Fungi are my thing Natural History-wise. I love the weird and wonderful shapes, colours and textures. So very different from most green plants and so very exciting in the way they emerge, often overnight into the World. Then, a few days later, they are gone. Every year, I start looking out for them to appear around this time of year, and a favourite place for me is my local garden. It is one of the Great Gardens of Cornwall, but I'm not going to tell you which one, not because I want to keep it to myself. At this time of year it is closed and I am only allowed in with the understanding of the owner.
It has been a strange year for weather here in a county of the UK that normally has a Temperate Maritime climate. In other words, cool and moist in Summer with regular rainfall, but only a little colder in Winter with few frosts and clearly defined Seasons, again with regular rainfall. This year we have had the hottest and driest Summer since records began with a very long period of no Summer rainfall and concomitant high daily temperatures. Before that we had significant Gales with very high winds resulting in destruction of many Trees, including one that landed on our own Garden shed. The combination of destructive winds and little water has therefore stressed many trees, some of which have died, or have had to lose leaves early to stay alive. As Trees are one of their main hosts, that puts Fungi at an advantage as the Tree's defence systems are weakened.
So, I am hoping that this will be a Bonanza Year for Mycology fanatics like myself! However, it's one thing finding them and another getting decent images.
These are the challenges:
Finding Decent Specimens- Fungus Fruiting Bodies are often short-lived and are eaten by many insects and other invertebrates. They also don't care where they come up, so are often damaged as they do so.
Identification - this can be difficult without a microscope and lots of field experience as there are many species, some of which can be superficially similar. Get a good field guide like Collins and be prepared for quite a bit of browsing.
Size- some Fungi are huge, others tiny so a Macro Lens is often a necessity. Telephoto lenses can also be useful.
Composition - Because Fungi are often in difficult locations such as in and amongst leaf-litter or high on tree trunks there are often obstacles and careful gardening has to be employed to remove things like twigs or grass that look unobtrusive to the naked eye, but horrible in the final image.
Getting it all in focus - I often use a technique called focus-stacking which essentially layers images together in order to get front-to-back sharpness. This carries it's own pitfalls which can be seen if you take a close look at the image above. I will do a whole Blog and Video on this subject.
Processing - Although they don't move, there is often a whole lot going on around Fungi, so you need to have a disciplined approach and that can be difficult if you are kneeling for long periods on wet, soggy ground. Once you have your images, then you need to decide how they should be presented.
Bear in mind that very little processing is allowed if you wish to enter your images in a Natural History competition. Always check the Rules first!
My thoughts on this Shoot
I enjoyed my time, got some acceptable images, but I was rusty in terms of composition and didn't take into account things like insect movement as it was a warm day. So some of these images (like the one above) have multiple versions of the same insect as it crawled over my composition. Second, I struggled with the 3D nature of these organisms and getting pleasing compositions. Also, you need to get your eye in as where there is one species of Fungi, there are usually others. So it proved here as there were at least 5 different species in various states of preservation. The main species here was the large Bracket Fungus growing on the recently felled Beech that I shot with my standard16-55 f2.8 Zoom lens. This was in good condition at the time of shooting, but finding pleasing arrangements was a challenge. I have also attempted quite a complex shot involving both focus-stacking and exposure blending, but that is still in need of processing and refining. I am hopeful it will give the bigger picture however. The smaller Fungi were all shot with my Zeiss 50mm Macro lens which is an excellent optic. I can't wait to get out again!