Normally at this time of year, you’d be awash in pictures of mushrooms on this blog. I love them. I love photographing them and now I have a focus stacking application, I want to work with greater depth of field with these images. But a strange thing has happened. The mushrooms haven’t fruited.
Not everywhere, but locally. In my yard for example. Last year all I had to do was step off the lawn or the driveway and there would be dozens of different species and specimens; on stumps, on logs, on the ground – basically everywhere. This year, almost zip.
And when I went to check my mother lode chanterelle spot there wasn’t a single one to be seen.
Last year there were dozens upon dozens.
I should have been more worried on my 1-hour walk to the site. There weren’t any mushrooms. Seriously. I saw 3 not including shelf or fan species that overwinter. Nothing on logs. Nothing on the ground. It was creepy since on previous visits to this trail I’d taken many mushroom shots and a lot of them are my favorites. Amantitas. Russulas. Hygrocybes. All absent. Very weird.
When I checked another chanterelle site in early July, those mushrooms were doing fine. They were small still, but they came up in their usual numbers. That site is many miles from where I was the other day and across the other side of the Wisconsin in another section of the county. How could conditions be so different so close together?
Googling is problematic because any use of the word death/dying etc, just gives me dire warnings about eating wild mushrooms and accidental poisoning. My giant book about mushrooms by David Arora doesn’t seem to have a section dealing with why mushrooms would universally fail to fruit. My only guess is that the cold, wet spring had something to do with it. We lost our snow cover early and never got it back so it’s possible that the frost got too much for the mycorrhizal mat to deal with. But again, why only in this immediate area? It’s very strange and worrying. I know that many animals use mushrooms for food (including me!! My chanterelles!!) and I hope this doesn’t distress them too much. Maybe the shrooms will catch up. I don’t know.
So, here are the only mushroom photos I’ve managed to take this year and they’re all from my Door county trip in June. All shot with the Olympus 90mm f2 legacy macro lens. Of course!
I certainly hope I can find some areas that still have a healthy bloom of mushrooms! Maybe a little north of here. I’ll give it a try maybe later in the week.
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.
I don’t do it all the time, but if I can get under a mushroom I will. Well, not me exactly, I’m not Alice, but my camera. For these first two images I used the wider end of my 12-35mm lens. The first one was on a tripod, the second literally on the ground with sticks and the lens cap acting as shims to get the camera level. The perspective is terrific and it shows off those beautiful gills.
Sometimes the structures that hold and release spores are a bit different like with boletes that have an underside that looks like a sponge. I recently found out that a single mushroom can release millions of spores in a single day. They do this every day it fruits pretty much. Amazing.
In addition to gills and pores there are also teeth. The idea of toothed fungus makes me a little giggly, but that’s how they’re categorized. This one happily turned itself inside out so I could get a peek at those teeth. I shot this with a medium telephoto because it was way inside a bunch of bushes that I had to hold out of the way to get this shot. I couldn’t tell it was a toothed mushroom until I looked at it on the computer. And the ID took a while because this is a remarkably pristine specimen. The ones in my books were ragged, dirty and stained. Just lucky I guess.
Here’s another example of a toothed mushroom –
It’s sometimes called a hedgehog mushroom (aka Hydnum repandum) and is not only edible, but reportedly delicious. Now I know where they grow (some chanterelles conveniently nearby) I can gather them next year and have a taste. I could use my tripod to shoot that image (and many others from the down low) because I do not have the center post attached. My particular model came with one, but it is removable and so the legs splay to 90 degrees and the head touches the ground. Very handy. If you want to do a lot of this type of work either take out your center post or get a tripod that doesn’t have one to begin with.
It is occasionally a bit of work to get under a small mushroom that isn’t on a nice stump or log. Usually there are only little slopes and depressions in the forest floor, but sometimes the tripod in its lowest position is too high. In those cases I reach for my homemade beanbag camera prop. Then I can usually get low enough since it’s only a couple inches thick. I use a 1 quart ziplock bag with 2 bags of barley inside it. I’ve stuck some friction tape to one side of it to keep the camera from sliding. And, as I mentioned above, sometimes I still use sticks and/or my lens cap to shim. It’s magical when I can get so low that the foreground changes dramatically and helps me highlight only the cap, which adds a dash of mystery.
I also like the foreshortened perspective that helps to emphasize the mushroom, not where it fruits. And there’s the lovely bokeh that often comes with shooting in dappled sunlight.
