It is always an honour to have an image published in such a prestigious magazine as BBC Wildlife and although I was aware that I was going to have the seal pup image as a full page (the Picture Editor informed me), what I didn’t expect, as I flipped through, was to see another! A very nice surprise indeed!
I originally wrote this last autumn but with the fungi season upon us and with new images and information added, I thought it was worth re-posting.
First of all, this is a not a definitive How To piece nor is it the ONLY way to photograph mushrooms. I decided to write this on the spur-of-the-moment given that many this weekend (and over the next couple of months) will be venturing out in the hope of getting some nice images of fungi. I simply hope that the following will assist you and that these images will go some way to inspiring you to get out and shoot these fantastic organisms.
One thing that cannot be stressed enough in order for you to get consistently sharp results is technique. I would argue that there is no other genre of photography that requires such accuracy in it’s composition and focussing than with close-up photography. There are no excuses when it comes to photographing fungi. They don’t move and you, pretty much, have full control. More often than not, you can position yourself where you please, direct light into dark areas and experiment to your heart’s content with different compositions. But don’t let this lure you into a false sense of security. Use a tripod, fire the camera with a remote release and try fresh, new ways of shooting one of the most photographed subjects in autumn.
I have written this, roughly, step by step.
- Before you set your camera up, find the best specimen you can and one that has a reasonably uncluttered background. This will save you both time and hassle. It can be very frustrating to set you camera up, only to find half the cap has been eaten by a slug!
- For medium to large size fungi use your longest zoom (70-300 for example) as you will have greater control over the background. With my full-frame (FX) Nikon D600 I like to use either the 105 or 200mm Micro and, even, occasionally the 200-400. If your lens doesn’t focus close enough, look at close-up filters (beware very cheap ones as they will render your images soft) or better still, extension tubes.
- Whenever possible, use a tripod or, for those extra low-angle shots, a beanbag. This will ensure sharp images time and again and enable you to use whatever aperture you wish. With the canopy, still, so dense, it’s inevitable that you will end up with a long shutter speed that may run into several seconds. But, with the camera firmly fixed to a tripod, who cares! To be extra confident of shake-free results, use a remote release in conjunction with mirror lock-up or, if you don’t have neither, use the self-timer. If you have one, use a right-angle viewfinder as this will make the whole operation that much more comfortable. And, if you don’t, you will want one soon after!
- To fill-in shaded areas such as underneath the mushroom’s cap and stem, use a reflector made from a piece of A4/A5 card covered in foil. Alternatively, a mirror, torch or flash can prove very useful.
- Where do I focus? For those with a slender stem and small cap where the stem occupies most of the frame, focus on the stem. Small stem, large cap – focus on the front of the cap. Try focusing at different points to see what suits and consider focus-stacking.
- With the camera set to manual focus, activate the camera’s Live View function, zoom in to the area that you want sharp, and focus.
- As well as reviewing the histogram, make sure the Highlight warning is also enabled as this can be very useful, indeed, to check that the pale parts of the mushroom don’t “blow out”.
- Shoot the same picture at different apertures – f4, f8 and f16 for example. Then, when you get home and view them on your computer, you can see which one you prefer most.
- If you come across a nice clump of mushrooms and the background suits, consider using a wide-angle lens such as a 20mm or 24mm (or even wider) to show the fungi in context with it’s surroundings. Remember to get low and close so that the fungi dominates the frame otherwise you will, simply, end up with an image of a woodland with some fungi somewhere in the shot!
- Get in really close and pick out details such as the cap from above and it’s underside.
- Consider using flash and be bold! There are times when, if used sensitively, flash can add a little ‘fill’ to lift shadows and reveal detail on their undersides. Be careful, however, since if you’re not careful your image will suffer from bright, specular highlights so consider diffusing the flash. Alternatively, by getting really low and looking up try balancing the flash with the ambient light as striking images can be had. Look at using the flash off-camera either remotely or by cable to produce a more directional light thereby revealing the mushroom’s fine detail. I like to work with both the camera and flash on manual giving me ultimate control over how both are balanced. See those below where the top image was taken without flash and the one below it, with.
- And finally – get creative! Get in close and shoot from above and below. Pick out details and experiment with differential focusing and wide apertures. No-one says every part of the mushroom has to be sharp. Photography’s an art form so express yourself and, whenever possible, slow down. Take your time and be selective. Surely, it’s better to return home with one or two images that you are really proud of as opposed to a dozen that will sit idle on your hard drive.
