Deal 6: 365 days of training from the world’s best photographers
Among my favorite things to photograph are Mushrooms – in this post I’ll give you some tips on how to do it.
As a child I had a love hate relationship with Mushrooms.
It all started down on my Nana’s farm where on cool Autumn days one of the things we’d love to do was go Mushrooming. We’d hunt in dark damp places for them and would marvel at the different colors, sizes and shapes that they came in – these bizarre little things that looked like something from out of space.
Nana taught us which ones were edible and which ones to leave alone and we’d return to her kitchen with a bucketful which we’d clean, chop up and put in a pot. That’s where the ‘hate’ part of my relationships started. I can still remember the smell of that stewing pot and Nana’s attempts at getting me to eat the fruit of our mushroom hunt. No thanks – not for me.
These days I don’t mind eating them as much as I used to – however my love of the ‘hunt’ for good mushrooms, toadstools and fungi is still with me – however I don’t hunt them to eat, I hunt them to photograph.
The little alien like creatures that we used to pick and chop up are now sought after photographic subjects. The variety of shapes, colors and sizes present photographers with all kinds of striking possibilities.
It’s all about the Season – Fungi photography is not a year round hobby as they only tend to grow at certain times of years. I suspect that this will vary from place to place and between varieties but I find I have the best luck in Winter and Autumn where it’s cooler, darker and damper.
At Nana’s farm we learned where Mushrooms hide and discovered that it’s pretty much the opposite sorts of places that you’ll find flowers (who like warmth, light and are generally out in the open). Mushrooms like the dark, they like the wet and they tend to appear in places that you’d least like to be (on the farm it was often next to a cow pat). Keep your eyes open below trees, under leaves and amongst undergrowth of forests.
Mushrooms grow up from under the ground and as a result can often be half covered in dirt, bits of vegetation and other ‘gunk’. While you might like this natural look it can also be well worth your while clean them up a little before photographing them. Brush off dirt and vegetation and remove any movable distracting objects in the foreground or background of your shots. Remember to be an environmentally friendly photographer and to leave things as naturally as you found them but don’t be afraid to do a little grooming pre-shooting.
Perhaps the most effective way of entering the world of Mushrooms and Toadstools and drawing the viewer of your image into your shot is to get down low and shoot from ground level. This will enable you to see the textures, shapes and colors of not only the top dome of the mushroom but it’s underbelly. It will also give your mushroom height which makes for a more dramatic and three dimensional shot. Of course means you’ll probably spend a lot of your Fungi photography flat on your stomach on the ground getting dirty. No one said this would be easy!
For a real impact in your mushroom shots get in as close to them as possible and try some tight framing. This will mean you might want to think about switching your camera into macro mode or, if you have a DSLR, hook yourself up with a macro lens or macro screw in lens and learn how to use it. I use a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens and it works well with this type of photography.
One of the challenges you’ll be faced with when shooting from low down in lower lighting situations is that the underbelly of your mushroom (which is often it’s most interesting part due to the patterns and textures there) will often be in darkness when compared with it’s top. Lighting a mushroom’s belly can be a tricky thing. Here are a few techniques to try:
Due to the low light in most places that you’ll find Mushrooms, you’ll often need to shoot with longer shutter speeds which mean the need to find a way to keep your camera perfectly still. Some tripods will allow you to set up your camera as low as inches from the ground by spreading their legs widely but another option is one of the numerous beanbag stabilizers that are available. Also consider using a remote shutter release for extra stillness (or use the self timer).
If you’re struggling with the low light levels don’t be afraid to lengthen the shutter speeds that you’re using. The beauty of Fungi is that they are very still and if you’ve got your camera stabilization working for you with a solid tripod and shutter release cable you can lengthen the shutter speeds almost as long as you’d like (within reason).
Mushrooms and Fungi usually grow in environments where there can be a lot of clutter around them in the vegetation that they grow in. One great way to isolate them from this background and foreground distraction is to use a shallow depth of field by selecting a large Aperture which will throw the background out of focus (see this tutorial on other tips for getting great backgrounds). Of course it can also be effective to show the context of the mushroom if you’re lucky enough for it to be growing in a photographic location – in these cases you’ll want to select a smaller aperture.
More on getting a shallow depth of field here.
July 17, 2013 07:36 am
Just wondering, before I consider subscribing... is that this an actual, individually composed letter to every single subscriber, or does every writer compose a single letter each and every week and send the same composition to all with the subscribers they're assigned to write to?
