1.6x crop-factor camera so the equivalent would be 16-32mm lens. This is WIDE.
Now get LOW and CLOSE to your subject. Use a very small aperture to get a very large depth-of-field…f11 to f22.
Wide angle views can be very interesting but you need to have a large specimen and get VERY close to it. Fly Amanita (Amanita muscaria) Hawk Ridge, Duluth, Minnesota. October 3
Comb Tooth (Hericium sp.) [Canon EOS XTi with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f22 at 1.3 seconds, ISO 400; on tripod] Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton County, Minnesota; October 4th.
Suillus sp. [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f13 at 1/100 second, ISO 800; flash at -0.33ev, handheld with camera braced on ground] September 26th.
This is rule 3 because almost every mushroom growing on the ground or on a log is surrounded by distracting elements—twigs and branches in the background, leaves covering part of the fungus, grasses and pine needles sticking up and into the frame, dirt on the cap, etc. A little harmless “groundskeeping” can help your images immensely. First, explore camera angles by moving around your subject with your camera in your hand. Once you’ve found the ideal view, put your camera on the tripod. Set your exposure with adequate depth of field (often f9, f11, f13 with small mushrooms). Now look through the viewfinder while using your depth of field preview button (if your camera has one). Do you notice any distracting elements in the frame? If so, we need to remove them. I don’t go as far as bringing tweezers and brushes, but I will pluck grasses, leaves and twigs from near the subject, brush away dirt from the cap with my hand, …For larger plants that are in the way, I’ll either hold them back with a log or small clamp. If the background is hopelessly cluttered, I may bring in a mossy log or some green leaves and prop them up about a foot from the subject.
Note the distracting grasses behind this lovely Amanita, and the debris on the cap. These are easily plucked and will improve your image 100 percent.
The “landscaped” version with distracting grasses and cap debris removed. Cloquet Forest, Carlton County, Minnesota [Canon 40D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 126mm; f7.1 at 1/25 second, ISO 200; flash at -1.0ev, tripod] August 30th.
4. USE A TRIPOD
There are several issues we’re trying to solve by using a tripod. Consider the following scenarios:
a.—You find a beautiful Amanita muscaria on the forest floor. It is a big mushroom and you want the stalk and cap in focus. You’ve forgotten your tripod so you have to hand-hold the shot. In order to even get 1/200 of a second, you have to crank up your ISO to 3200…a very “noisy” setting. But when you look at your photo on the camera’s LCD, you see that only a small portion of the fungus is in focus. You then see that the camera had to be at f5.6 to get 1/200 second. You really need f11 to get all in focus but now your shutter speed falls to 1/30 of a second and far too slow to hand-hold. Bummer.
b.—In scenario two, you’ve remembered your tripod…Hallelujah! Now you can shoot at f11 at a noise-free ISO 200 even though your shutter speed is now very slow. Unlike wildflowers that shake in the slightest breeze, mushrooms sit quite still and you can use very long exposures. Problems solved.
My workhorse “fungus lens” is a Canon 70-200mm f4. Usually I am putting the Canon 500D close-up lens to the front of it for macro work or shots of very small mushrooms. But occasionally, for larger mushrooms, or clusters of specimens, I will use the lens without the close-up attachment at the 200mm end. This also helps reduce background clutter because details quickly go out of focus at longer focal lengths.
Pinwheel Marasmius (Marasmius rotula) near Eagle River, Wisconsin.
This cluster of newly-emerging Pholiota squarrosoides (Sharp-scaly Pholiota) was the perfect subject for a telephoto lens shot. The background blurred nicely. Cook Co MN [Canon EOS XTi with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 104mm; f8 at 1/30 second, ISO 800; flash; Superior National Forest, Cook County, Minnesota. August 21st.
6. FUNGI IN THE LANDSCAPE
This is related to the tip above, but your specimen/s are often farther from the camera and the surrounding habitat becomes a major part of the subject (and is in focus).
