THE MAGIC OF MUSHROOMS

 A Mushroom

A Mushroom

Fungi, though found in any month of the year, is most prolific in autumn and for the photographer — this is quite literally — Christmas come early. The time when mushrooms and toadstools are most abundant I is after a warm spell followed by a little rain in the early autumn. This is known as the autumn glut, when the moist muggy conditions are favourable to these organisms and when many of the more photogenic specimens tend to appear. Given the right conditions, fungi are found in all shapes, colours and sizes in everywhere from open fields to woodland floors, even cowpats fail to escape their decoration. On the whole, fungi occur in just about every habitat imaginable providing that the substances essential for their growth are present. Living or dead organic matter, animal or vegetable all provide the perfect hosts for fungi. GARDENING YOUR SUBJECT Having found a good specimen, there will undoubtedly be some gardening to be done. As fungi do not photosynthesise they can occur in very damp and shady places where all the other plants around them are fighting to reach the scarce sunlight. Some of my best subjects have been found deeply entangled in bramble thickets, requiring pricked fingers and lots of patience to clear enough debris to get a tripod into position. If you do spend considerable time ’an area only to find that a cap or stype (stem) has been damaged, it is acceptable to remove the offending parts providing it doesn’t ruin your composition. It will not harm the rest of the fungus in any way. Another trick is to strategically place an autumn leaf or any other natural item to hide any problems that you might find. Occasionally I come across fine specimens that have been knocked or kicked over by an unappreciative person who, for whatever reason, feels they make good target practice. By placing them back in the soil or moss it is possible to stage a shot as if it was in a natural setting. Often the position I choose in these circumstances is better than where the fungus originally came from, providing the habitat is truthful of course. There are many things that can contribute to an unsuccessful picture, but the most common one is always poor surroundings. The best advice is to only seek out the healthiest specimens and be prepared to spend time removing all the dead vegetation around them. Any mushroom that is past its best or in unattractive surroundings will become little more than a record shot on the final frame. Slugs are great lovers of fungi, especially the Russula species, (see above picture) and often eat them before they push through the surface and so getting there before them can be quite a challenge. Ignore certain fungi that do not lend themselves to photography. One that immediately springs to mind is the birch polypore (top). This is a bracket fungus, which lives exclusively on birch trees and is brown on the top and white underneath. To the mushroom rookie they seem large, impressive and an obvious choice for the lens, but there are often much better pickings to be had with a little more searching. You never know, a fly agaric maybe just around the next tree! An attractive and easily found species to start with is the Sulpher Tuft. It always seems to grow in the most appealing places, usually with moss and is often clustered in small attractive groups, and it occurs in just about every woodland.
Mushrooms

Mushrooms

EQUIPMENT You can guarantee that whenever you leave equipment at home on a fungal foray, you will nearly always need the bit you left behind. For this reason I always take as much equipment as my poor old back will allow. You could be forgiven for thinking that a macro lens is all that you would need, but this is far from the case. Macro lenses are good for small fungi like the Mycena variety, but shouldn’t be all-encompassing. Wide-angle lenses can often deliver dramatic results. By including the whole scene beyond, the essence of the subject is displayed as the addition of the background in the shot tells us more about the environment where the fungi grows. One point to watch with this is that with shorter focal length lenses the perception of depth-of-field will be greater than a longer focal length lens at the same distance, so backgrounds will become more pronounced, with tree trunks and branches becoming distractions. With a general landscape picture this would be fine, but with this type of nature shot it can be advantageous to offer some separation by means of a larger aperture, which will soften the background and focus a little more attention on the subject. Try taking a sequence of shots at different apertures to see the difference. On the other end of the scale, long lenses can create pictorial effects, especially when focused through foreground vegetation to the fungus beyond. This separates the subject from all of its surroundings, creates a misty effect and lends an ethereal quality to the picture, a technique that is quite in vogue today. I would normally rest the camera on a beanbag for this type of shot. Other items which are indispensable are reflectors; gold, silver and white for under-lighting the gills of fungi, cable releases to eliminate camera shake and a flashgun for very dull conditions, but only as a fill-in or to back light a subject. With regard to tripods, this is one bit of kit which can often be commonly overlooked. If you intend to pursue nature photography seriously, you must purchase one that is adaptable on very uneven ground. There are lots of types available though they do come at a price. I use a Uniloc 1900 Major and a Gitzo Carbon Fibre; which one I use depends largely on how far I’m walking on a given day. One last piece of kit you should consider is the indispensable white linen diffuser sheet. Mine was just bought for a few pennies off the market and is great for diffusing any dappled light that is falling on your subject. Hotspots can be a real pain in woodlands on a sunny day. Bright overcast days are by far the best. CASE STUDY — DON'T BE BEATEN After years of searching with friends we finally found a woodland where Porcelain fungi grows. This is a stunning little mushroom which illuminates like a lantern when the sun shines through it and makes an amazing picture. They are often found high up and out of reach but we happened to come a across a group that had fallen from a branch and landed on the floor, but getting under them with our cameras was proving difficult. The sequence of images above show how we got round such a dilemma. SHOOTING LOW This fine shot of two fly agarics illustrates three points previously mentioned. Firstly, the mushrooms had both been knocked out of the ground and have been replaced in a location of my choice. Secondly, the damaged parts have been hidden by turning them so only the good parts are visible and thirdly, the low angle approach, shooting with a long lens, has provided separation. All in all, a successful shot of two discarded and damaged mushrooms. DANGERS I could never write this article without briefly touching upon the dangers of fungi, however slight that they might be to the photographer. I would always advise not to eat any wild fungi without guidance from a trusted expert. As far as my experiences tell me, touching poisonous fungi is generally fine providing you don’t have open cuts and that you wash your hands afterwards, especially before handling food. ADJUST YOUR VIEWPOINT Try to explore every angle possible as there are often a range of shots to be had with the same group. This group of Mycena mushrooms were found growing on a decaying log on the ground. The first shot was taken in situ showing the out of focus woodland floor but the second shot was taken after I had lifted it onto a tree stump, so that I could show the woodland setting behind. WET OR DRY A way to make your fungi look fresh and new is to use a little water spray from an atomiser gun. This can reinvigorate even the driest of specimens. The two Waxcap mushrooms illustrate the difference. I have seen people wet them using more natural methods but I’m sure this doesn’t do the mushroom any good!

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