In the end, there are only so many ways to shoot mushrooms, but up from under is usually a winner!
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 NH part of the Appalachian Trail snakes through the state and Vermont has the Long Trail, but here in Wisconsin there is the Ice Age trail. It isn’t contiguous, but runs for 1200 miles and is a nationally recognized natural resource. It’s taken decades of persistent land conservation, but today there are dozens of trailheads in dozens of counties. I probably won’t hike all of it or even most of it, but I have gone out to explore some already.
Each trail is divided into named segments and they’re all mapped, signed and blazed fairly well. The section in this post is not far from my house, just a mile or so down river below the Grandfather Dam which makes power using penstocks. These things –
Crazy, what? Water from behind the dam is forced into these wooden tubes and regulated by the tanks you see in the background. Turbines get turned and the power plant, just out of shot to the left, sends power into the grid. It’s loud and wet and a bit nerve-wracking to be near them, but it’s the best and quickest way to get to the trail head, so that’s where I started. And no, that’s not one of the disasters. The penstocks are still holding! And the dam didn’t let water go either so I wasn’t caught in a flood (they do sound a siren warning though).
Being so close to the Wisconsin River, it basically follows the shoreline and what used to be the shoreline, but is now forest –
It’s a little hard to make out, but the darker area of the boulder there is concave; worn smooth by dozens and dozens of years of water surging and swirling. All of the rocks in the river are like this and are really interesting to see up close, which luckily you can do most times of the year.
Before I get to that here’s a little warning. Stay alert out there. Sometimes I’m guilty of being a bit too focused on my photography; the surroundings, composing, the light, the wonder of nature. All of it can be really absorbing. Not to mention I listen to audio books quite a bit when I’m out there. I can still hear sounds in my environment, but it’s one more thing my mind has to process other than what’s right around me.
So I’m standing there with the tripod, waiting for the sun to get blocked by a cloud a bit. I’m backing up, reframing, recomposing. Backing up again. I’ve got the remote shutter cable, a polarizer and other stuff. And what’s that? What’s with all these bees? No. Wait. Not bees. Hornets. Big ones. Whizzing around. They’re kind of all over the place. Uh oh.
Yeah. That’s a bald-faced hornets nest bigger than my head. And it was about 20 feet behind me about 15 feet off the ground. No wonder there was practically a cloud of them. Dopey me just backing right into their territory. Yup, yup, yo.
I got right the hell out of there. Wide berth. Easy gait. Nothing too fast or jarring. Didn’t want to freak them out and send them after me. At home I looked at a close up of that shot and you can see a bunch of hornets right in the mouth of the nest. The thing is full of them. A pinata of venomous fun.
Ok, so note to self. Be careful. Be aware. Sigh. Good intentions. I really need to listen to my own advice.
So before I get to that, a word on sunlight and managing it in photos. Who wants to go out on cloudy days all the time, or confine your photos to just the golden hours at opposite ends of the day? Oh sure, they’re great, but learning to cope with direct sun can be really helpful during, you know, the rest of the day. And sometimes it can even help.
For me, the forest shot above wouldn’t work nearly as well if there wasn’t sunlight in it. It brings out the texture of that boulder so that you can see the carved nature of it. It shows depth as well, emphasizing the layers of the trees. I did soften the image in post though, bringing the highlights down and easing off on the contrast. Other techniques I use with dappled sunlight is to lower the luminance of certain colors if they seem to ‘hot’. Yellow and red often go off the charts with digital photography, so managing the color sliders can help tone those down.
It can help with direct sun as well. A beautiful day like this one is tough to shoot in. The shadows are harsh and the glare intense. Start with a polarizer. It can do a couple of things; reduce the glare on shiny surfaces like leaves and rocks, and also bring up reflections. The thing is that to do one it has to do the other less well. That’s where you luminance slider can help. This is not saturation!! That’s a different value.
For this image I really wanted to concentrate the polarizer’s effect on the reflection. That’s something you just can’t reproduce in post-production, at least not without a lot of work. It’s much easier to do it in the field. Then with software reduce the lightness of the colors that aren’t as affected by the polarizer. For this image it was the trees and the rocks. Using this technique leaves your overall whites and highlights where they are which is important for clouds!
Little scenes can benefit from a polarizer as well. The moss here was reflecting a good deal of light and so I reduced it with a polarizer and the green is lush and deep. You may have to use exposure compensation to get the exposure back where you want it, but once you get used to working with it, it’s second nature.
