10 Tips and Inspiration for Photographing Mushrooms

10 Tips and Inspiration for Photographing Mushrooms

During autumn, mushrooms are appearing everywhere. These fungi are welcome subjects for the nature photographer and it can be a challenging task to photograph mushrooms in an interesting way. I have gathered some tips that can help and for some inspiration.

If you wander through nature, you will definitely find mushrooms during autumn time. The forms of these fungi are varied. Some are as large as a football, others only a few millimeters. Although most have very natural colors, some are very colorful.

A lot of photographers are shooting mushrooms without a lot of thought. Most often I see a vantage point that is too high, but also a messy environment surrounding the mushroom. I learned mushrooms are not subjects that can be photographed easily when you encounter these during a hike. You have to go out with the intention of shooting mushrooms, as the more experienced photographer may know.

I have gathered some tips for inspiration that are meant for the photographer that is not that experienced with photographing mushrooms. Some tips may seem obvious, but are sometimes overseen.

The Equipment Needed

You don't always have to use a macro lens for photographing mushrooms. Every lens that has the ability to get relatively close will allow you to make beautiful photos. But it might not be easy to capture it in the best possible way, especially when the mushroom is small.

There is the possibility to use extension tubes. It allows you to get closer and achieve a larger magnification. For instance, I love the combination of a 25mm extension tube and a Canon EF 135mm f/2L lens. But you can also use extension tubes with a 70-200 mm lens, which I think is a wonderful and versatile combination.

Still, a macro lens is perhaps the best choice for shooting mushrooms. I would advise a 100mm focal length, but others will do the job also. Some macro lenses allow you to achieve a 1:1 magnification without the limits of a reduced focus area that occurs with extension tubes. Of course, you can also combine a macro lens with extension tubes if you like.

Tip 1: Shoot at Eye Level

This may sound a bit odd since mushrooms don’t have eyes. But if you imagine a gnome next to a mushroom, you can think of shooting from the imaginary gnome's vantage point. In other words, place your camera on the forest floor.

This doesn’t mean a high vantage point is always wrong, but on most occasions, the low position makes it much more interesting. It allows you to create better compositions without the messy surroundings and even play with the available light much better.

Tip 2: Use Depth of Field to Your Benefit

Mushrooms are often found in messy surroundings. Grass, moss, leaves, twigs, and pine needles are only a few of the elements that surround a mushroom. By using a narrow depth of field it is possible to isolate a mushroom from its surroundings.

A narrow depth of field is easy to achieve with macro lenses or extension tubes. But if you are photographing the larger-sized mushroom, it can be quite challenging. Take your time to find the best possible framing, which is the least distracting. But you can also clean up the surroundings.

Tip 3: Clean Up the Surroundings

Have you found a nice mushroom to photograph? Make sure there are no distracting elements in the frame. The best way to achieve this is to clean up the surroundings. Remove any distracting leaves, pine needles, twigs, and perhaps even grass. Don’t destroy the place, but sculpt the direct surroundings if possible.

Tip 4: Play With the Available Light

This is perhaps the most fun part of photographing mushrooms. Especially in forests, the light can be beautiful and atmospheric. Even with an overcast sky, the light needs to find its way through branches and leaves. If you’re using a narrow depth of field, it becomes possible to play with bokeh rings in the background. Or, you can emphasize the light and dark areas in the forest itself.

Tip 5: Bring Your Own Light

Do you have a flash? Use it, preferably off camera. It allows you to make the light directional in any way you like. If you don’t have a flash, a flashlight is also possible. Often you don’t need a lot of light for this kind of photography.

Expose for the background, and use the flash or flashlight to exposure the mushroom. Play with an underexposed background to make the mushroom stand out.

Tip 6: Add A Rain Shower

Wouldn’t it be nice to photograph mushroom in a rain shower? Especially when you use a flash as the main light. Well, a plant sprayer will allow you to bring your own rain shower with you. It can make the hood of the mushroom wet for nice light reflections, but you can also use flash to illuminate the falling water droplets.

Don’t use a flashgun to illuminate the falling water droplets; That won’t work. You will need a short flash to freeze the motion of the falling water.

Tip 7: Capture Spores

The same flash technique can be used to capture the escaping spores from a mushroom. You need to find a ripe bovist that is already open to release its spores. With a little help by tapping against the bovist, the spores will escape at your command. Use the flash to capture the escaping spores just like you capture water droplets.

Tip 8: Use Surrounding Elements

It is easy to use surrounding elements in your composition. This can be done in several ways. Use fern leaves to fill the frame. Use fallen leaves to get nice colors, or you can use the shadow of a mushroom that is visible through a leaf.

It is also possible to shoot through a bunch of mushrooms with only one in focus. Just be creative with the things that surround the mushroom to fill the frame. Of course, tip 3 is still needed; Make sure there are no distractions.

Tip 9: Get Close for Details

Sometimes the mushroom has great details. Why not get close to capture these details? Especially the lamina or gills of agaric as they are very photogenic. Some specimen are translucent, which makes for great photo opportunities. Perhaps you can capture small insects together with the mushroom too.

For this, a macro lens is a must-have. And even lenses that achieve a larger magnification can come in handy. Don't forget the possibility to combine an extension tube with a macro lens.

Tip 10: Show the Biotope

Photographing mushrooms up close with a nice sculptured surrounding can be great. But sometimes it’s also nice to capture the mushroom together with the biotope. Use a wide-angle lens to show its surroundings, or even a wide-angle macro lens. Use a small depth of field to isolate the mushroom from its surroundings. I also use a tilt-shift lens to have the background even more out of focus. Just make sure to leave the background recognizable.

Perhaps these tips will allow you to shoot a wide variety of great photos of the mushrooms in autumn. Do you have another tip that can make a difference between an ordinary photo and a great photo? Please tell us in the comments below. And feel free to add your mushroom photos and tell us the techniques you used to achieve the shot.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

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This is one of the most interesting and useful articles that I have ever encountered here on Fstoppers.

Thank you!

The ideas that you give us in the article include many that I hadn't already thought of myself, and that right there makes your article well worth reading.

The images that you included to support the text are very interesting, and show me compositions and angles that I don't remember ever seeing before in wild mushroom photography.

A question for you:

Do you think that it would be worthwhile to try using the 15mm true 1:1 macro lens for mushroom photography? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about that.

Very enjoyable article. Unfortunately, there are not many mushrooms in the deserts of Arizona ....

Oh, but there are so many other awesome things to photograph there! After spending the month of April there this past spring, for nature photography, I'm falling in love with southern Arizona. Can't wait to go back for another month sometime soon!

Beautiful images and great tips!