By David Cobb
Mushrooms are the flowers of fall, and photographing them may look easy but it’s not. Here are a few tips which can prove helpful when photographing mushrooms. First, you’ll want to correctly identify the mushrooms you shoot, so pick up a good mushroom book to help with identification. My favorite book on fungi is Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora. I also recommend his field-pocket guide. When I photograph mushrooms, I often begin with a document photograph. This helps me identify the mushroom later and creates a stock photography photo I can use. (If you’re having trouble with identification, spore prints and other i.d. factors listed in the book can help.)
As with macro flora photography, I often look for a good background first and then I look for an interesting mushroom. Close to the ground there can be a lot of dirt and dark blobs which prove distracting. It’s easy enough in the fall to use a bed of leaves to cover up those distracting dark holes (see “Senoritas Dress” shown above). Other “gardening” tips may include lightly brushing off stray pine needles, sticks, or insects. As I do with flora photography, I usually zoom into a small area of the mushroom that inspires me the most—such as the cap or the gills underneath. Turning an occasional fungus over on its backside can be an interesting study in form (see “Gills” below).
When photographing mushrooms, I often use extension tubes, my Canon 500D diopter and my Canon 100mm macro to bring me closer to my subject; because it’s a small world down there (see “Mushroom Forest” image below).
Experiment with your depth-of-field and see which image looks best by using your depth-of-field preview. Changing your point of view can alter a subject drastically as well. Shooting from above is nice, but photographing a mushroom at ground level or even from below is much better. Mushrooms photograph best on overcast days, but you may still notice the mushroom cap giving off some reflective glare, so a polarizer will come in handy. Clumps of mushrooms can also offer interesting patterns to photograph, and colorful ones like the Amanita muscaria create a good foreground for a larger forest landscape.
The best part of mushroom photography is that after you photograph a few edible mushrooms like Chanterelles, you then take them home and eat them! Of course selling those photos for publication doesn’t hurt either.