It’s great when I can just go out my front door and find gorgeous things to photograph. I used to do this back in NH when I had a much smaller yard and now I have even more to find and share. Like these beauties, all found in the yard –
This first one is really tiny. The stipes (stems) are as thin as thread and the caps a mere 1/4 of an inch across. They come up in the leaf litter and once you notice them it’s like a dusting of snow. The trick to finding mushrooms is to be still. Then they seem to come out of nowhere. Giving myself some time to look around and really see brought me to this pair of beauties. A couple of days later and they were gone.
During that same quiet few moments of looking, I saw this one and knew it to be a type of mycena. The blue tint really is there; no camera trickery. It fades as the mushroom ages so I’ll have to check earlier next year to see if I can find one in a more vivid state.
Once your eyes are attuned to mushroom hunting they seem to be everywhere and they don’t need to be as brightly colored as this one, but it helps.
All the IDs are my best guesses according to my several books and the internet, but some just elude me altogether, like this next one –
You’d think such a distinctive little shroom would be easy, but no. This next one is though.
It’s commonly known as the tippler’s bane because of a toxin it has that makes a person feel very sick if they eat them with alcohol, or follow them up with alcohol. Otherwise they’re quite edible and rumored to be delicious. The compound they make is similar to the one used in Antabuse, a drug prescribed to alcohol abusers. Interesting.
Whenever I see mushrooms the urge to photograph them is almost irresistible. I am getting better though. I don’t shoot EVERY mushroom I see. The light has to be good, the setting and the angle, too. If the shot doesn’t come together in my head, I admire and pass it by. So here are some that made the grade.
Identifying mushrooms is tough. Mostly because they change so rapidly and any photographs are dependent on when they were taken during the fruiting body’s lifecycle. It’s crazy. I have 4 books now and sometimes I still can’t figure things out, so don’t take any of my IDs as concrete. They’re just my best conclusions based on what it was growing and the characteristics of the mushroom itself; color, shape, gill structure etc.
These first two are boletes, a type of mushroom that has sponge-like cells instead of traditional gills and are easy to spot because of that, but it can still be tricky. I think this second one might be Austroboletus gracilis, but I’m not certain. I have my eye on a few more books that look to have fantastic photos so maybe I can get better in future.
Some mushrooms can only be positively identified under a microscope and a few kinds of russula fall into that category. This next one is probably russula emetica aka The Sickener and yeah, it’s poisonous. But it could also be russula cessans, paludosa or pseudolepida or several others that fruit on the ground, grow in similar woods and are native to North America. Crazy, but check out how similar these two mushrooms are, but different.
Little yellow waxcaps, hygrocybes, are tough to distinguish, too. These first ones I think are hygrocybe ceracea, but might not be. Whatever they are, I can’t resist shooting them. Especially in moss with bonus sporophytes!
This one proved irresistible to a passing slug. It was in full sun, but quickly moved to a nicer pose. I should have cranked the ISO a bit. Hard to believe a slug can move fast enough to be blurry!
And then there are the LBMs. That’s Little Brown Mushrooms. There are dozens and dozens of these and so similar that I have no idea what this little beauty is.
I found it growing inside of a dead log and did some clean up to get that shot, which I personally love because of the placement and the tilt of the cap. It seems to have a personality, which is saying a lot for a fungus.
All of my shots are cleaned up in the field to some extent. One of the most important things to remember when doing close up or macro photography at this magnification is to watch your backgrounds. Things out of your line of focus can sneak in and steal attention from your main subject. I find sticks to be really a pain. They sometimes show up as bright, light-colored lines in the background and so I remove them. Grass can do the same thing sometimes. Often I’m not even aware of them being in the shot because I’m concentrating on my main subject and they’re not critical to focus. So I use my live view screen to look at the image in 2D so I can catch these little gremlins. I also sometimes use a diffuser/reflector to either reflect light onto an image to even out shadows, or to put an object into shade that’s either in direct sun or dappled light. It’s a useful tool to have and one that isn’t heavy and doesn’t take up too much space so I bring it every time I go out.
I probably don’t even need to say it anymore, but all these images were taken with the OM 90mm f2 macro lens mounted on my Panasonic Lumix GH3. I still love this combination and that lens barely comes off the body these days!
In northern Wisconsin we still get frost and freezing overnight temps well into May. What’s a demure beauty to do? Get tough. Spring beauty is one of the most hardy wildflowers we have and though it’s quite small and looks fragile, it survives almost anything Mother Nature can throw at it.
In addition to frigid temperatures, spring beauty can, and does, flourish in nutrient-depleted areas like housing developments and deforested areas like farms. It’s pretty undemanding.
Here in the yard though, there’s no skimping on soil nutrients, they grow in the lawn as well as in the woods where they have to push up through some very deep leaf litter.
They’re still blooming and I think I’ll have to go pick some because in addition to being adorable, they’re edible! The roots are actually tuberous, like potatoes, and it’s said they taste very similar, albeit sweeter and kind of chestnut-y so far as I could tell from info online. They can be eaten raw or cooked so I’ll have to get out there and get some while they’re at the peak of ripeness.
When I lived in NH I could spend a lot of time out in my yard photographing all kinds of small things. I had barely 1/4 of an acre or something and it was pretty anemic being basically a giant sand pile. But for a person like me who can see beauty in just about anything, it was adequate. Now I live in Wisconsin I have a bigger yard plus many vacant lots nearby and so the camera fodder is exponentially expanded. I could get lost out there for hours at a time and the other day I did just that when the hepatica first started blooming.
In NH I had to drive about 45 minutes to reach a location with these flowers and did so because of their delicate beauty. Now I just have to walk outside. Funny.