July 13, 2013 03:45 pm
Excellent advise on photographing mushrooms. Grooming the area and getting down low are truly the keys to great mushroom photography. Once you get used to that focusing for shallow DoFwill really make your images "pop".
February 7, 2013 05:39 am
Love your shots of mushrooms. People see me on my belly in the woods and think I,m nuts until they see what I'm doing and see the end result,then they say they have never seen that before because rhey just are too much in a hurry to look at the world arround themselves. thanks for this!
January 9, 2013 02:20 am
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December 7, 2012 09:53 pm
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November 24, 2011 10:39 am
THIS ONE OF MY MANY
October 3, 2011 11:07 pm
Here is my first attempt at mushroom photography. Actually my first attempt at photograpy full stop. Taken with my Sony Hx100v.
July 24, 2011 11:10 pm
Ha ha ha! Those are the things everyone experiences, but no one talks much about. If you are going to photograph mushrooms, you need to become immune to mosquitoes (as well as blackflies, deer flies, horse flies...). The lens fogging can be minimized by letting your camera acclimatize before taking the lens cap off. Going from an air-conditioned house to damp grass on the Gulf coast ain't gonna work. I wonder if anyone makes a suitably optical anti-fog spray for lenses?
BTW, because of their typically rapid growth, mushrooms also make fabulous subjects for time-lapse photography.
July 23, 2011 11:37 pm
I am new to photography. My wife told me I needed to do some research to take better pictures. I found this site today. Having read a few articles, I went to get some coffee. Looking out my kitchen window, I saw a patch of mushrooms growing in the back yard. I thought, wow this would be a cool picture. I went and grabbed my new Nikon D3000, slapped on my new fixed lens and went out to take some pictures. Now I live on the gulf coast of Texas, so at 8:30 in the morning it is hot and humid. I lay down on the grass to take my first shot. As soon as I took my first shot a thousand mosquitoes attacked me. I got up, swatted them all and went for my next picture. As I lay down again, my lens began to fog up. I stood up again to let it dry out, swatting another thousand mosquitoes. The sun light was playing havoc, mosquitoes were attacking me, so I decided to go back inside. I took my coffe and saw the "How to" link. One artilce popped up. "How to photogragh mushrooms." If my dog has not destroyed them by this afternoon, I will make another brave attempt.
April 8, 2011 11:02 am
Your tips on photographing mushrooms and toadstools are great. When you talk about cleaning them up a little, you should warn that many types of fungus are extremely fragile, so any cleaning needs to be done with great care. You don't want to ruin the perfect shot by breaking off a piece of the specimen just because of a little dirt. That's natural, after all.
March 22, 2011 08:15 am
These pics truly capture the essence of nature!
March 26, 2010 10:56 am
Outstanding article of interest to mushroom photographers. I sent out tweet on it and will mention it in a blog post tomorrow. I appreciate you sharing your expert knowledge in this way.
March 26, 2010 10:29 am
Great article and beautiful photos, Darren. This past autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere was the first time I went out into the woods after the rain and photographed some of those strange and beautiful creatures, photos of which can be seen in my Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/miguelcarvajal/4255474202/in/set-72157622172930903/
For the autumn of 2010 I'll be sure to keep in mind your tips and suggestions.
March 23, 2010 10:59 am
Wow. Sorry about Moderator. I really meant shots.
March 23, 2010 10:56 am
I didn't realize how amazing these shits can be and will be on the hunt the next season we have in the NW. Thanks so much for the idea. Your shots are awesome!
March 20, 2010 07:50 am
March 20, 2010 05:36 am
these are great !! So inspiring!
March 20, 2010 02:11 am
Thanks for the tips, I too, have tried shooting mushrooms. This will help
March 19, 2010 01:28 pm
I took this at a nearby bog, a beautiful place to explore.[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/leslie-jason/278763300/' title='mushroom' url='http://farm1.static.flickr.com/106/278763300_1d401a0123.jpg']
March 19, 2010 10:56 am
I always look for the fungi! I will take these tips into consideration and thank you John Redeker for the combineZM tip. I had used it a while back for something but I never though to use it for this. Here are a copule of my favority fungi shots.
I found both of these on my wood picnic table just outside of my house!
March 19, 2010 09:43 am
For 'shroom id - search out David Arora's book "Mushrooms Demystified". Available from Amazon - about 1000 pages - for around $25.00...
