Mention the prospect of photographing fungi and many people will conjure up thoughts of being in an autumnal woodland setting looking though leaf litter or inspecting dead timber for likely specimens on quiet, damp days. True, these conditions may be perfect for fungi to thrive, but there is a lot more to getting to grips with these fascinating subjects than that.
A few weeks ago in mid May, for example,
I was reminded of the fact that it’s possible to find and photograph fungi during any month of the year. I was running a week-long nature photography programme and had decided that we would spend the day travelling the length of an archetypal Highland glen, which held a succession of habitats, from native pine forest at one end to windswept open high ground at the other. It was a fantastically productive time of year to be there and we were totally spoilt for choice.
After the harshest Highland winter for decades, new life was everywhere — from nesting dippers and tree-creepers, to red deer, feral goats and dragonflies. It was difficult to know where to begin. Shortly after entering the glen, and so that everyone might experience the sensation of being in an ancient pinewood, I insisted that we let our minibuses go ahead and that we all walk for a kilometre or two. Between checking skylines for golden eagles, my attention was more heavily weighted towards scanning the ground, looking for more accessible subjects, which weren’t going to run, fly, hop or swim away from us. I needed something, which we could linger over as a group, and discuss lighting, composition and then demonstrate photographic technique.
Passing a ditch I noticed a seemingly tiny insignificant species of fungi but one that I recognised instantly as being Mitrula paludosa. More commonly known as bog beacon, this matchstick-shaped species has a beautifully vivid orange-yellow fertile head, which really does appear to glow with colour and stands out from the dark rotting leaves and twigs upon which it grows. Having pointed it out, I was really encouraged to see members of the group sharing my enthusiasm as they became really interested in photographing it. I don’t think that it was a particularly hard idea to sell.
Bog beacon isn’t particularly rare; maybe just overlooked a little too often, and I suspect that the idea of photographing a fungus at that time of year had aroused a degree of curiosity, which in turn added to its appeal. Thinking of my own photography of fungi, I continue to surprise myself at the possibilities that exist for photographing them, and in recent years I’ve began experimenting with all kinds of techniques, such as using shallow depth of field and extreme wideangle lenses.
From a biological point of view, I still have a huge amount to learn and haven’t quite weaned myself off the ‘shoot first then identify later’ approach. As with most fields of nature photography, the actual nuts and bolts of which lens, camera settings etc to use are more easily learnt than the effort and understanding required to learn about the subject, such as where, when and why it may be found. As I’ve mentioned before in this column, it comes down to becoming a better naturalist and simply being receptive to everything in nature.