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Better Mushroom Photos

If you’ve started mushroom hunting, you’ve probably started taking pictures of them, either to help you work out their ID later, or simply because of their wonderful shapes or great colors. They can be surprisingly photogenic, worthy of printing and framing!

Capture all the aspects

If you’re taking photos to document a mushroom for identification, it’s important to capture all aspects. For gilled mushrooms, this means the stalk, cap, gills and volva (a saclike cup at the base of the stem of some species). A handy way to show all parts in one shot is to pick one (if there’s more than one of the same species, of course) and lay it down next to a standing one, gills facing you. Get as close as your camera allows, while including the whole subject in the frame. The more detail the better!

Cut a specimen in half

Include, if you can, a shot of the specimen cut cleanly in half, from top to bottom. This exposes the interior of the stem, which will show textures that help identify it. Also, when cut, some mushrooms bruise colors or ooze a milky liquid, responses that can help you narrow down their identities.

Tech tips

Here are some basic tech tips to help you get better shots, whether shooting inches away or aiming up a tree. While many people are using point-and-shoot digital cameras now, most of these tips apply to film cameras as well.

Avoid taking pictures of your subject in the sun.

Overcast days are actually great for taking macro-shots outdoors. Close-ups taken in bright sunlight can look harsh. It’s also easy to end up with over-exposed bright areas, with lost detail. Create shade with your own shadow if it’s sunny (or ask a friend to cast his or her shadow where you need it). There are also collapsible fabric photo reflectors that take up very little space when twisted closed.

Avoid using a flash for close-up shots.

Like shooting in bright sunlight, it creates a harsh look, with distracting shadows. A ring-flash, however, is made specifically for close-up photography, and it sends out a circle of shadowless light. You can also get a diffuser for your camera’s flash, or make your own very inexpensively. An online search of “make your own flash diffuser” brings up dozens of designs, using anything from Styrofoam cups to ping pong balls.

Try under-exposing your shots.

Start with as much as one full stop, and experiment to find what works best for your camera. The images may seem dark, but the detail in bright areas will be maintained, and the exposure can easily be corrected using the most basic (and free!) photo-editing software.

Keep the shutter release depressed until the shot is complete.

Don't press it and release it, squeeze it and wait. When you let go of the shutter release, it creates tiny movements that will transfer to the camera, which can blur the shot. Press the shutter release gently and hold it until you hear the shot.

Minimize camera movement (and resulting blur) with a tripod.

That can be difficult, however, when a mushroom is growing out of the soil and not up a tree! In many cases your best bet will be to actually rest the camera directly on the ground in front of your mushroom (a bandanna is handy to put underneath it to keep dirt, debris and moisture off). A small beanbag also works very well in this situation. If you don’t want to carry even that, bring an empty ziplock bag and fill it with leaves on the spot!

Hold your camera as gently as you can.

Gripping it tightly makes your hands tense, which can translate into camera shake and blur.

Don’t be shy about taking many shots of the same subject.

You may be surprised at the subtle differences that show up.

Consider cleaning your specimens before shooting them.

Bring along a small, soft-bristle paintbrush to brush any debris off your mushroom subjects. Tweezers come in handy for the same purpose, especially in wet conditions.

Don’t forget to bring an extra battery!

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