How to take great fungus photographs

Two clusters of small pale mushrooms grow from a green stump, surrounded by fallen leaves on a forest floor.Credit: Mike Atkins

Fungi are fascinating and frequently beautiful, so it stands to reason that we might want to photograph them. When we talk about fungi, we normally mean the visible parts of the organism - that is, mushrooms (the fruiting body or reproductive organ of the fungus), lichens, and moulds. Most of the beautiful fungus images you might see on Instagram are of mushrooms, and this is probably the place where beginners might want to start as they are easy to spot.

However, capturing the unique charm of fungi can be a challenge as they are so different from other things we might want to take pictures of. We spoke to two experts in the fungus photography field, who have given us some basic advice when it comes to starting to photograph this special kingdom of organisms. Both of them have suggested simple starting points and guidance to making your photos as striking as possible.

Emma Plant goes by @terrafluxcreations on Instagram and is based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Mike Atkins is a professional photographer who, with Alex Dixon, curates the speciality fungus account @mycophoria

A row of pale brown mushrooms against a blurred background, with a cricket insect perched on the end mushroom.Credit: Emma Plant

Getting started

According to Emma, using your phone's camera is a fantastic way to begin photographing fungi. After all, ‘the type of camera you're using doesn't matter, it's how you use it!’ She pointed out that none of her inspiring shots were taken using top-end equipment - ‘I use a very old Nikon D100 with an 18-55mm lens to take the majority of my photos, but I also love using my phone camera’.

Emma did have some tips about using more complicated equipment to its full advantage, though. She advised that ‘if you’re using a DSLR or other dedicated camera, look through the camera’s viewfinder and move around the mushroom to find the best lighting and angles’.

Cluster of pale grey mushrooms next to mossy overhang.Credit: Mike Atkins

Our experts agreed that a great way to start off considering what makes an interesting shot is to hit the floor! As Mike pointed out, ‘sometimes the best part of the fungi is underneath’. Emma reiterated this, saying ‘don’t be afraid to get dirty and get down to the fungus’ level! It makes it easier to see what you're taking a photo of and you can get wonderful angles of them’.

Both photographers told budding fungus snappers not to overthink things, at least until they’ve developed their own personal style. As Mark put things, ‘keep it simple, as sometimes the best shot is the easiest shot.’

Black finger-shaped fungi rise vertically from a fallen moss-covered branch.Credit: Mike Atkins

Framing your shot

Mike and Emma both urged beginners to not be afraid of cropping images to showcase particular interesting details, like mushroom gills, as the focus of the shot. Mike also suggested taking shots with a broader focus, suggesting that ‘if the macro shots aren't working for you take a step back, shoot wide and get some context in your shot’.

When it comes to manipulating the composition of a photo, Mike had the following great advice to give: ‘If your shot is looking cluttered, brush off dirt and other detritus from the fungus and clear away debris around it to simplify the composition. You could carry scissors to trim grass from around a fungus to give an unobstructed image’. He also pointed out that respect for the environment comes first, urging caution ‘not to damage any of the habitat and use the softest brush you can’.

Slimy grey mushroom in close-up.Credit: Emma Plant

According to our experts, paying attention to backgrounds, looking for contrasting colours and a good depth of field, is always a good idea.. According to Emma, ‘spending some time looking around and delving into the environment can really bring out some fascinating subjects’. Mike suggested heading out after spells of wet weather to get interesting shots - colours are more vibrant after it has rained!

Emma pointed out that ‘if you come across mushrooms that have been knocked over you can get some really beautiful close ups’, and both of our photographers reckoned that sometimes the most photogenic and interesting part of a fungus is underneath.

Hand holding a brown leaf with three tiny fungi on it.Credit: Emma Plant

Lighting tips

Mike had some great ideas about using natural light to your advantage, particularly for creating artistic images. He advised that ‘one easy trick is to shoot with the sun behind your subject for a dramatic shot and a blurred, bright background – this is particularly nice with dappled light coming through a tree canopy.’

Emma agreed, pointing out that pictures can be ‘especially effective when the subject is backlit or has focused lighting, such as a patch of sunlight.’

Close-up of spiked white mushroom.Credit: Mike Atkins

Neither of our experts were particularly complimentary about using the inbuilt flash on a phone or point-and-shoot camera to light a subject! Mike advised that new enthusiasts should ‘try to avoid using the flash on a camera or phone, as it’s prone to giving pictures a washed-out, flattened look. You could try getting a cheap ring flash, as they’re designed for taking in-depth shots and cheap LED ones can be found online for phones and cameras of all kinds’.

Mike also revealed that he uses an everyday object to help him capture fungi, and recommended ‘taking a torch and use it to light your photos.  Many bike lights are bright enough to light a subject and can help bring out the colour of vibrant fungi. Try holding the torch in different positions and experiment with what looks best'. Apparently, this tip is particularly useful in the autumn and winter months, which also happens to be when some of the most interesting fungi are in fruit.

Cream-coloured underside of a large red-and-white spotted mushroom.Credit: Mike Atkins

Close-up of brown mushroom's gills.Credit: Emma Plant 

Using searching time wisely

Both photographers we spoke to considered that being a good mushroom hunter is one of the most important aspects to taking great fungus photographs, with Mike suggesting that successful snappers should ‘revisit locations to find different mushrooms. Re-walking the same path at different times of the year is a good idea’.

He also had some great advice for making sure you’re cosy and comfortable while you’re searching. Mike told us to ‘take a kneeling mat or plastic to lay on, as fungi are often found on muddy woodland paths, or wear waterproof trousers. Make sure you wrap up warm and take a brew, as well as wearing wellies or boots, to make sure you’re toasty warm and enjoying yourself’.

Bracket fungi growing on tree against bright blue sky.Credit: Mike Atkins

Now that you’ve got the technique down, we’d love to see some of your amazing fungus pics for ourselves! Don’t forget to tag @GrowWildUK on your photos when you post to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and use #growwild – the best snaps might even make an appearance on our channels.