Final Image

Fungi Photography Tips

This time of year is good for getting out and taking advantage of the many types of fungi starting to appear as some are extremely photogenic. One tip I must stress though is that many fungi and Mushrooms are poisonous. I am no expert and I suggest that, unless you are an expert, you keep your interest purely to the visual and don’t touch.

Fungi and their usual environment provide conditions that will allow you to use some techniques discussed in my earlier blog on low light photography.

Earlier this week I went to a local forest to see if there was anything of interest.

Here is a quick list of some of the kit I took and used.

  • Waterproof blanket

Most important is the need to get down low. I don’t like getting wet or muddy so I took my trusty waterproof blanket. On one side is a waterproof covering on the other a nice woollen surface to keep you warm.

  • Tamron 90mm lens

Essential for close up macro photography is a macro lens. I used a Tamron 90mm lens which is excellent for getting up close to your subject matter.

  • Tripod

I also packed the essential tripod – you are going to be using high magnification levels so you need stability for your camera.

  • SB700 flash

I took a flash so I could explore a couple of creative lighting ideas.

It didn’t take long for me to find an ideal spot just off the main path.

Below is a quick shot of my setup in the woods.

Basic fungi shootingsetup

Blanket laid out, camera on tripod all ready to try a few shots

To prove I’m just as fallible as other photographers, when I got on site I couldn’t find my shutter release cable. No doubt it was at home in one of my other bags. Oh boy, there’s always something! I would just have to use the self timer.

Below are a selection of shots I took to illustrate a couple of key points you need to consider when shooting fungi or similar macro subjects.

The shots below may not be the most aesthetically pleasing but illustrate the points I am trying to make.

So you eventually find a nice spot – remember, don’t just dive in and start shooting. You could be there a while, so before you do anything, take 5 minutes to scout out the immediate area. The spot I found had a number of different types of fungi in the same area so presented a number of opportunities.

I laid out my blanket ensuring I wasnt disturbing any other vegetation (or inadvertently lying it on a bit of dog poop!).

Once settled I looked through the viewfinder to find a good angle and took a couple of test shots. I decided to use f11 to start with to make sure there was reasonable depth of field.

A key consideration is not to get subject blind. This is where you focus on the subject and forget everything else that may or may not be visible in the viewfinder.

Image 1 below shows this perfectly. The subject is reasonably framed but look at the background – not at all complimentary to the subject.

fungi image

Whats that in the background?

The fungi is clearly the main focus and is central to the composition, but look at the background. That tree is just too dominating and not at all complimentary.

A small adjustment to the shooting position or angle is needed. You will find the smallest of movements in your shooting position can have dramatic results on the final image.

fungi image

A slight change of position and the background is slightly better

You can see the new position removes the tree but there is still a bright spot of sky that is not as bad, but is still distracting.

Something to consider is capturing the natural colours of your subject. So far all the shots have been naturally lit using only the ambient light. The use of f11 has resulted in a shutter speed of 1.3s. To bring out some colour in the subject, and give a more even lighting, you can use a flash gun.

I like to use the flash off camera and fire it via the cameras built-in flash.

Off camera flash is very flexible and allows more creative lighting options.

You can place the light wherever you want to create a different mood in your images.

To use off-camera flash you need to set the cameras built-in flash to ‘commander’ mode and set your flash to ‘remote’. The built-in flash needs popping up so it can control the slave flash units.

Nikon has a very good auto system, referred to as CLS, that allows the use of multiple external flashes all synched to the master flash.

The cameras built in flash doesn’t actually contribute any light to your final image. What it does do, is send a series of flashes to evaluate the lighting and then flashes to trigger the other flash units.

All very complicated but very flexible – most important is it is all automatic. The whole topic of flash light is something I could write several blog posts about so I wont go into too much detail here.

Off camera flash is very flexible and allows more creative lighting options

The use of flash brings a whole new mood to the image.

fungi lit by flash image

Flash introduces a dramatic edge to the image

Leaving the camera aperture set to f11, the use of flash forces the camera to default to a shutter speed of 1/60s. Immediately you can see the result this has on your image. It becomes very striking. The flash has lit the subject , but because of the shorter shutter speed, none of the ambient background light has registered.

This makes for dramatic photos, but I want to balance both the flash and the ambient light for a more natural effect. So how do we do that?.

Delving into the different camera flash modes, you will find a setting that is called ‘Slow’. This mode alters the way the camera and flash interact. The slow setting allows a more controlled balance of ambient and flash light and is ideal for what I want to achieve.

Essentially the mode allows the camera to expose for the ambient light therefore allowing the background to register, and then lets off a smaller intensity of light for the subject.

Looking at the first flash image you can see the light is very harsh. You want to soften this a bit to make the balance look more natural.

If your flash has a built-in diffuser then make sure this is over your flash. If you don’t have a diffuser you can use some white tissue paper, a clean white handkerchief or thin white paper fixed to the front of your flash.

Essentially you are looking to take the harshness of the light away and achieve a more subtle effect. You may also need to ‘dial in’ some flash compensation. This is the same as exposure compensation on your main settings. It allows the flash unit to either input more or less light depending on the effect you want to create.

Each situation is unique, so depending on the actual effect you want to create, you need to experiment by varying the settings. I ended up at -2 flash compensation to capture the final image.

fungi image with balanced flash and ambient light

Final shot, clear background and balanced ambient and flash light

I like to think there is a good balance of natural light for the background and flash light to bring out the detail and colour of the subject.

What are your thoughts on the technique and resulting images?

A selection of the images taken are on my website later today so drop by and have a look.

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment


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