Fungi Photography

All text and images © David Noble.


Photographing fungi is a type of nature photography but there are some special factors -
These factors lead to the following -

Equipment Considerations


Point and shoot cameras or those on mobile phone can be used to take fungi photographs but they do have limitations. Control of focus is hard and they do not work well in low light situations, but they do have a large depth of field. You need to watch what the camera is focussing on and probably take multiple exposures and then choose the sharpest. Often point and shoot cameras have a dedicated macro or close up setting. These small cameras do have a some advantages. One is that a photo can be taken in a very short time, and you don't hold up other people you are out and about with. Another is that they are compact enough to fit into a pocket and so are often taken with you.

To get a reasonable quality image a camera with a large sensor should be used. This means using a Digital SLR or a mirrorless camera with a large sensor. Because the subject is low to the ground, it is a very great advantage if the DSLR offers live view on a LCD screen. Mirrorless cameras all seem to offer this. As well, because the camera is often very low to the ground, a screen that has a degree of tilting is another major advantage. It is very difficult to use a conventional viewfinder when the camera is low to the ground. In the film days, before cameras had LCD screens, a common accessory for macro work was a right angle viewer that was added to the viewfinder.

The very best image quality will be obtained with a camera with a full frame sensor. It will usually produce an image with less noise in a low light environment and will allow for a greater amount of cropping.


The use of a dedicated macro lens is the best option. They are designed to work close to the subject - and usually go to a 1:1 magnification. This means if photographing an object 1 cm high at the closest possible distance the lens will focus, then the image will be 1 cm high on the sensor.

Macro lenses typically come in focal lengths of 60 mm, 90 or 100 mm or as much as 180 mm. Each focal length has advantages and disadvantages. A longer focal length such as 180 mm allows you to take a photo a fair way from the subject, which may be important if you are taking photos of insects so you don't disturb them so much. This is not so important for fungi photographs. Indeed sometimes you need to shoot in a confined space such as between boulders or trees and you may not be able to get far enough away if using a longer focal length lens. Also, you may think that a longer focal length macro lens will have a smaller depth of field for a given camera to subject distance.  This is true, but is countered by having to move the camera further away to frame the subject. The use of a longer focal length also often gives a more pleasing perspective. Probably the most used focal lengths are those around 100 mm.

Alternatives -

These lenses are available in a range of units called dioptres (the reciprocal of the focal length). A typical one may be a +3 dioptre. For photographing fungi, you may not need good edge sharpness right to the edge of the frame or need to worry too much about aberrations such as chromatic aberration that effect the edge more than the centre of the image. So the use of these lenses, even the simple cheap ones may be a good place to start. I often throw a simple close up lens in my bag on a trip where I don't expect to see fungi, so I can take close ups if I run into something interesting.

Simple close up lens

Achromatic close up lens

Extension tubes

Unless a flash is used then a tripod should be used. It is necessary that the tripod can be adjusted so that the camera can get very low to the ground. There are two ways of doing this -

Some tripods will allow the legs to be swivelled more than 90° - so that the camera can be attached in an upside down position without taking out the centre column.

Here the tripod centre column is reversed. The camera with macro lens  is attached upside down. The LCD screen of the camera is tilted slightly to make focussing and composition easier. The camera body has an orientation sensor, so the image appears on the LCD screen the right way up, and will be recorded by the camera the right way up. (Photo taken by Chantal Chong, used with permission)

In some cases - the tripod can be used in the normal way - where the fungi is high up on a bank or on a rotten log.

Important - For putting the camera on and off the tripod quickly it is very desirable that the camera has an L plate and the tripod has a good ball head with a clamp that will lock to the L plate of the camera. A ball head will allow the camera to be positioned towards the subject quickly and is very convenient. But good ball heads are expensive - and they need to be good to be useful and long lasting. Cheap ones fail to lock properly. The same with a tripod. A good tripod is expensive. Light weight carbon fibre tripods are now available but good ones are expensive.  There are also small quick release plates available that are much cheaper than L plates.

Ball head with quick release clamp and L plate. The L plate is attached to the tripod socket of the camera.

Alternatives -

Use a small bean bag or similar object on which to place the camera low to the ground. You need to make sure or hope that the camera does not move during the exposure. Taking multiple photos may be a good idea.
Table top tripod - a small tripod that does not go up too high. These may be OK but may not be able to support the weight of a heavy camera body and macro lens.
Gorilla Pod or similar - like a table top tripod, same considerations. These can be good if using a small point and shoot camera.
Hand hold your camera - this will often mean you will need to use a high ISO and/or a large aperture such as f 4 which will limit the depth of field. This may be OK in good light.