Their presentation is a bit different than where I used to shoot them. The leaf litter here is really, really deep because we only have deciduous trees in our yard (the conifers were harvested over a decade ago by the original land owner). This means very few of the plants have a lot of leaves and most of them are buried. So it was a challenge to find them at first, but boy, they are everywhere.
I went out when the sun was still low and I love the different aspects it produces, like this backlit group that I converted to black and white. It really picks up the fuzzy stems which I love. With a bit of cloud cover, the light softened a bit and for this really big group next to my driveway, it was a perfect way to emphasize their soft beauty. They’re kind of an ethereal flower; nothing at all aggressive or bold about them.
They open with the sun and on cloudy days most remain closed, which I have photographed before and had great results, but on this day it was sun, sun, sun.
Yes, they really are that color. Intense, slightly bluish purple; the deepest shade I’ve ever seen. From what I’ve observed, the purple ones are closer to the water than the white ones. I have no idea if that is random or not, but it seems to be consistent. I went across the street (away from the water) and there were no purples, only white.
I did my best to isolate some of the blossoms against the backdrop of last year’s leaves. I just love how it makes them really pop. Not all of them are purple or white, we have this lovely group of pink ones just next to the lawn. I only spotted one other plant with pink flowers. Puzzling.
All were shot with the legacy Olympus 90mm macro at f8 or wider.
They’re still blooming and so there will be more shots coming, but the bloodroot is also coming into season and so are the trout lily, of which we have thousands in the yard. Behind them, trillium in equal numbers. It’s going to be a busy spring!
In my last post, I mentioned that I bought a collapsible diffuser, so I thought I would write to explain how I use it, what the results have been and why I can’t believe I haven’t bought one before.
Part of my not buying one is sheer forgetfulness, but another is that I don’t want to complicate my photography with a lot of gear. Before my old ring flash died I used it sparingly because natural light seems much more complementary to my work than artificial and so you’d think a light reflector/diffuser would be more appealing, but somehow I just made do with my hat or leaves or simply using my body to make my own shade. Adequate, but not flexible and certainly not repeatable with any certainty, I mean, who can find the perfect leafy branch every time you need one?
So here is the little beast –
I included a credit card so you can get an idea of size. It’s very slightly translucent, but completely opaque, made of nylon and has a hard plastic ring sewn into the black piping. If you grasp the edges and twist it will fold down to fit in its case which has a loop for attaching to a carabiner or other handy clip. At first I had a time remembering I had one, but once I started using it, it stayed more out of the bag than in. I do wish I could use it with an articulated arm/clip system I built a couple of years ago, but alas it’s too insubstantial which works for being foldable, but doesn’t leave a large/firm enough edge to grip.
Mostly I use it to diffuse light; that is to create shade or soften shadows. Here are a few examples of how I’ve used it to improve my images.
These are the same chanterelle waxcaps from a previous post. I found them in the woods with the sun almost directly overhead. Oh so harsh and contrasty. They were next to a large pile of boulders, fallen branches and other pointy and squishy stuff I didn’t really want to have to climb around in to make shade with my body (my hat wasn’t wide enough).
One of the things I love is that the shadows aren’t entirely gone, but they’re controlled and softened. Now, before you think I’ve used some Lightroom sleight-of-hand, the processing values are exactly the same. It’s only the light and the resulting exposure that is different. Notice the color saturation, too. The orange/red/yellow is much, much too hot in the first picture. Just as you can clip whites and blacks, you can clip colors and just like when you clip highs and lows, the information is unrecoverable. The sensor is overloaded and the detail is lost. So is the smaller mushroom.
This isn’t the only image I took with the diffuser. Using the camera’s LCD screen I could watch the effect of the shade as I held it at different angles and distances from the subject. The differences were subtle, but noticeable and I chose what I liked best in the end. Every situation is different and I’m sure I’ll be playing with it more and more. Without a diffuser I would have walked away from that little scene and lost a photo that I really like.
It isn’t direct light on a subject that is always the main problem. Sometimes it’s glare on another element in the shot that makes for a distracting highlight. Take this one as an example. It’s in my backyard where honey mushrooms grow in huge masses at the base of the trees (the deer love them, btw, and snack on them often). We don’t have a lot of red maples around, so when I spied this leaf I knew I’d use it to make the mushrooms stand out. The problem was the afternoon sun. Even with a polarizer there’s glare on the leaf that I find distracting –
The first places your eyes naturally go to in a photograph are the light areas which is why it’s so important to mange those backgrounds and watch for things that can pull the viewers’ eyes away from your main subject. Out came the handy diffuser and voila –
Other than the change in camera position, everything is the same. The glare was still there and the diffuser blocked it really well. This time I angled the thing perpendicular to the ground to block the sun. The red pops as it should and so does the texture and slight yellow tinge of the mushrooms.
Distractions – they’re not helpful at all and sometimes waiting for the light to change just isn’t practical even in a tiny scene where just a couple of minutes of the earth’s rotation will help. Or waiting for cloud cover. What if there are no clouds? Take this next before picture. Sporophytes are some of my favorite things, but they already exist down where there’s a lot going on; shapes, textures, colors – all competing for your attention. So after careful composition to arrange those elements, light patterns can be hard to deal with like they are just behind the sporophyte stems. Irritating.
So the diffuser to the rescue.
Again, other than the change in light, everything is the same. I just copied the processing I did with the second image onto the first so they would compare fairly. This time I angled the diffuser just behind the sporophytes and hotspot be gone!
Fixing this kind of thing is possible in Lightroom and other robust photo editing packages, but it’s much easier to do in the field. So consider getting a diffuser and using it for your macro and close up work. I find it very useful to provide consistent shade that can be manipulated to give you highlights and shadows that bring out the beauty of your subjects.