A Mushroom Photography Field Trip

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.

Chanterelle Mushroom
Here’s a golden chanterelle mushroom coming out of the duff. (They’re white where I find them on the east side of the Cascades.) After photographing this one, I cut it off and put it in my sweatshirt hood to take home. (I didn’t have a basket with me!)

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.

Tiny Mushrooms
Some tiny mushrooms along the trail. None of these were more than 2 inches tall. They were growing out of moss and yes, those are fir needles around them.

More Tiny Mushrooms
And more tiny mushrooms. I think I succeeded in getting that one mushroom in decent focus, but the white piece of lichen nearby creates a bad distraction.

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.

Many Mushrooms
Another photographer and I saw these mushrooms at about the same time. She shot them from the left; I shot them straight on. Fortunately, they were growing at the base of a tree and I was able to get down into a hole in front of them. I think I could have done a better job focusing on the big one. And maybe some shade on the scene to avoid the glare? Experimentation is part of the learning process.

Coral Mushroom
This is a coral mushroom — a beautiful specimen larger than a man’s fist — and it is edible. I didn’t find it so I didn’t get to take it home.

Chanterelles
The leader of the group found two small and partially crushed chanterelles right along the roadside. But what he missed is this one and the slightly smaller one behind it. I had to lay prone on the ground with my camera in my hands to get this shot — and it isn’t even very good. Can you see the second mushroom to the right, out of focus? After everyone shot these mushrooms, I cut them off and took them with me.

More Maria 1.0 Photos

A few more very old photos.

Yesterday, I blogged a few things about Girl Scouts, which I was part of when I was a kid. I still have my Girl Scout sash with all of its badges somewhere. I went looking for it yesterday morning, hoping to get a photo of it for the blog post. I couldn’t find it. But I did find a bunch of very old photographs from my teens and college days. I thought I’d share them here.

At Disneyworld

The date on the back of this photo says 1980, but I’m pretty sure it was older than that. That could account for the discoloration. I commonly put off developing film for a very long time. I’m thinking this was from around 1977 or so. My mom had remarried (or was about to?) and we went on a family vacation to Disneyworld in Florida. It was remarkable for two reasons:

  • We stayed at the hotel inside the park. The one the monorail goes through. It was the first time I’d ever stayed in a real hotel.
  • My stepdad bought us passes that gave us unlimited access to all the rides. Back in those days, you had to buy tickets for each ride you wanted to go on. (Ever hear of an E-ticket Ride?) We had access to everything. It was a huge deal.

We had the royal treatment throughout our visit, including dinner at Cinderella’s Castle. That’s where this photo was taken. It shows my sister, brother, and me. When I texted this photo to my brother, he not only confirmed it was when we had dinner in the Castle, but he remembered that he had prime rib. When I asked him how he could possibly remember that, he replied:

Because the meal came with a red candied slice of apple as a garnish. At the time it freaked me out since I never saw something like that before so I have not forgotten it.

Whoa.

At Disneyworld
(L-R) Laura, Norbert, and Maria Langer at Cinderella’s Castle, Disneyworld, circa 1977.

Prom Photo

Prom Picture
Maria Langer and Paul Soehren, prom photo, 1978.

I went to two proms in the same year in high school. One was my senior prom, which was in the winter so photos could make it into the yearbook. The other was my junior prom, which was in the spring. And yes, I was a junior and a senior in the same year — which explains how I managed to graduate high school at age 16.

This is from one of those proms, back in 1978. I was dating the guy across the street, Paul. We were together for quite a while. Unfortunately, he was slightly younger than me and I graduated early so he was two years behind me in school. When I went away to college — well, let’s just say that my outlook on life and relationships changed. But he was a good guy and I suspect he made someone a very good husband. I seem to recall that he became a firefighter. I’ve lost touch with him but that’s okay.

We made a nice looking couple, no?

Siblings

Here’s a shot of my brother and me sitting on my aunt and uncle’s back deck. The other photos in this group show a lot of different family members, including my grandmother, in a wheel chair. I assume it was somebody’s birthday or something, but can’t figure out who. It was obviously in the summer and I don’t know anyone other than me with a summer birthday.

I figure this was around 1980, just based on my hairstyle and the fact that I’m not wearing glasses. I started wearing contacts when I went to college. I remember that top. My brother was about 10 or 11 here.

I didn’t crop this, although I certainly could have. I wanted to save it the way it was shot. It was likely taken by my mother, who couldn’t properly frame a photo if her life depended on it. I have a lot of photos that are framed like this.

Maria and Norb
Maria and Norbert Langer, New Jersey, circa 1980.

Laura

Laura Langer
Laura Langer, circa 1980.

Taken at the same event as the one above, here’s my sister. She’s changed quite a bit since Disneyworld, no?

What amazes me about these last two pictures is how much eye makeup we’re both wearing. Sheesh.

And I can bet you anything that my mother did not take this photo.

College Days

Photographer Maria
A candid shot of me taking a candid photo of someone else on campus. September 18, 1981. Ah, to be that young (and thin) again!

In college, I was a member of the yearbook staff as a photographer and it was a blast. I loved doing candid shots. I’d put a long lens on my Olympus OM-10 camera (hey, you have to start somewhere) and shoot images of people lounging on the grass in the Quad or snacking in a cafeteria or studying in the library.

My friend Jeff Noreman, who was the yearbook editor one year (or more?) took this photo of me while I was likely taking a candid photo of someone else. The only reason I know it was Jeff is that his initials and the actual date of the photo are on back. So I can tell you that this was shot on September 18, 1981. I was a senior at Hofstra University and just 20 years old.

Yearbook Staff
The Nexus staff, circa 1981.