Another tool I’ve been using lately is a physical thing and not a processing technique. Recently I bought a collapsible diffuser (finally!) to make my own shade. I’ve been meaning to for ages, but just never have. Now I have a 12-inch model that folds down to about 4 inches and is very useful for diffusing light on or around my subject as well as creating reflected light. This coupled with some of the Lightroom techniques above have improved the overall look of my images. I used a combination of all of the methods I’ve mentioned for the following shots –
All the field and processing techniques don’t mean a thing if you can’t get the shot in the first place. Whether it be you that’s all busted or your camera. Or in my case both.
While making my way across a small feeder stream, the big, flat rock I stepped on tilted. Sharply. Throwing me straight down onto my butt and tripod with camera attached. Into the drink it went and damn if my ankle didn’t hurt, too. My first thought, of course, was for the gear. A quick look and I saw that the front of the lens was fine. Wet, but undamaged. The lens cap did its job and I fished it out of the water and gave it a shake.
A whole bunch of things saved my bacon with this little tumble. First is my lifelong habit of replacing the lens cap between takes. It might seem silly or a pain, but it literally saved my lens and/or filter this time. And given that it’s a really nice B&W filter, I’d have been bummed to have to replace it. Better than the $1200 lens, but still. Spendy. So I tells ya – put that lenscap on, you never know.
The other thing is that I fell uphill. The stream was flowing down a slope and so in crossing I fell upstream instead of downstream which was lucky. And that my lens and camera are weather-sealed. A quick dunk in very shallow water is something it’s designed to take. And it did. Yay for magnesium camera bodies, too!! A quick wipe down to remove some debris and water droplets and it was good to go.
The last thing I was immediately grateful for was that I didn’t have the Olympus 90mm macro on the camera. That might not have worked out so well. Yeah, it’s a tank and I always put the cap back on it, too, but it isn’t weather proof and it’s old. Almost irreplaceable. Sure they come up on eBay now and again, but not often. So glad it was in my bag. No one wants to see a grown woman cry.
The tripod did well, too. It’s scratched up on one leg, but I think of it as a battle scar not a blemish.
So that’s my tale of near woe. Almost stung to death by hornets, but escaped at the last minute only to fall on my butt and put my oh-so-precious gear in harms way. But wait! Good habits pay off and there’s no damage, except to my pride.
One of my favorite ways to find new conservation land/nature trails is to open up the Gazetteer and see what’s nearby. By coincidence I ended up going to the Prairie Dells scenic area in Merrill which is a place my husband visited, and sent me an iPhone picture from, when he was here scouting the territory after his first job interview. It’s not far from our new house and so off I went.
The area is named for the Prairie River which is a tributary of the Wisconsin River and feeds directly into it further downstream in Merrill. It runs about 40 miles from its source and is one of the few rivers in Wisconsin that is no longer dammed. This nature preserve is the result of the removal of a large dam that was on this site. When it came down in the early 1990s the enormous granite ledges were exposed and that’s where the dell part of its name derives.
While it might be a relatively uncommon landscape here in Wisconsin, walking around the exposed outcrops and granite ledges was a lot like New Hampshire. Pretty much all the hiking you do there involves granite boulders and most of the streams and rivers have been carving gorges for themselves for centuries. Still it was beautiful and I found plenty to photograph.
The trails wind through mixed forest that was starting to fade from its springtime lushness. Where we are in northern WI is just above the 45th parallel which marks the halfway point between the north pole and the equator (although not technically due to the Earth’s little bulge). It means the summer heat is cut a little bit on both ends of the calendar by a week or two as compared to southern NH. It was breezy and the dappled sunlight made things pop on the ground and in the canopy.
Whether because of this slightly shorter growing season or just out of sheer joy of wilderness, northern WI seems to be the mushroom and wildflower capital of the universe. I found so many of both this year that I could hardly make any miles for getting down and photographing another small wonder.
Some were new species for me and some were old favorites.
This particular preserve is right off highway 17 and so traffic noise is still audible even deep into the trail system, but overall it is quieter than most anywhere in NH. The biggest difference is that there is no noise from planes, something relatively common in southern NH where the largest airport is. Since I was at Prairie Dells I’ve visited other, more remote trails and there the silence really reigns.
Eventually the trail sort of petered out and so I headed back, visiting the three viewing platforms closer to the trailhead and parking area. I even climbed down into the gorge a bit to see how close I could get to the river itself. Not very as it turned out, but there were still treasures to be found.
