Article written for Fujifilm UK.
Different types of fungi require different conditions and habitats. At this time of year, in autumn and early winter, they seem to appear almost everywhere. If you’ve never tried capturing them before, now is the time to give it a go – they are great subjects for macro photography!
The best place to begin is your nearest wood – you are more likely to find a good range of different and visually interesting varieties of mushrooms to photograph, especially after a spell of particularly wet weather. They often appear literally overnight and some of them can be gone by late afternoon so it really is worthwhile to do a few trips.
Fungi can be quite hard to spot if you’re not looking out for them. My advice is to slow down. I mean really slow down and take your time. Look around the base of trees, falling branches, decaying stumps, rotting logs and under piles of leaves. Kneel down – you’ll soon start to see a whole new magical world under your feet. Feel free to even use a magnifying glass! The things to look out for are either pop of colour, interesting shapes, textures or perhaps intriguing clusters.
Before you go to the woods
Mushrooms like a dark and wet environment where not much sunlight can get through – all the places where you’d least like to be! You have to be prepared to spend a lot of time at the ground level. That’s why it’s important to wear comfortable, ideally waterproof clothing. Wellies or good boots are a must. I also tend to use tick repellent. Because it’s likely to be wet, a groundsheet, or even a bin liner to place on the ground will help prevent you and your kit getting wet or dirty. It is very likely that you’ll be working with slower shutter speeds as there isn’t much light in the woods so whenever possible use a tripod – there are mini tripods available or the ones that allow the camera to be placed close to the ground. For those extra low angle shots or if you’re shooting from the ground, a camera bean bag will prove very useful.
One thing to be careful about is the fact that some of the mushrooms you’ll encounter will be poisonous and potentially deadly, so you have to be aware of the toxins and spores and act with caution. You should never handle fungi unless you know them well – if you find, for example, that you need to clean bits of leaves or dirt off a mushroom, it will be safer to use either a soft brush or a latex glove instead of picking them off with your fingers. Wash your hands before eating or touching food.
Composition is such an important element of macro photography and is crucial if you want your images to have an impact.
It’s definitely a good idea, especially if you’re just starting, to stick to some of the classic compositional rules – there are some aspects of composition which stand out more in macro photography than they do in other areas. Here are just a few to think about when you’re composing your photo:
Pay attention to the background.
Throwing the background out of focus will not only help isolate your subject but it can also hide the things you do not want your viewer to see. You may want to very carefully remove any unnecessary twigs or leaf litter to ensure you have a ‘clean’ composition. Avoid anything that could cause distraction in your shot but please don’t damage any vegetation for the sake of a photo.
Simply blurring the background is not enough – you need to choose a background that will look interesting and will contrast well with your subject. For example, bright red fungi will really stand out against a green background (again, this may sometimes involve a little bit of ‘gardening’ – moving leaves away from the subject or behind it if they are a different colour to the subject). Colours are one reason why macro photography is so interesting.
Experiment with different angles, whether it’s a bird’s eye view or a worm’s (or bug’s) eye view to create a compelling perspective. A low shooting angle usually looks far more natural and it also allows you to capture the beauty and texture of the gills underneath the mushroom cap – this type of angle often produces the most striking composition.
Remember the rule of thirds – placing important subjects not in the centre but near 1/3 of the way from the edges. It looks more natural than when the subject is placed right in the middle of the frame. You can always crop that later while editing.
Look for symmetry and patterns.
Having said that, the above are just guidelines and it’s not something that you have to stick to all the time. Rules are there to be broken. Don’t overthink and feel like you have to follow every single one. Be bold!
Sometimes it’s really difficult to find a good composition, especially if the scene looks very cluttered, with lots of leaves and dirt. You don’t have to include the entire subject – often isolating smaller details and focusing on shapes and textures can create very powerful and intriguing close-ups. Try to show the familiar in an unfamiliar way.
Don’t forget to have some fun! Get creative and try different angles. Pick out details, experiment with different apertures and decide which one you like best. Getting that perfect shot requires creativity and lots of imagination. Sometimes you will be lucky enough to capture a tiny bit of wildlife in your image. A little ant or tiny slug perhaps making its way to the top of the mushroom.
The challenge with fungi is that they thrive in dark places where natural light is limited. If you are lucky enough to be taking mushroom photos on a sunny day and the light is beautiful – that’s fantastic! To make your photos more artistic and dramatic, shoot with backlight which produces a beautiful contrast between the subject and the background. Typically, dappled highlights will create attractive bokeh, like the sun shining through leaves.
Most of the time, however, and definitely in England, that will not be the case during autumn and winter months. Even when you do have enough light available, mushroom’s gills and upper part of the stem are getting less light than its cap so if you’re shooting from a low angle, which is often the best choice for creating more dramatic shots, a good idea is to think about adding extra light. I like to use either a small reflector or LED light or if none is available, a white card or aluminium foil will work as well. The advantage of supplementing light is that you can manipulate it until you’re happy with the result.
Being 3-dimentional, fungi can be challenging to photograph with a shallow depth of field. A lot depends on how they are shaped, as well as whether you want to include the details in the background or foreground. Be prepared to experiment with settings. If you can’t achieve the depth of field that you need in one frame in order to have your subject sharp from front to back while at the same time have a beautiful out of focus background, think about ‘focus stacking’ where you take a few images of a subject with different focus points and later combine them all together in Photoshop or other application. There is also a lot that you can do in post-processing to make your images look more dramatic. Intensifying colours, accentuating the texture and contrast to add crispness and detail are just some of the functions that you can use.