Red, Yellow, Pink
Hunting for Fungi in an English Autumn
After many weeks of not posting anything on my blog, here I am finally with a brief update to let you know what I’ve been up to in the brief moments I have had, in an otherwise exceptionally busy autumn, for some photography.
Normally autumn is a pretty busy time of year for me anyway, and this has tended to mean that my macro gear has been put away; this year, however, I was keen to try to find some fungi to photograph, so below is a brief account of what I’ve found over the last few weeks. I’m only going to show 3 photographs, because this is representative of the relatively few images I have taken lately, and also because it’s indicative of my increasing selectivity about what to photo. For instance, on the latest outing of a few days ago, I shot about 30 frames in 3 hours, and the majority of these were in stacked sequences – I ended up only shooting about 3 or 4 individual subjects on that occasion.
Everyone’s favourite magic mushroom, Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), well known for its dangerously hallucinogenic properties.
I took this shot during a weekend away in Derbyshire visiting my parents; I had a couple of hours to myself, and took the opportunity to revisit the Birchen Edge area of the Peak District – back in September I had noted some areas of Birch woodland I thought I’d like to revisit given the chance later into autumn. At the start of November, the woodland colours are rather more advanced in Derbyshire than down here in Oxfordshire, so the landscape photography opportunities were a little more limited than I had hoped for, though the overcast weather conditions brought out saturated colours in the bracken. I did, however, manage to find a good number of these fungi.
I’m relatively new to photographing fungi, and am beginning to appreciate the challenges. Rather as with photographing orchids, or in fact any macro-subject which is fragile and prone to relatively swift natural decay, I have found that it is actually very difficult to find perfect unblemished subjects, and especially ones with clean and uncluttered surrounds which show off the subject at its best. I was pleased to be able to find, after some hunting, a nice specimen of this.
This individual was growing on quite a steep slope, and was rather cluttered with leaves and moss. I did my best at the time to remove some of this, and chose to set up the tripod a little down the slope to get a nice low-level shooting angle. This angle also meant that I could focus the composition around the little bite that some rodent, perhaps, had taken out of the cap – I decided to make this a feature of the composition rather than to hide what some might have considered an imperfection, since it adds to the texture of the shot and creates a sense of possible imaginary narratives about the fungus in the context of animal encounters with it.
I’m quite happy with this shot, though some technical aspects are much better than others, I now think. Even in overcast conditions, I had to use full polarization with the cpl to reduce reflections off the cap to enhance the reds. I’m also very pleased with the fine detail in the cap which the D800E is able to render. I’m a little less enamoured about the background, which I think is a little too cluttered still, and is not quite as smooth at this aperture choice (single exposure) than if I had chosen to do a stack.
Birchen Edge, Derbyshire
ISO 100 1/15 f/6.3
This shot is of a Sulphur Tuft amid mossy surrounds, taken at the start of this week in Bernwood Forest, Oxfordshire, in an area which seems pretty good for a variety of fungi, including puffballs and colourful purple-pink Russula specimens. However, the whole area is frequented by dog-walkers, so many of the fungi were damaged. The day before, I had had a quick outing here with my young son, who much enjoyed squelching around amid the mud, trees and moss, and I took the precaution of coming with my GPS to log any subjects to photograph the following day.
I duly returned the following morning, undeterred by the increasingly rainy conditions; my 200f4 macro lens, as a relatively old design now, isn’t weather sealed, so I tend to fit a rainsleeve over lens and body if I think conditions are going to be at all wet. Conditions under foot were even worse than the day before, but the overcast wet weather produced lovely saturated colours, and the relative lack of light didn’t particularly bother me as I was carrying my tripod (essential for stacking in any case).
I’d logged the location of this little grouping of fungi I’d noted amid a much larger clump; I took a number of different shots and exposures, but decided that a stack would be the best way of dealing with this subject and maximizing sharpness. I also reckoned that the relative simplicity of the composition would limit the number of stacking inaccuracies produced by Photoshop’s auto-blend layers feature, my current favoured method of focus stacking.
I think this shot is technically more successful than ‘Red’ above, though perhaps it doesn’t quite have the same appeal in terms of subject impact. The raindrop at the bottom is nice, but doesn’t stand out particularly strongly amid the other two prominent colours; the insect one third down on the right hand side adds a subtle sense of scale, but is otherwise pretty redundant in the shot. So I’m quite pleased with this shot, but I don’t think it’s my best effort with this species.
Another observation about shooting fungi, even with a polarizer, is that exposures can be very tricky. I used matrix metering, but ended up shooting slightly over 1 stop under what the camera’s meter was telling me was a good exposure, in order not to frazzle the highlights.
Stack of 7 frames
ISO 100 0.4″ f/8
After finding the location for the ‘yellow’ subject above relatively quickly (about 20 mins or so after arrival), I then headed much deeper into the forest, following paths I’d used before on the hunt for other fungi I hadn’t had time to scout out on the previous day’s visit with my son. I headed for a patch of beech woodland which I’ve visited a few times before (in fact, the blog post immediately preceding this one was taken here) to see if I could find any fungi here – the other fungal subjects I’ve shot in Bernwood forest have tended to be among pine trees on the mossy floor, and I wanted to see if I could find a slightly different habitat and some different species.
Eventually, after a good deal of searching, I managed to find this lovely pairing of purple-pink little beauties, no more than an inch or so high. To set up this shot I had to get the camera at basically ground level among the muddy leaf litter, and I also had to sprawl headlong in the leaves and mud to be able to take the shots and set up the exposure and perform the stacking I had chosen to isolate the subjects from the leafy background – all very messy, but the result is I think worth it, since I’m pleased to consider this one of my nicest fungi shots so far. I took a number of different shots and apertures before going for a stack; though the beautiful water droplet had sadly dropped before my stacking process was under way, I was able to mask it in from a shot I’d taken a few moments earlier at f/16.
If my ID is correct this is Rosy Bonnet (Mycena rosea)
Bernwood Forest, Oxfordshire
Stack of 6 frames,
5 @ ISO 100 2.5″ f/8
+ 1 @ ISO 100 5″ f/16 for water droplet (masked in from another exposure)
Hopefully you enjoyed this, and I also hope you (and I) won’t have to wait too much longer for my next photographic update.