With autumn ‘officially’ drawing to an end I thought I’d take the opportunity of looking back over the last few months where, in between workshops and overseas tours, I’ve managed to undertake my own work. I have always considered this to be extremely important both personally and from a client/tutor perspective since unless I get out and flex my creative and technical muscles on a regular basis I don’t feel as though I am evolving, photographically, and therefore have less to offer those that participate. It enables me to stay fresh and open to new ideas which, surely, must be a good thing for all involved.
I’d just completed a workshop at nearby Dungeness and with a clear sky overhead I decided to delay going home and made a detour to the nearby Midley Church ruin. It stands in the middle of a field some distance away from the nearest road and it was pitch black as I made way across. I knew the site well but I could imagine for someone not all that familiar would have had quite a job both getting to and from it! As I made my way I caught a badger in the headlamp beam. It looked up and with it just 20 or so metres away carried on its way. Romney Marsh is one of Kent’s dark sky areas and once you get above the light pollution the night sky really is incredible.
In order to pick up as many stars as possible I used a high ISO of 6400 on the D600 which was fitted with a Samyang 14mm f2.8 lens.
I have often thought about purchasing a fisheye lens. There have been times when a less than conventional means of recording a subject has been called for. Close-up photographer and author, Paul Harcourt Davies, has been singing the praises of the Sigma 15mm for some time so what better recommendation than by someone who really knows what they are talking about?! The Sigma, for close-up wide-angle work is preferred over the Nikon (and Canon) in that it focus substantially closer, a very important aspect in this kind of work.
A few fungi species shot with the more conventional macro lens.
When making the image, below, such were the conditions that it would have been impossible to take with the camera set up on a tripod so I took it while leaning out of the car which was rocking about quite a bit! The storm continued for a good ten minutes whereupon there was a wonderful afterglow. It’s times like these I’m glad I ‘just go and see what happens’!
Arriving the day before prior to leading 2 workshops in the Peak District I spent a couple of hours photographing this abandoned lead mine which, two days later, the group thoroughly enjoyed spending time at, not least as darkness fell and I painted it with torch-light.
Back home, in Kent, I experimented with camera movement on these sweet chestnut leaves.
On a damp, still afternoon towards the end of November, I went out with the intention of producing a series of high key images depicting the final days of autumn which would, I hoped, result in a panel. No tripod, just a camera and two lenses, a 20mm and a 70-200mm.
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.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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