Getting down in the dirt.
Last weekend, I joined the Puget Sound Mycological Society (PSMS) for their annual Ben Woo Foray. Like last year’s event, it was held at a camp just northeast of Mount Rainier. But unlike last year, there weren’t many mushrooms to be found. There simply hadn’t been enough rain over the summer.
But it wasn’t a complete bust. I managed to get enough chanterelles for a few breakfasts; I’ll finish the last of them this morning. And I’d signed up for the photography session, so that gave me a different purpose on Saturday afternoon.
There were about 20 of us in the group of photographers that set out to find and photograph mushrooms. We started with an extremely basic discussion of photography with topics that included shutter speed, aperture, and depth of field. Paul, the leader, also discussed the usefulness of reflectors to bring light into dark areas under a mushroom. I had one of my reflectors with me, but it was way too big to be useful for this kind of photography. (I know I have a small one somewhere; sure wish I could find it!)
He showed us some really nice and very artistic photos done by a member of the PSMS. If you can imagine framing a photo of a mushroom, these were the kinds of photos you’d frame. I found them inspirational — in other words, they inspired me to create good images.
I also learned about one of the drawbacks to my sturdy Manfroto tripod: the center column makes it impossible to get the tripod head very close to the ground, despite the fact that the legs can be released beyond their normal stopping point. This would make photographing mushrooms with the tripod a bit more challenging, unless I wanted to shoot down at them (which I usually didn’t). Of course, a tripod really is necessary due to the low-light conditions in the shady, wooded areas where mushrooms like to grow.
Then we went out to a predetermined place and hunted about for mushrooms.
As anyone who knows me well might expect, I didn’t stay with the group. In fact, I lost them twice. We didn’t walk very far and although I didn’t have GPS tracking turned on (via GaiaGPS, which I can’t say enough nice things about), I wasn’t in any danger of getting lost in the woods. Having my camera and tripod set up and ready to go really helped me focus (no pun intended) on photography as an activity. Also helpful: wearing the rain pants I’d bought on my way to the foray when I made a stop in Yakima. It was a real pleasure to kneel down on wet earth and not get up with soaking wet knees.
Most of the mushrooms I shot were very tiny and growing slightly above the ground nearby. That made it possible for me to set up the tripod and camera in a hole so I was nearly level with the subject. My goal, in most cases, was to highlight the mushroom(s) by focusing on them and letting the background go out of focus.
For the shoot, I used my “go to” lens, an AF-S Nikkor 16-85mm ƒ3.5-5.6, which was one of the three I had with me. I did not have any fixed focal length lenses with me. This turned out to be the best lens (I had) for the job since I couldn’t get my big tripod anywhere near the mushrooms. In most cases, I had to zoom in to 85mm to get the closeups I wanted. I tried my 70-300 lens to see if I could get even closer shots, but was set up too close to get the mushrooms in focus. The forest isn’t a tripod-friendly place and it seemed silly to set up 10 feet away from mushrooms sometimes only 2 inches tall.
I don’t have a macro lens. This is something I need to remedy one of these days because super close shots would be nice — although I suspect that a really close look at some of the edibles I pick might make me less likely to want to eat them. (Think bugs.)
Anyway, here are a few of my shots from the trip. Are any of them worthy of being framed and hung? I doubt it. But it was good to get out with my camera and a mission again.