Paperback: 976 pages
Publisher: Ten Speed Press; 2 edition (October 1, 1986)
Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 2 inches
Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
March 19, 2010 06:03 am
Not all mushrooms grown on the ground...these beauties were in the tree across the street from me. Enjoy!
[eimg url='http://www.redbubble.com/mybubble/art/4593439-1-tree-mushrooms/edit' title='edit']
March 19, 2010 06:01 am
Not all mushrooms grown close to the ground. These were just waiting for me in the tree across the street from me. Enjoy!
[eimg url='http://www.redbubble.com/mybubble/art/4593439-1-tree-mushrooms/edit' title='edit']
March 19, 2010 04:50 am
I just did one of these about 2 weeks ago:
[eimg url='http://lh5.ggpht.com/_Gsg8NsKxAyE/S6J1zCQGeYI/AAAAAAAAG_Y/UeW7Q9wJuE8/s576/mushrooms_small.jpg' title='mushrooms_small.jpg']
March 19, 2010 04:37 am
Look out Mushrooms here I come!!
March 19, 2010 04:19 am
How fun! This was a very fun tutorial, thank you!
[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/11024536@N05/4443823342/' title='Mushroom' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4050/4443823342_88ea4f1bd0_o.jpg']
March 19, 2010 03:40 am
Great mushroom book: Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora
Re: GorillaPod. I just bought one and must say I am terribly disappointed. It is far too soft and weak to properly hold even my relatively light Canon A620. When I press the shutter release the whole whole ting wobbles for about 5 seconds. On a smooth surface the legs slowly splay under the small weight of the camera. If anyone wants it they can have it for free.
March 19, 2010 03:31 am
Small tip I got from Nat Geo photographer: a small pocket flashlight to light small details, like mushrooms
March 18, 2010 11:55 pm
What a shock, Darren, to stumble on my three photos in your excellent article. I wonder how many others I have missed. I would be so grateful if you could give me a warning and provide a link. Otherwise I'm delighted if you want to use them for non commercial purposes.
March 18, 2010 10:48 pm
Hi Darren, thank you for this article - Though mushrooms look so interesting, i gave up photographing mushrooms because it was so difficult. Now that you've made it so interesting, i'll restart once the rains set in. I am sending a link for a colony of mushrooms shot at ITI factory, Doorvani Nagar, Bangalore, India. I took this on Sept 18, 2009, with a Nokia N73.
March 18, 2010 10:18 pm
Cool shrooms. This time of year they grow in my yard. Some great lighting tips here. Be careful which ones you eat though. Just ask Alice. ;)
March 18, 2010 02:27 pm
Here are a couple of my mushroom pics! I carry it around with me just to have a subject to photograph on solo photowalks. ^^
March 18, 2010 12:50 pm
Beautiful mushroom photos. I like the giant-like view of the mshrooms from below.
March 18, 2010 12:29 pm
This is a great article! My favorite tip is to shoot them from down low. Does anyone have any tips of where to go to identify different types of mushrooms? I've added one of my favorite shots taken here in Northern California.[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/jljfoto/4276405245/' title='CoastPhotoWalk2' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2765/4276405245_52664f4a51_o.jpg']
March 18, 2010 07:08 am
Fun shots! I had fun getting very abstract with my lensbaby shooting mushrooms on a recent trip to Vermont (http://hollysissonphotography.com/2009/10/03/images-from-vermont/).
March 18, 2010 06:31 am
I wanted to photograph some mushrooms, toadstools, and fungi, so I went to Republican National Convention. Goldmine... :D
May 30, 2009 01:18 pm
Also, it is a commonly held belief that the best place to find mushrooms is in swampy areas. In my experience, you will do much better in and around mature forests than in marshes.
May 30, 2009 01:08 pm
Well Sandra, with an articulated viewfinder (i.e. one that flips out and rotates) you don't have to get down and dirty. The Canon A620/A640 series has an excellent one. Get youself one of these, a mini tripod and set the camera for a 2 second delay and your pics will be rock steady every time. Then you can concentrate on lighting and composition, you know, the fun stuff!
May 28, 2009 08:12 pm
Very interesting article on photographing mushrooms etc. Going to look for mushrooms, even if it means getting down and dirty.