A couple of weeks ago, the Piscataquog Land Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy hosted an event at the Manchester Cedar Swamp preserve. Since it was in one of my favorite bits of protected property and was about mushroom hunting, I was all over it. Reta McGregor kindly donated her time and expertise and I learned quite a bit, including which parts of a bolete mushroom are edible (hint, not the spongy part). I even found a mushroom she’d never seen before. It was a toothed mushroom and very lovely. Anyway, I got there a bit early and did some scouting with the OM 90mm. In addition to a bounty of mushrooms, there were newts and indian pipe. Alas, no newts would pose for me, but I still had a nice time and found some worthies.
Two different species in the same genus and they were everywhere. I didn’t manage to ID everything though. These two still elude me. I think I need to get a few more mushroom books. They can look so different during their lives, that I think you need to have many photos to compare with. With my one book, it’s hit or miss.
In one section of forest there was a good crop of late-flowering indian pipe and a few of them were blushing mightily.
Yeah, fall is supposed to be all about the foliage, but I always like to buck a trend.
Mushrooms offer endless subjects these days and hiking with me is basically an exercise in watching me put the camera on the beanbag and shoot another one. Since I always use natural light, sometimes I have to wait for the light to be right, or use things to hand to adjust and filter the light. Hemlock branches and ferns are the best for this since the patterns they make are broken up and variable. For this one I used the branch of the tree I was crouched under to ease the harshness of the sun, which I needed for the shot, but wanted to soften.
Even though I take a naturalist approach with microscapes and close-ups, I do clean up a scene when I need to. Pine needles, leaves, sticks – if they’re distracting, they go. It’s unusual that I don’t have to do a little primping on every shot, but I didn’t need to do any for this one. Just had to wait for the right moment. The light was shifting madly with the wind in the trees and the passing clouds and so I just waited until it gave me what I wanted.
This next little scene is one of my favorites. I did get rid of a couple of sticks on the log that were sticking up into that greeny/golden glow, but the leaves were exactly as I found them and again waiting for just the right light paid off. I didn’t want it too bright and total shade was just flat and dull. Backlighting just adds a luminosity that only natural light can give.
I should really try to find a good mushroom guide. Not that I’m planning on eating any (not that brave or suicidal), but I like to know what I’m photographing and other than Hemlock Varnish Shelf, Chanterelles, Amanitas and a couple others, I have no clue which is which. I have found a decent online resource, but even that is confusing. So many types are so similar to each other that I can’t tell the difference. If anyone knows of an online resource that’s easy to use and accurate, or can recommend a book for the northeastern US, please let me know.
Anyway…mushroom season will continue for a while yet. Until the first hard frost at least, so you probably haven’t seen the last of them.
Lately I have been a bit starved for inspiration. The same-old-same-old just isn’t doing it for me. As a result, I shoot less. I’m not bothered by this. Ups and downs are part of my normal. When I do go in the woods I just can’t see if you know what I mean. I think it’s because I’m there so often. I need a new venue. Luckily I’m heading to California for a week on Saturday and that might give me the break I need. In the meantime, I’ve got some more fungus for you.
That one kind of blows me away. The sun picked out the web behind and gave it another element of surprise. The light was lovely, and fleeting as usual. I’m getting better at being quick and effective with compositions, framing and focus. This time I opened up very wide to focus on that wee cap (the whole thing is about 1 inch tall) and then closed down to f11. Minimal clean up required. The camera was on the beanbag which was on a log, braced by a branch set crosswise under it all.
These two I shot while out with a group of explorers on a Piscataquog Land Conservancy walk. It was all very relaxed and no one seemed to mind my obsession with very small things.
I think it’s time for me to look into focus stacking. Given the narrow DoF of macro lenses, it’s impossible to get important elements in focus simultaneously even if I stop down to f22, which I don’t like to do since it’s out of the lens’s sweet spot. This next shot would be a perfect candidate. That little critter under there is a springtail, not a spider as I first thought. Even though the distance between the leading edge of the cap and the little bug is only millimeters, I couldn’t get both in focus in one shot. Maybe modern technology can help.
Sorry for the abundance of portrait-oriented shots in this post; it’s just the way things shook out. If anyone has experience with focus stacking and has any advice, ideas, tips etc, feel free to chime in with a comment.
It’s raining now and probably will for most of the week. That means more mushrooms, but it’s not like we have a shortage now.
All were shot with the OM 90mm. I don’t know what I’d do without that lens.