Having, recently, returned from Lapland where I led a tour to photograph autumn colour and the northern lights (both of which we had and will be written about soon) I turned my attention to what’s happening in my local woodlands of north and mid Kent. We are going through an uncharacteristically warm, dry spell of late and with yesterday’s forecast for blue sky and 22 degrees(!) I decided to head into the dark, cool solitude of the forest. Ferns are still green and the overhead canopy reduces sunlight on the floor to small pools yet there are real signs of autumn – most notably fungi!
As always when searching for images of this nature, I find it pays to be in a relaxed state, to clear your mind (as much as possible) of life’s problems and simply open your eyes to what is around you. Sometimes it’s best to just sit for a while and soak it up. To listen and be aware of the play of light.
I am extremely pleased to have been awarded Winner in the Botanical Britain category in this year’s British Wildlife Photography Awards. The winning image, below, titled “In the shadow of Giants” is of a tiny mushroom called a Saffrondrop bonnet overshadowed by enormous beech trees.
I took the image in King’s Wood, near Challock, Kent, last November where I spent a week shooting autumn colour and fungi. As the days passed I became increasingly fascinated by the symbiotic relationship between the miniature and the gigantic and, with this in mind, I strove to illustrate this as best I could.
The standard of the entries was very high indeed and a great representation of British wildlife. Well done to all the other winners and commended entrants. You can see the winning entries, here, on the BWPA website. The exhibition will be touring the UK (venues and dates can be found on the BWPA website) and for those of you residing in Kent, it’ll be at the Whitstable Museum and Art Gallery from 5th October to 6th January 2014.
The presentation took place at the Mall Galleries, in London, on September 4th, hosted by Chris Packham who, I have to say, did a fantastic job, despite wearing a suit in the sweltering heat of the room! Not meaning to be sycophantic, I have always admired Chris’ knowledge on all things nature (he’s also a darn good photographer!) and particularly for the fact that he doesn’t mind putting his head over the parapet, airing his views on contentious subjects such as the badger cull. During the ceremony he did just this with eloquence and thoughtful insight. I wish more would be prepared to do this. They may be surprised by how much more they are respected!
Following the announcement I was contacted by BBC News South East to do short piece on how I captured the image and my work. Both the interviewer (Ellie) and cameraman (Kieran) did a fantastic job, not least in making me feel (quite!) relaxed infront of camera. I hope you enjoy it.
I’ve never been the sort of photographer to walk great distances (by that I mean over 2 miles!) taking a shot here and another there. Unless I am after a specific subject I much prefer to “work” a small area. I still shoot in the same woods, downlands and marshes that I did when I first got interested in nature (a little later, photography) almost 30 years ago. I’m a firm believer in working your local patch. By visiting a site near to home in all seasons and weathers you uncover nature’s secrets. Where, at certain times of the year, you can, for example, expect to find a bee orchid, fox earth or rare fungi. By getting “under it’s skin” your images, I feel, will have greater feeling and depth. This is something, almost, impossible to do on a short or occasional visit. It also means, that when the weather is exceptional or if you just have a spare hour, there is always some place for you to visit. To remain, photographically, productive.
The images, below, were taken in one of South East England’s largest woodlands but all within an area no bigger than 900 m2. I could have walked and walked, looking for the finest specimens and views in which to capture autumn. Instead, for several days during October and November, I remained in a very compact area, often scrambling around on all fours or laying on damp leaf litter, searching for tiny mushrooms which, ultimately, gave me focus. More often than not I would, simply, just be led by the light.
I was taken by the relationship of the miniature with the gigantic. How the mature beech and minute fungi are as important as one another for their survival. With this in mind, I strove towards illustrating that as best I could.
With my reluctance to leave this wonderful place and with darkness closing in, I turned to using a flash-unit to illuminate spore release from a common puffball.
I must admit, I’m a little reluctant to give all the technical data for each image as I think we, so often, get so bogged down with the technicalities that we lose sight of the image we are trying to take. Yes, it’s important to know your f-stops and shutter speeds, differential focusing and depth of field and, given the time, all these things can be learnt. Spending time in the field and in all kinds of conditions is the best way to become farmiliar with your camera and, most important of all, to develop your “eye.”
But, in order to satisfy your curiosity, I used a nikon D300, 12-24, 28-105, 105 micro and 200mm. Occasionally, I would use extension tubes or a 2-element close-up filter and when working at ground level, a right-angle viewfinder. A Manfrotto carbon fibre 055 tripod was used much of the time with a Markins head and when I needed to get lower still, a small beanbag was employed.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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