What I learned by taking photos of mushrooms…

Ok, I was inspired by various sources on Facebook sharing photographs of fungi during this autumnal season; and a family walk through Lily Hill Park here in Bracknell led to the discovery of some excellent subjects. With a day off work, I set off in good spirits; what could be hard about photographic mushrooms in their natural environment. They are static, quite beautiful and I knew my macro lens was capable of capturing fantastic detail. What could possibly go wrong?!!!

Firstly, location. Many of the fungi I had spotted were in awkward, inaccessible places. I had brought a plastic sheet to lie or kneel on (bad knee aches at present) but even so in many places brambles and twigs (painfully) made setting up a decent composition much more difficult than I had anticipated.

Connected to “location” was the light availability. I had chosen an overcast day with some bright sunshine. I definitely needed some sunshine to provide contrast on the (mostly) brown mushrooms I was capturing. Others were simply all too often in shaded areas and very difficult to light properly.

My ‘learnings’

Then I came across my “ah hah” moment…a series of learnings that said I did not know my equipment well enough to be in the field:

Firstly, I am very used to using my tripod (even at DarKnight time) but this required getting it set level and low in awkward places. It’s a great bit of kit but I should have practiced using it more with the alternative short stem or with the sideways extension bar. Note to self, have a play in the living room before setting off.

Second and very fundamental. I love my Canon 100mm macro lens. And I fully understood it’s shallow depth of field. But I wanted to ensure the backgrounds were very much thrown out of focus so ended up using f7 or f5.6. However, this did not give me enough DOF to ensure all of my mushroom subjects remains crisp and clear. I needed more confidence to shoot at smaller apertures, I needed to have remembered my glasses so I could have properly checked focus on my screen or better still…I should be conversant with using my WiFi connection to the iPad. I’ve used this indoors but was not quite confident enough to do this in the field.

Thirdly, I knew I could use my Canon Speedlight off camera to lift the shadows underneath the mushrooms. However, when it came to it, I could not remember the basics of setting my flash to 1/16 or 1/32 power, or how best to set it up in my Manual Mode shooting. The solution is simple – read the manual and do some practice indoors.

And the positives

But I did learn or do some positive stuff:

  • I knew I needed to be patient. I played with various compositions using my camera handheld or using my phone first.
  • I checked the background and foreground for unwanted clutter. I didn’t damage anything, but shifted mud and fallen leaves if they distracted from the composition.
  • I waited for the sun to come out and shifted my position to get some side lighting.
  • I used my portable reflectors to bounce light into the underneath shadows. White worked, gold, which I thought may provide a lovely warm effect did not.
  • I did use Live View to some effect to check focus and composition (see above on focus)

And in summary

I do have some decent photos – maybe not of the standard that I would put into a competition, but I am pleased for a first attempt. Overall, my really big learning (and this is true for much of my photography) is that I am reasonably competent in many aspects but what really sets great photos apart is the “light” – it’s quality, direction, interaction on the subject and the surroundings. I am going to try and work on this over the coming months.

Here are three more examples from the walk.

Does anybody have fungi or mushroom shots to share?

Gareth Fish

Generally having fun, mostly outdoor genres of photography. I look after the Night Photography SIG for the club. If you are interested in going the DarKnights, give me a call