Feature Image by: Bryce McQuillan

Photographing fungi with Macro Specialist Bryce McQuillan

Autumn and winter are often a time of year when we naturally tend to stay inside, due to the cooler wet weather and shorter days. But winter can still be a great time of year for photographing fungi. Bryce McQuillan.

Like any genre of photography, first we must do a little bit of homework on our subject; figure out where it might be found and what to look for in an image. New Zealand has over 6,000 species of fungi. Fungi are most common during the cooler months of the year (autumn to winter) but can also be found all year round. Fungi can be found in most habitats, from your backyard to forests. Forests tend to host a wide range of biodiversity and are therefore a good place to find a wide variety of fungi. Different forest types will often have different species associated with them, for example pine forests are a great place to find the famous red and white toadstools.

Toadstool

Toadstool

Fungi can be quite hard to spot if you’re not looking out for it. So it is best to go slowly and take your time. Fungi is often found amongst the forest floor, and on rotting logs and tree trunks. Often using a bright torch can help you search for fungi around the bases of trees and amongst rotting logs and vegetation. Fungi photography can make for a great outing with friends.

Photographing with friends

Toadstool on a tree

Recommended Equipment used for the fungi photograph

  • Tripod
  • Bean bag
  • Telephoto/long lens
  • Macro lens
  • Reflective material (in this example a piece of A4 paper)

Other things that might be helpful are a kneeling mat/knee pads and a torch.

EOS R

I use a range of lenses when out photographing fungi, everything from a wide lens to a telephoto lens. But a macro lens is normally my favourite, as it allows you to get in really close.

There are many ways to photography fungi, including uses flashes, reflectors, and other equipment. But in this tutorial, we just used a tripod, a 55-250 mm telephoto lens, and a 100 mm macro lens.

How to photograph fungi?

There is really no right or wrong way to photograph fungi, it comes down to personal taste. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

  1. To identify fungi, we generally need to be able to see the whole specimen and the gills/underside.

    Where to shoot
  2. Composition and angle
    In some cases, fungi may get lost in all of the leaf litter and other bits of forest debris. Some photographers will remove the bits of debris and clear the scene before taking their photograph. This is often referred to as “gardening”, but it is not always necessary. Changing your angle and point of view can make a huge difference to your photograph. It is generally a good idea to look at all of the possible angles for the image before touching or moving debris because sometimes the debris can actually help to complete your photograph.

  3. Detail
    The two images below were both taken with exactly the same lenses and settings (Canon 55-250 mm F8, 0.4 of a second shutter and ISO 500). The only thing I have changed is my angle of approach. The left photograph is taken from about a 45 degree angle, while the photograph on the left is taken from ground level.

    Fungi come in many shapes, sizes and colours; everything from see-though, to black, white and every color of the rainbow. In one way or another, most fungi have lines on them. This can make for great leading lines in photographs. The detail of fungi can make them seem like another world when you use a dedicated 1:1 macro lens.

Canon 100 mm macro lens, F11

How to get different angles?

Tripods are brilliant! They provide a strong, stable platform, allowing you to focus on what matters, which is getting a well-lit and sharp photo. However, most tripods do not allow you to get low to the ground because of the centre column.

A really easy way around this issue is to put your camera on something like a bean bag. Bean bags can be moved and positioned in ways that allow you to get low angles of fungi, while keeping the camera steady and still, and reducing the potential for motion blur.

Settings

For all of these images I have used full manual as this is how I personally feel most comfortable photographing. But often a really good way to photograph fungi is to put your camera into Av mode. This way you can choose the depth of field (DOF) you desire and the camera will work out the shutter speed for you. Using a remote shutter or a 2-second timer on the camera will help to reduce any vibrations that may otherwise be caused when pressing the shutter.

Fungi is 3-dimensional and can be challenging to photograph with a shallow DOF. Often a DOF of at least F8 is required. I personally tend to photograph at around F11-F16 depending on the fungi and the background/foreground interest.

Another technique I often use is what is called focus stacking. This is where you take 3-4 images of a subject at slightly different focus points and then merge them all together using an application such as photoshop.

A tip for lighting

Simply holding a piece of paper to reflect light underneath the fungi can make a photograph much more evenly lit. This is particularly helpful when photographing under a dense forest canopy in low light.


Tripod - 100 mm macro lens, F16, shutter 6 seconds, ISO 250

Example images:

Bean bag - Canon 100 mm macro lens, F9, shutter 0.8 seconds, ISO 800

Bean bag - Canon 100 mm macro lens, F16, shutter ⅕ second, ISO 320

Tripod - Canon 50-250 mm lens, F8, shutter 1 second, ISO 125, 3-image stack.

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