Accessories -

Spare batteries - long exposure photos chew up power, so take a spare camera battery or two.
Bubble wrap - good for putting under your knees when you are squatting down trying to focus and compose your photo, often on damp ground.
Spare memory card - it is easy to forget to put one back in the camera after downloading photos to your computer if you use a card reader.


Aperture - f 16 or f 22 is suggested for general use. See the section on depth of field below.

Exposure - I use the aperture priority setting on my camera, so the camera determines the exposure time. This can range from 1/5 second or shorter to 30 seconds. This is why I use a tripod. It is important to look at highlights - either using the histogram, and checking the right side (highlights) or turning on the "zebra stripes" or show highlights feature on your LCD screen if available. Often it is desirable to use exposure compensation - setting it to -1/3 or -2/3 of a stop (or more). For example if taking a photo of a white mushroom against a dark background. Normal exposure will expose largely for the background and render it grey and you will loose all detail in the mushroom. Also - if you camera has a setting for this then it can be worth turning it on - long exposure noise reduction. Noise from the camera sensor can be a problem in long exposures - and long exposure noise reduction if enabled, then takes another exposure from the sensor without any light hitting it and subtracts that exposure from the one you have taken to cancel any noise. The disadvantage of this is that it takes time. If you take a 20 second exposure then the camera takes another 20 seconds "processing the image" (really taking the second exposure) before you can take another photo.

ISO - depends on the available light. I tend to use 100 ISO if sufficient light (for less noise, best quality), but there is often not enough light, so I increase the ISO to 400 or 800. Modern sensors can produce very good images with low noise at these sensitivities.

Focus - manual. This is essential for macro work. Turn off auto focussing. An LCD with magnified view is very handy for getting precise focussing of the subject. This is where an LCD that can swivel is useful. When choosing a point to focus on keep in mind there will be about twice the distance in acceptable sharpness behind that point than in front of it. However, while this principle is very useful in landscape photography, it often doesn’t help much in macro shots where the depth of field is only a few mm or less. If possible, compose shot so multiple subjects are the same distance from the lens if you want them all sharp.

Multiple exposures - often take the photo a few times in case the tripod shakes or shifts a bit. In damp ground, the tripod legs can sink slightly during the exposure.

Stabilisation - Turn off if using a tripod.

Mirror up or live view - If using a DSLR, then the camera may have an option to put the mirror up before taking the photo. This reduces vibration. But if you use live view on a DSLR then the mirror is already up and live view also provides the most accurate manual focussing.

Remote Control or delayed action (self timer)  - to reduce the vibration that takes place when you press the shutter button. I typically use a 2 second delay.

Use RAW - this will give you a lot more possibilities for post processing. Importantly it gives you a lot more range to reduce over exposed highlights and to open up shadow areas. And shoot at the highest resolution your camera will allow.

White Balance - can be set to auto, or you can use shady etc or set manually. Not so important if you shoot in RAW as it can be adjusted in post processing. Accurate white balance is important for scientific documentation if you want to record accurate colours. To set an accurate white balance - then an easy to do this is to include a white sheet of paper in the image of one of your photos - and this can be used to set the white balance during post processing. Note that in a dark rainforest, our eyes may find it hard to perceive the actual colour. This is due to the way our eyes work - they are more sensitive to detail rather than colour in low light.

Some cameras have the ability to store a set of camera settings - and then this makes the camera very easy to switch in "fungi mode"

Lighting and Exposure

Natural light - is often fine for fungi macro photography. Often the softer light of a cloudy day is better than a bright sunny day. The worst situation is when the subject is partly in the sun and partly in shade. In any sunny situation I always shade the subject - with my body, backpack, or a hat or sheet of paper etc. Just after rain can cause problems when everything is wet - too many reflections. Reflections can be reduced by using a polarising filter - and then view the fungi in the LCD screen as you rotate the filter to a position that eliminates or minimises the glare. Note that polarising filters reduce the light hitting the camera's sensor - and this will be in a situation of very low light to start off with.

Reflectors and diffusers - many serious photographers use these. I often just use a sheet of white paper or cardboard as a simple reflector. This can be positioned to add a lot more light to light up dark parts of the subject - eg under a cap.

Flash - a small flash on a camera is not suitable for macro work. A single flash will often produce a dull washed out image. Some people use a ring flash that is designed to work with a macro lens (or a special macro flash - with two or more flash heads). Others use multiple flash guns controlled by a master flash or radio. A macro lens with a ring flash can negate the use of a tripod.

