Unstaged specimen
The Top 10 Errors


(Beginner) Fungal Photography


Staged specimens
Digital photography and the ability to preview instantly the results have made the practice of making pictures much easier. Despite that we still see an alarmingly large collection of poor photos floating around, mainly in id sessions and similar settings. Here is  list of some of the most common errors. Again, the main cure is -- REVIEW EACH AND EVERY SHOT -- then repeat/fix if needed.

1) BLURRED IMAGES.  This is the most common problem that renders many photos useless. It goes beyond aesthetics, as many times the images are incongruent. Everyone has fallen victim to it at one time or another. There are some main reasons why BLUR occurs:

. The main subject is not in focus -- easy to operate digital cameras make it a bit harder to tell the lens where to focus, particularly when shooting very small objects.  Many times the background is in focus, but not the main subject.

b) CAMERA SHAKE  When shooting at slow speeds, or the hand of the photographer is too unsteady, the image will be blurred.  This is more likely to occur with inexperienced shooters owning Digital SLRs and not paying attention to the combination speed/aperture. Using a tripod is best, but sometimes we do not have it and are required to shoot from hand. In such cases it may be Ok to open up the aperture to F5.6-F8 and gain speed while sacrificing depth of field.
c) SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD  -- see below, Problem 4.

This Ramaria araiospora got it shaken (not stirred).

These Mycenas got shaken out of their identity

Background in focus, but not the main subject, the matsie... Did not review the shot until I went home. Then banged the camera in my head, but it was too late.

Left: trying to hand hold at F16 produced a very blurred image of this pretty Lepiota flammeatincta. Right: at F5.6 there was a loss of depth of field, but gain in sharpness. Sometimes we have to compromise. Of course, having a tripod solves that problem. More on Depth of Field.

2) BAD COMPOSITION Bad compositions fall into several groups. By far the most common are:
a) FAILURE TO CAPTURE ALL DIAGNOSTIC FEATURES -- good analytical composition for species identification requires that all pertinent aspects of the specimen are photographed.

With so little shown nobody can reliably say what these Inocybe are.

Suillus sp. Nice to see so many fruitbodies, but not just one side...

Minimum Required Features for Reliable Macro Diagnostics:(1) Cap; (2) Gills; (3) Gill Attachment; (4) Stem; (5) Context; (6) Discolorations surface/context. Notes on Habitat, Odor and Taste are criticallygyimportant too.
b) MAIN SUBJECT TOO SMALL. There are far too many photos out there where the main subject takes about 1/100-th of the area of the picture frame. c) SUBJECT OUT OF FRAME...
Don't you hate when that happens?

What are these? Which are (not) edible? Haven't you heard that question before? Where do you start on that photo.

Sometimes avoiding mixed collections requires one to pay close attention: Mycena vulgaris & Mycena cinerella

3) POOR CHOICE OF COLLECTIONS Using old/damaged specimens or collections consisting of a single fruitbody for id purposes is not a good idea. Except in rare circumstances of absolute necessity, one should ignore such collections, Go find another one, or wait for a better opportunity. While true for most Genera, this rule is especially pertinent  to Cortinarius where older fruitbodies simply cannot convey enough information that can be used for obtaining a good id.

Nobody can tell what kind of Cortinarius these are

Member of Russulales

The same Cortinarius comptulus patch -- note how the old fruitbodies (right) lose all identity by browning out completely.

4) (TOO SHALLOW) DEPTH OF FIELD This one is trickier and presents questions even to more experienced photographers. A lot of blurring takes place when shooting mushrooms because the subjects are displaced quite much from the focus point. This is the primary driving force for Mushroom Photographers to use higher F-stops. But that requires longer exposure times. And that often requires that the camera is mounted instead of hand-held. Small, or long stemmed mushrooms present that challenge to a greater extent as there may be significant distance between all parts of the group that one is trying to capture.

What exactly is in focus here? Countless photos presented to the forums for identification suffer from that debilitating problem. Very small portion is in focus and usually not the important part.

Long stemmed mushrooms present the Depth of Field (DOF) challenge to a greater extent as there may be significant distance between all parts of the group that one is trying to capture. Gaining equal sharpness on both cap and base is not easy. There are other "non-photographic" means to solve that problem.

One strategy to get better Depth of Field is to move further away from the subject, zoom in, increase the F-stops to more than F16, preferably F20-F32 and use longer exposure times. A tripod is a must in that case. Mycena californiensis & Psathyrella aff. gracilis


5) PHOTOGRAPHING MUSHROOMS IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT OR SHARP SHADOWS. This one is a classic and in the group of highly annoying errors. Everybody has tried to shoot things that are in direct sunlight. The results are awful. The amazing thing is that some people keep doing it over and over again, as if enjoying the poor results. Simple solution is to block the direct sunlight by some means -- photographers in the field can use their body or camera bag for such purposes. Be mindful of using clothing to block the sunlight, as it may  let some light go through and usually reflects the color of the garment. A yellow shirt, for example, when used as a sun blocker will give yellow cast to the entire photograph.

6) OVER/UNDER EXPOSURE The most common error is to see shots of big white mushrooms where most of the white surfaces are overexposed. The opposite is true too. Entirely black surfaces tends to naturally get underexposed and the camera settings need to be altered. Even the easy to use digital cameras allow the user to do "exposure compensation" when she feels it is appropriate.

The most common victims of that treatment are the white Amanitas. The background is exposed Ok, but the white surfaces of these Amanita ocreata are overexposed and washed out.