June 23, 2008 11:52 am
Thank you Ponnuswami. There certainly is a teeming world of tiny organisms that most of us are unaware of. George Barron is a professor at the University of Guelph with a wonderfully rich website covering both macro-fungi and the world of microscopic organisms, uncluding many remarkable photos taken with both traditional cameras and a scanning electron microscope. Check out:
to enjoy his photos and jocular personality.
June 21, 2008 03:15 am
excellent pics;try smaller organisms,if you will;smaller the species greater the surprises!kudos!!
June 18, 2008 12:50 am
Not to get too carried away by all of this, but if anyone is interested in seeing the results of these techniques, you can check out my Flickt site at http://www.flickr.com/photos/griz2468/
I have grouped my mushroom pics into a "Set" called, wait for it, Mushrooms.
June 17, 2008 02:52 pm
Labour has become plain With these wonderful tips.
June 9, 2008 11:08 pm
Thanks, John. I had not heard of "CombineZM" and now can't wait to try it.
As for lighting, mirrors are great for getting a bit of sunlight up under the gills, a place where the flash often cannot reach (unless you photograph with you camera upside-down).
And from a mushroom identification standpoint, it's nice if you can get the tops of some mushrooms and the undersides of others in the same shot.
June 9, 2008 09:22 am
Interesting comments, and a topic that has fascinated me for a couple of years now.
Re 'articulated' viewfinders (the type that swing out from the camera) - I find my Panasonic FZ-50 to be SO useful from that aspect. It means the viewfinder's is 'electronic' rather than genuinely 'through the lens' as with a true SLR, but it's the only way I'm going to be able to get down to the fungi the way I do! And - there's a tripod called the 'gorillapod' sold by JOBY in the US - they'll send anywhere worldwide. I bought one of those, and it's totally flexible, twistable and flattenable. To take it one step further, I made some 'pins' to insert into holes I drilled in the bottom of the gorillapod's feet, and I can push them into the soft ground where the fungi grow for complete stability.
If you then want total depth of field control so that every bit of your fungi is in focus, there's a free programme on the Web called 'CombineZM'. All the explanations are there, but basically, you focus progressively from front to back of what you want to capture, taking photos without disturbing the camera's position. That's where the total stability is important. The programme then COMBINES your various pics into ONE, using the best focus from each to make a brilliant composite.
Believe me - worth a try!
June 6, 2008 05:48 am
I have been photographing mushrooms for a while with slowly improving results. May I suggest that the two best things are a mini tripod (Sony makes a beautiful 6"er) and a camera with an articulated view finder. This allows you to stage your shot while looking down at the camera, rather than lying in the muck.
As for finding mushrooms, if you are not a shroom hobbyist like me, talk to your friends and you may be surprised by how many are closet mushroomers and will be only too glad to take you to your quarry.
In my part of the world - Ontario - you can find various mushrooms from Spring till Fall, though October is usually the most bountiful month.
June 4, 2008 01:49 am
Wow!! Great post and thanks for another great topic to photograph. Not sure where I'll find such things in London but I'll certainly give it a go!! The photo's are stuning too.. very inspirational!!
June 2, 2008 11:13 pm
What a surprisingly great post! I've never thought of shooting fungis, but actually want to give it a go now.
I have to say, I love this blog for the interesting ideas as much as for the technical and creative advice. I'm already looking forward to the 'How to photograph office supplies' post, or whatever the next entry is that turns the ordinary into the absolutely fascinating.
June 2, 2008 05:38 pm
Love the Schroom pics. Ever tried eating some of the mushrooms with more "Interesting" side effects?
June 1, 2008 04:57 am
Wonderful pictures of the diff mushrooms and fabulous tips for capturing them in all their beauty. I've taken a few pics over the years of some neat ones but now i can't wait to go walking and see if there are any growing right now on our farm. you've opened my eyes to seeing them differently.
May 31, 2008 06:28 pm
Thanks - this was a motivation kick to read.
May 31, 2008 10:56 am
Wow, when I saw the title I wasn't so sure, but you've convinced me. Those photos are cool and tips are useful. Cheers!
May 31, 2008 09:11 am
I never knew fungus photography could produce such fun results. Thanks for an enlightening post!
May 31, 2008 03:55 am
Very cool! I love nature shots and these tips are great. Love the story about Nana, too. Thanks for the post. I'm on the lookout for fungi now...
May 31, 2008 12:26 am
Interesting article, thanks. I've been wanting to photograph some wild mushrooms for ages, but despite looking whenevre I've been in forsts or woods for weeks I haven't been able to find any (I'm in UK).
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