Other artificial light sources - small LED arrays can be used to provide soft artificial lighting

Depth of Field

For most fungi photography a large depth of field is desirable for the whole subject to be in focus. This is especially so if you are photographing a cluster of fungi. The problem when photographing tiny subjects like fungi is that the depth of field is very small compared to say landscape photography. For example a 28 mm wide angle lens set at f 8 will have a depth of field from about 2.5 m to infinity. On the other hand a 100 mm macro lens focused on something close may only have a depth of field of a few mm at f 8.

Depth of field can be increased by -

For some photos it may be desirable to use a narrow depth of field, for example, if you want the subject isolated from a cluttered background. In some situations it can be worth taking multiple photos at a range of apertures and then choosing the best one. If you have the time and patience - it can be worth combining a narrow depth of field (so the background is blurred) with focus stacking - so all the subject is sharp.


Some considerations -

Tidy Up the Fungi - you may need to remove sticks or leaves near the fungi. Fungi are often evry delicate and great care is required for this.
Odd numbers of fungi
in a photo - 1, 3, 5 etc not 2 (but exceptions). This is a general rule of composition, but like all such rules it can be ignored in certain situations.

This picture conflicts with the odd number of subjects rule - but the subjects are quite different is size and their shape. The same colour unites them.

Rule of Thirds - the usual rule of composition applies - place important subjects not in the centre - but near points 1/3 of the way from the edges. This can often be achieved by cropping in post processing.
Clusters - a cluster can look more interesting than a small number of fungi
Colour - bright colours that stand out can be good. Some good photos can be obtained by using contrasting colours - eg a bright red fungus against a green mossy background.
Subject isolation - Make the subject stand out. This can be achieved by -
Angle - Some fungi looks good taken from slightly above and at a low angle, some when taken from below. It is worth experimenting with different angles if you can. Move around the fungi.

The subject is well isolated from its background. Exposure compensation was used. It was also focus stacked. The cluster was growing high on a log - so a low angle could be used.

Here the subject is isolated using a narrow depth of field ( f 6.3). The camera is set close to the ground at the same level as the subject.

These fungi are isolated by a background of quite different colour to the subjects. A low angle clearly shows the gills.

This club is isolated by using an aperture of f 11 - a compromise between getting most of the club in focus and the background out of focus.

- sometimes the picture can be a lot more interesting if parts of the fungus such as the gills are lit up. A simple reflector such as a sheet of white paper can be used here.

Post Processing

This is what you do on your computer once the image is downloaded. You have a lot more options here if you shoot in the RAW mode if your camera supports this. For my photos I currently use Adobe Lightroom for this. For fungi macro photos I typically make the following adjustments (in order) -
  1. Slightly increase contrast, clarity and vibrance (eg each by 15 units) - this often needed for RAW images.
  2. Crop the subject - I find this is needed in many images. Sometimes slight cropping, sometimes major cropping. It is at this stage that I often crop a landscape image to a portrait format. It is particularly useful to crop out distracting parts of the image - such as bright objects to the side of he subject.
  3. Use the sliders to open up the shadows or reduced the highlights. Then sometimes the contrast or clarity (micro contrast) needs to be turned up more to make the image more punchy again.
  4. Often I add a slight edge vignetting - to make the subject stand out a bit more.
If focus stacking a set of images, then I export them as full size tiff files, with exactly the same adjustments, but no cropping, and then import the final tiff file produced by the focus stacking software, and then post process the image as above.


General Advice -

Stinkhorns - always interesting subjects

Unusual colours are striking

Coral fungi often provide interesting subjects

A low angle is used here to show the bright gill colour

Finding Fungi

Identifying Fungi

Once you have taken your fungi photographs, then how do you identify what species it is? Telling fungi apart can be very difficult and often requires the use of a microscope to look at the spores or at small structures. Various books are a good way to start. These things will help with fungi identification -

As fungi age, they change colour and dry out - this can radically change their appearance. It can be very difficult to identify old weather beaten fungi. Also juvenile fungi can look quite different to mature fungi. Some fungi changes quickly -and the fruiting body only lasts a day or so. One genus - auto-digests itself - the cap and stipe turn into an inky mess while the fungi is not very old. Some other fungi can be quite robust - and can last weeks or longer. Often bracket fungi fit into this category, but surprisingly enough so do toothed jelly fungi.

If you are trying to identify a fungi - then a photo that shows a range of features, or more than one photo can be helpful - showing the top of the cap, under the cap, the gills, and any annulus etc.

Acknowledgements - Thanks to David Forbes for pointing out some corrections and making some very useful suggestions.

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