I also found a group photo of the yearbook staff. I suspect Jeff took the photo since he isn’t in the shot, but if he did he must not have been trying very hard — it looks as if my mother framed it for him. The other photo i have of this group is the same pose but horizontal and also cut off. Maybe the camera was on a tripod with a self-timer?

I’m thinking this was shot on a trip to Great Adventure, an amusement park in New Jersey. I have other shots from the same place.

I can name some, but not all, of the people in this shot. Can you see me? I’m in the back on the far right, standing next to a tree. I look very butch in this shot! It probably dates around 1981.

College Graduation

I found two good shots from graduation.

First, you need to understand that I was the first person in my family to go to (and graduate from) college. It was a huge deal. So when I graduated, my entire family came to see the ceremony. That’s what the group photo is all about.

Group Graduation Photo
(L-R) Barbara Langer (my stepmother), Kristine Langer (my half sister), Laura Langer (my sister), Norbert Langer Sr (my father), me, Norbert Langer Jr. (my brother), Madelyn Odendahl (my mother), and Thomas Odendahl (my stepfather).

Graduation Photo
Here’s my college graduation photo. May 1982. I was 20 years old.

Of course, being friends with a lot of photographers, it was easy to get a good photo of me in my cap and gown. This one was taken by my friend Stuart Litel, another yearbook photographer. The only reason I know that is because his sticker is on the back of the photo.

Double Exposure

I’ve shared this next one before but thought I’d share it again because it’s so cool. It’s a double exposure self portrait that I created entirely in my camera on film. In other words, if I could find the negative, it would look just like this.

This is a relatively big deal. This is before the days of Photoshop when whipping up something like this would take a few minutes in front of a computer. The trick, as I recall, was getting my camera to let me take a second shot on top of the first one. I had to mask each side of the image for each shot. If you look closely, you can see a slight blurring on the buildings in the middle; I probably moved the camera a tiny bit when I prepared for the second shot.

The dress is actually a wrap-around long skirt that wore with a belt as a sleeveless dress. I made it myself. I still own it.

Double Exposure
Double the pleasure, double the fun?

If I find any more good Maria 1.0 photos, I’ll be sure to share them here. It’s a nice being able to look back into my distant past and remember the good old days. You can see a few more old photos here.

More about the Wind Machines

A few new videos.

Back in April 2015, I blogged about the wind machines commonly used for frost control in the Wenatchee Valley. Resembling tall fans, different versions of these machines can be found in agricultural areas throughout the west wherever frost — especially early spring frost — is an issue. Around here, they’re often in low areas subject to thermal inversions.

Wind Machine
The wind machines that were running this morning. That’s the Mission Ridge Ski resort in the background. Photo shot with my Mavic Pro.

The machines are fans that generate wind. The blades spin fast — faster than you might think watching the video below — to circulate the air. The fan heads rotate to constantly change the direction of the wind. The net result is that the air is circulated, bringing warm air from above down into the crops.

In the almond orchards of California, they use helicopters to do this. I think it’s because the orchards are so big that they simply can’t install and maintain as many wind machines as they need. The helicopters are likely a lot cheaper in the long run, especially when you have a few years in a row when they’re not needed. I’ve been on frost control contracts for the past five winters now and have yet to turn a rotor blade over an almond tree. (Global climate change?)

This winter was particularly long, setting the tree fruit back two to four weeks. The cherry trees are still blooming around here; last year, the cherries were already beginning to redden in the orchards closest to my home. Nighttime temperatures at my home have been in the low 40s. But in the orchards below me, pockets of colder air form. And this morning, they got cold enough to trigger the temperature-set auto start feature on the wind machines in the closest orchards.

I don’t know exactly when they started. I was up at 4:30, reading before getting out of bed, and I didn’t hear them. But by the time I made my coffee at 5 AM, I could hear them faintly through the walls and windows of my my home. I stepped out on the deck for a better look in the predawn light. The sound was louder and I could see two of the machines to the west spinning. My ears told me that one to the northeast, which I can only see from a handful of spots on my deck, was also spinning.

Here’s the zoomed in video I shot with my phone. When I shut up, you can hear the wind machines.

I did a Periscope — that’s a live Twitter video — of the wind machines. A handful of people tuned in and I answered questions as they came up. I was frustrated that I couldn’t zoom in. I signed off, used the video feature on my phone to capture a short zoomed-in clip, and posted it on Twitter. Then the sun rose and the light got good and I did another Periscope that was mostly to show off how beautiful the area was. The wind machines droned in the background of my voice as I described various things and answered questions.

I went inside, washed some pots from cheesemaking, and listened to the radio. I could hear the wind machines faintly through the walls and windows. I was sort of bummed out that I couldn’t give people a better view.

And then I remembered my Mavic Pro.

It took only two or three minutes to set it up. I launched it from my deck, got the video camera going, and sent it to the wind machines, stopping before it got so close that the wind could affect it. The light was beautiful and the image the Mavic sent back to me was clear. I hovered for a while to capture a good clip and then flew around a little, just taking in the view with the camera running. I stopped the video camera, took some stills, and then flew home for some more video of my home and the area around it.

Back inside, I made a fresh cup of coffee and spent a few minutes editing the video and setting it to music. It’s unfortunate that the Mavic doesn’t capture sound, but I understand why: it would be capturing its own buzzing sound, which isn’t pleasant. So music will have to do.

A side note here: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much I like living here. I realized — and I think I mentioned in one of those Periscope videos — that I like it here more than anywhere else I’ve lived. I’m not sure if it’s because of the place itself or the fact that I have a home with an amazing view built to exactly meet my needs or because after a stifling relationship that went on a lot longer than it should have I finally have the freedom to do what I want to do with my life and time.

Whatever the reason, I just want to remind readers that we all have just one life and it will eventually end. Don’t waste it stuck in a rut or in a place you’re not happy.