Fungi, like flowers, are incredibly diverse. They come in all shapes and sizes, from little button mushrooms to giant puffballs, so big they can be mistaken for sheep.
But unlike flowers, fungus isn’t a very popular photography subject. With the exception of cute fairytale mushrooms, fungus is sorely under-photographed.
Perhaps that’s because fungus is challenging to find and photograph, especially compared to brightly-colored flowers. While some species of fungi are colorful, many others are brown or white – colors that blend into a forest. You have to look carefully to find them, and then you still have to figure out the lighting to get a nice photo!
Nevertheless, fungi can be striking subjects worth searching for. Just look at some of the amazing fungi photos taken by photographers like Bernard Spragg. Based in New Zealand, Bernard has well over 300 pictures of fungi of all shapes, sizes, and colors. His photography shows how diverse fungi is and how bizarre and wonderful they are to photograph.
But Bernard hasn’t just photographed the fungi. He’s also read up on each species he’s shot and posts his pictures of fungi with names and descriptions. For example, this is what he wrote about “Clathrus Archeri” fungi, also known as Devil’s Fingers:
“When it come to creepy-looking plants, Clathrus archeri has creeps to spare. Commonly known as Devil’s Fingers (or the rather less scary name of Octopus Stinkhorn), it is a native to Australia and Tasmania, although it has become an introduced species in Europe, North America and Asia.
The young fungus erupts from a partly buried white ball known as a suberumpent egg by forming into four to seven elongated slender arms initially erect and attached at the top. The arms then unfold to reveal a pinkish-red interior covered with a dark-olive spore-containing gleba. In maturity it smells of putrid flesh and thereby attracts flies, which unwittingly spread the spores and therefore proliferate the species.”
Of course, photographing so many kinds of fungi takes patience and a lot of walking around in a forest. But even a single brilliant shot can be worth that effort. Here are some tips for finding and photographing fungi.
How to Find Fungi to Photograph
Head into a meadow or wooded area.
More than 80% of fungi grow around trees, so woodlands are an ideal place to find mushrooms and other fungi. They tend to like darkness, dampness, rotting wood, and fallen leaves. Try looking in the crevices of dead trees and in the undergrowth of the forest.
Some species of fungi only grow around specific kinds of trees, which they attach themselves to. For instance, chanterelles grow around birch, pine, oak, and beech trees. Similarly, some species (like the Fairy Ring Toadstool) only grow in open fields or meadows. In other words, if you’re looking for a certain kind of fungi, be sure to research where that species grows before you head out.
When you find a mushroom, keep looking around for more.
In most cases, a single mushroom is only the tip of the iceberg. If you find one, you’re likely to find many more close by. That’s because mushrooms are typically connected underground. The largest part of the fungus is hidden under the soil, and mushrooms are just the flowering part of this giant, underground fungus.
If you’ve spotted a mushroom, then, take time to search the area for others. You’re likely to find more, and perhaps they’ll be more striking than the first one you found.
Go with an experienced mushroom hunter.
If you’re having trouble finding fungi, consider joining a local mushroom club or contacting a veteran mushroom hunter to guide your search. While mushroom hunters may not know where the most bizarre, inedible fungus might be, they’ll at least help you find “regular” mushrooms to photograph.
How to Photograph Fungi
Shoot at the same height as the fungi.
When shot from above, many species of fungi look insignificant. Particularly with mushrooms, you see only one dimension and texture from above. If you lower yourself to their height, you’ll get a better shot that captures their full shape and texture. You’ll probably get covered in dirt and dead leaves, but it’s a small sacrifice to make for awesome fungi pictures.
Take close-up shots.
Fungi have interesting textures that are great for close-up or macro shots. You can capture beautiful details and patterns that would otherwise get lost in a shot taken farther away. For tips on taking macro shots, check out this quick guide to macro photography.
Use a shallow depth of field.
Fungi are usually surrounded by plants, dead leaves, and other distractions that can pull the viewers’ attention away. To get a nice shot, you’ll need to cut down on these distractions. Sometimes, this may be as simple as brushing aside some leaves. But in many cases, you’ll need to use a shallow depth of field to blur the background clutter and bring the fungi into focus.
Try different lighting techniques.
Poor lighting is a common problem when shooting fungi. Especially if you’re photographing the gills of a mushroom, you’ll probably have to bring in extra light. The most effective lighting technique for this situation is generally an external flash, which you can move around the fungi. But if you don’t have one, you can try using reflectors to bounce light onto the fungi or a fill flash with a diffuser to soften the light.
Lengthen your shutter speed.
Still struggling with lighting? No worries – just use a slow shutter speed. The fungi won’t move during the shot, so you can get a sharp photo even with a slow shutter speed, as long as your camera stays steady. Which brings us to our last point…
Use a tripod.
If possible, take a low-level tripod along on your mushroom hunt. This way, you can get sharp images close to the ground even in terrible lighting. The Manfrotto PIXI mini tripod works great in situations like these, as it’s compact, lightweight, and easy to carry along. It’s pretty affordable, too.
Without a tripod, you can try stabilizing your camera on a flat surface like a rock or log. You might even get away with handheld shots if your shutter speed isn’t too slow. These options are’t as reliable as a tripod, though, so consider getting one if you haven’t already.
Cool Fungi Pictures for Inspiration
As the following photos by Bernard Spragg demonstrate, the world of fungi can be wonderfully weird. From bright purple mushrooms to creepy Devil’s Fingers, fungus is definitely a unique photography subject to explore.