Northern Tooth or Shelving Tooth (Climacodon septentrionale) is a large fungus growing on old (and dying hardwoods). I backed up and got the fungus in its natural habitat…Northern Hardwood Forest. Rock Pond, UMD, Duluth MN [Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20mm lens at 10mm; f13 at 1/10 second, ISO 400; flash at -3.0ev, tripod] August 24th.
7. DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
Often just portions of your fungus subject can make for interesting photos. I’m talking about photogenic details here, not details that aid in identification (We’ll discuss that next post).
A close up of the scales on the cap of Fly Amanita (Amanita muscaria), Hawk Ridge, Duluth, MN. October 3rd. [Canon XTi with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 78mm with Canon 500D close up lens attached; f10 at 1/200 second, ISO 400]
I love the under-cap maze-like pattern of Birch Lenzites (Lenzites betulina). I cranked up the contrast by clipping the blacks and whites in Levels in Photoshop. Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton County, Minnesota
The “Brain Fungus” is one name for Gyromitra esculenta, the Conifer False Morel. It is a spring species that lives up to its name…This close up view is quite brain-like! BWCAW, Cook County, Minnesota.
8. FLASH…RIGHT-SIDE-UP & UPSIDE-DOWN
The vast majority of fungi photos need a little lighting help. Dark woods, messy backgrounds, contrasty, sun-dappled light or flat light, can all be cured with some additional light. Flash also makes your images look sharper. It is rare that I don’t use flash, an off-camera LED light, flashlight, or reflector to add light to an image. The pop-up flash on your camera is OK, but quite weak. I recommend a higher-powered flash that attaches to the hot shoe of your DSLR.
This first shot of Hollow-foot or Hollow-stemmed Suillus (Suillus cavipes) is okay…but notice that the flash created a shadow from the cap that blocks up all the detail of the stem. I think we can improve this.
9. LORD OF THE RING-LIGHT
LED ring lights are different than flashes. They emit a constant light via LED bulbs. You can use them either on your camera or as a stand-alone light source. They are not nearly as powerful as standard hot-shoe flashes, so you need to be very close to your subject. But they do offer a couple advantages; you can see exactly what your light will illuminate; and exposure is simple. I often use the LED light in conjunction with the reflector. Mine is the Polaroid Macro LED ring light (About $50 on Amazon)
This Pholiota mushroom cluster was photographed deep in the dark woods of Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton County, Minnesota. I absolutely needed additional light on these gorgeous ‘shrooms. See the next photo on how I did that. [Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 176mm; f5.6 at 1/160 second, ISO 1250; ring light LED] September 10th.
I wanted side light in this case, so a flash on the camera would not achieve this. To get the sidelighting, I placed my Polaroid Macro LED ring light off to the side. It has its own power so I could use it off the camera. You can control the power of the LEDs as well.
I used the LED ring light to illuminate these tiny Blue Stain fungus cups. It was quite dark on the forest floor but I placed the ring light very close to these guys and also bounced some light in with a reflector. [Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 113mm and Canon 500D close up lens attached; f16 at 1/1000, ISO 1600; hand held (This is a case where I did not have my tripod with me (bad Sparky!) If I had a tripod, I could have shot at a much slower shutter speed and much lower ISO for a cleaner image); Skogstjarna (my land) Carlton County, Minnesota. August 25th.
10. BOUNCE IT, BOUNCE IT!
On sunny days when working in the dappled light of the forest floor, a reflector can really work wonders.
This is how this beautiful cluster of Coral fungi looked without any additional light. It is an okay image.
After doing some groundskeeping (adding a few more photogenic dead leaves to the upper left corner to hide some grasses and “black holes”), I reevaluated the shot. It still needed some “punch.” The coral fungus was in the shade, but I noticed a spot of sunlight hitting the forest floor off to my left. I unfolded my 24″ circular reflector and played with where I needed to place it to get light on the corals. Since my camera was on a tripod, all I had to do once the light was right, was press the shutter button. Bouncing some sunlight into the scene with a reflector creates a pleasing light and gives depth and dimension to the coral fungus cluster. [Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f4 lens at 109mm; f16 at 1/4 second, ISO 200; 24" reflector; tripod]