Exposing for the white parts only, usually a stop or two down, solves the problem and shows the full texture of the white surfaces. Naturally, the background is slightly underexposed, but that's irrelevant for these Amanita silvicola and Stropharia ambigua

7) OVER RELIANCE ON FLASH  Flash use is one of the most frequently argued and yet quite confused subjects. A little flash definitely pulls out some subtle colors that may be missed otherwise. But only when used in moderation. Substituting flash power for longer exposure times, especially in darker environments, produces terrible results that fall into two main groups (see below, left and right).
Harsh shadows. Distorted colors: I am more guilty than most for failing in that trap of flash overuse for a long period of time. 
Excessive flash No/Less flash

Limited range: The flash does not have the power to reach far and creates the feeling of "Kingdom of Darkness" even on a nice  bright day. People fail to understand that larger patches cannot be captured properly using the flash. You've seen people shooting with flash in a stadium, or in the City in the evening... Not a good idea.

Stropharia ambigua
in the Kingdom of Darkness

Clitocybe inversa

Xeromphalina fulvipes -- the strong flash (Left) tends to give reddish cast overall.

8) POOR USAGE OF THE NATURAL LIGHT  Natural light is a great asset. When properly used, that is. Sometimes, particularly early and late in the day the light come slanted towards the subject and tends to bounce off the horizontal surfaces. In other cases the underside of the mushroom may not gain advantage of light that is coming from behind. Here are a few examples of poor choice of natural light.

The top of this Boletus pulcherrimus is overexposed, while the  bottom is underexposed. Not the best time to try to take this kind of shot on a late Fall afternoon.

Early in the morning the light comes under too shallow an angle and reflects off the horizontal surfaces.

Even if the light is muted, the slanted angle of the light early in the morning requires special care on how the specimens are oriented for picture. Things put side by side can shadow each other excessively.

9) SHOOTING UNDER INCANDESCENT LIGHT Most photos made indoors, under "yellow light" are unattractive and of limited use. Sometimes that's unavoidable like in foray/mushroom fair id tables. But if given  a choice one should always strive to choose daylight.


When reviewing this page with members of the MushroomTalk forum it appeared that the remaining subjects are more a matter of suggestions and preferences than hard necessities. Since the purpose of this page is not to pontificate matters to the extent of meddling with "personal taste", I leave these Sections as something just to "think about".
10) (POOR) CHOICE OF BACKGROUND. Finding a good background for a mushroom photo requires some thought. Cleaning up the scene might be important in many cases in order to have the main subject to contrast nicely. Reviewing the photo helps too. Sometimes what seems like a bad choice, is Ok, and vice-versa

The Red Fir seems to be the natural host for this Cortinarius calochrous, but the fir cone debris are not the best photo background.

It's not just the mixed collection here, but the choice of unnatural background is totally uninspiring
Sometimes collections need to be photographed after being moved from their original location. In general I think that this is a terrible practice, but sometimes there are good reasons for doing so.  Yet, it is still a good idea to preserve a degree of Nature in the photograph.

Following the example of Cortinarius Flora Photographica (CFP) these C. cinnamomeus were photographed against a somewhat neutral, yet natural background.

Here the tiny Hemimycena is moved atop a fallen leaf for some macro lens photography. Natural background always seems better than the artificial.
11) HUMAN MATTERS -- BODY PARTS AND ARTIFACTS. The main motivation for including such in the photo is the desire to show scale.  Yet, I agree with Nathan Wilson (MushroomObserver.org) and Ron Pastorino (SOMA)  that the practice may create less than appealing photographs. In most cases, I believe that scale can be conveyed by well known natural objects, such as cones, leaves, etc. Here are a few examples, make your own choice.

Unnatural objects

1 inch square      Photo: J. Ammirati.
In this case the moss pretty conveys the scale quite well and the coin rather diverts attention from the Marasmius androsaceus...

Natural object to convey scale -- cones of Douglas Fir (l) and Pinus strobus (r). Clitocybe sp. and Amanita jacksonii

Sometimes we need well known objects to convey scale --  tiny Pholiotina
12) 'IN SITU' vs. CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT Darvin DeShazer (SOMA, Sci. Adv.) expressed the view that he likes the type of mushroom photography (Roger Phillips and others) where the collections are treated under controlled lighting and uniform background (affecting white balance). This kind of setup is typically indoor, or definitely away from the field. My view couldn't be more to the contrary of that, as I feel that 'In Situ' photography is far preferable. One concern that I have is that many mushrooms undergo color transformation once they are collected. The effects on the hygrophanous, as well as tiny and perishable species has to be dealt with too. Some mushrooms pale out as can be seen in books with that kind of photography. But this is also a matter of preservation technique apparently, as there are examples of excellent indoor photos. Yet, in general, I find such "controlled photos" lacking life, sterile and uninspiring, more like Lab specimens ("frogs in a jar"). I believe that the Natural habitat of the mushroom not only conveys a lot of analytical information, such as the habitat and location specifics, but also has a better artistic components. By setting certain mood, it allows us to enjoy the surrounding environment, which is a major reason for why we go out at the first place. It also helps us set mental notes on where we can find such mushrooms.
Controlled Environment -- not a particularly good photo, but it conveys the general idea. Chlorophyllum brunneum
Mushrooms in the Natural Habitat (In Situ) -- Boletus regius (California) and Boletus frostii
Conveying a sense of the Season and Environment

Fall Coccora (Amanita lanei)

Spring Coccora (Amanita lanei)