04 November 2013
Region: South East
On Sunday 4th November the Nature group (see here) organised a field trip to Clowes Wood in Kent to photograph fungi.
Coral mushrooms, vibrant yellow, usually found near rotting wood
As a newbie to Nature Photography I found the outing very interesting and I learnt a lot. The good thing about these Field Trips with the RPS Special Interest groups is that they are a great opportunity to have a go at a genre, branch or category of photography that you may not be familiar with. They are organised by experts or very keen amateurs, people who love what they do; giving you a chance to ask questions and to find out more.
Taken with 40mm Nikkor micro lens, at f16 for good, overall focus
These were tiny, I wish I knew their names
Autumn is Mushroom Season: October and November are the best months to photograph fungi in the south east of England; Clowes Wood (here) is a lovely area (236 hectares in total) of mixed woodland between Canterbury and Whitstable. It is well known for its abundance of mushrooms and favoured by nature lovers, dog walkers and families on a nice day out. I am told by a friend who lives nearby that this year the mushrooms in Clowes Wood have been picked very early by foragers and sold to local restaurants. Although on this field trip we didn’t find a great variety or abundance, we managed to capture some great specimens. We also found some gorgeous lichen and scary, yet harmless, wood ants and their mounds.
Lichen from above
Wood and mound
The first thing that came to my mind when I read about ‘photographing fungi’ was the whimsical, fairy tale, 'Alice in Wonderland' sort of mushroom. But strictly speaking, 'Nature Photography depicts living, untamed animals and uncultivated plants in a natural habitat'. Forget about creative use of lens-flare, bokeh and hazy skies, trying to depict nature as it is, without using Photoshop or adding any arty effects was one of the most difficult aspects for me; however, it was not impossible.
Armed with suitable clothing, a packed lunch, a flask with hot coffee and our photographic equipment, James, Ken, Ted, Brian, Janice and I set out to spend a day shooting mushrooms. When we arrived at our fungi spot, James, the leader and organiser, gave us some very useful tips. He pointed out some areas where he had seen photogenic samples on his recce and gave us advice on how to photograph them with a ‘natural history’ mindset.
Try to find fungi that are intact, which haven’t been eaten by mice or insects. Fungi are usually found in shady areas, under trees. A tripod or bean bag will avoid camera shake. Since you need to capture the fungus as close to reality as possible, you need the whole thing to be in focus, so a small aperture is needed (preferably f11 to f16), which in turn will require a longer exposure, and that’s where the tripod or beanbag become essential. A cable release and reflector are also useful gadgets that will help you get a sharp, overall well-lit image. To get a good close-up, a macro lens is ideal.
You may need to go to ground level to get the shot
Photography is not always straightforward. In fact, most of the time photography is not straightforward! Having never tried this genre before, it took me a good hour to get inspired. I was walking around in circles, trying to figure out what everybody else was doing and why I couldn’t see it. I talked to the other members of the group: I asked for advice, listened to their experienced comments and once I could ‘see’, I really enjoyed it.
Beautiful autumn woodland, a perfect spot to photograph fungi
Mushroom/toadstool season is almost over, but there are still some around. Why don’t you have a go? Try it yourself, go to your local park or woodland and look for some photogenic fungi. And remember: Safety first! As we all know, many mushrooms are poisonous. It is very difficult to be sure, so even the most experienced mushroom mavericks exercise caution. If in doubt: Don’t Eat Them!
There are several smart-phone apps, covering various regions. Try 'Mushrooms Lite' for Europe and the British Isles, I didn’t find the free version very useful for identifying fungi but it has interesting-looking photos and information; 'Mushrooms Pro' is the full, paid version. According to James, a fungi guide book is best (you can find them in bookstores and charity shops). But many fungi are very similar and sometimes the only way to identify them properly is to have a sample analysed under the microscope. For more information you can also check out these websites here and here. Have fun!