Photographic techniques for the forest floor

 the fruiting bodies of the plasmodial slime mould, Lycogala epidendrum.

Innocent looking pink blobs are actually the fruiting bodies of the plasmodial slime mould, Lycogala epidendrum. ISO 320, f22, 0.8 sec,

Bugs have been pushed into the back seat for a while. Cool, crisp mornings can mean a dearth of insects, but a wealth of fungi, slime moulds, mosses, liverworts, and lichens still beckon. Here are some of the techniques I use when working on small subjects that don’t run or fly away…

Distracted by She-who-must-be-obeyed.

Distracted by She-who-must-be-obeyed.

Photographic techniques for the forest floor:

  • Get down to the level of your subject.
  • Because our subjects are often found in shady locations in the woods, use a tripod that can get down low to steady your camera.

The low-down-low Manfrotto 055 tripod.

  • For ground-level shots, a bean bag can also be helpful to stabilize your camera
  • Use kneepads or a small pad of some sort to protect your knees.
  • When on a tripod I always use the 2 sec. timer to avoid shake from pressing the shutter release.
Fruiting bodies of a slime mold, most likely Hemitrichia clavata.

Fruiting bodies of a slime mold, most likely Hemitrichia clavata.  ISO 320, f7.1, 1/5 sec.

  • Watch out for stray branches and grass blades in the frame. these can usually be held back by tucking them under a nearby plant or by weighing down with small clothes pins. Garden with care.
  • If the background looks too bright, use the 10 sec. timer and then cast your body shadow over the background.
  • Use LiveView or a right-angle finder to help view in awkward locations.
  • Sometimes dappled sunlight is present, and a diffuser is very helpful in softening the harsh contrasting light.
Working with a diffuser and tripod. Photo by Yuet Chan.

Working with a diffuser and tripod. Photo by Yuet Chan.

  • A reflector can be used to highlight mushrooms in the shade or to lighten-up areas in shadow.
  • Go beyond single specimens and search for intimate macro landscapes: in some situations, the fungi can create beautiful scenes among fallen logs, moss and lichens.
Textures of mixed mosses and lichen

Textures of mixed mosses and lichen. ISO 320, f32, 0.6 sec.

  • To add a bit of spice to that soft light, a small reflector can be used to open up shadows and pop the subject forward.
  • ISO settings should be kept low, and use the DOF preview to find just the right amount of focus.
Pholiota squarrosa, (Scaly Pholiota).

Selective focus on the mushroom, Pholiota squarrosa, (Scaly Pholiota). ISO 100, f5.6, 1/15 sec. (Thanks to Charles Bird for the ID)

  • With Canon cameras, dialing the aperture and pressing the DOF button while looking at live-view will let you see how much DOF you have.
  • And finally, if your camera has GPS, make sure it is turned on so you have a record of the location of special finds!


Fungi, slime moulds, mosses, liverworts, and lichens can be fascinating, but when you’re taking photos please be aware of your surroundings and try not to trample the area around them. Also, foraging for wild mushrooms is very popular now: remember that harvesting in National Parks is illegal. Please leave them for others to enjoy and photograph.

Posted in Accessories, Alberta, Autumn, Canada, Canon, Elk Island National Park, Equipment, Fungi, macro, Moss, photography, Season, Technique Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Photographing Autumn Fungi


 Bisporella citrina,  Yellow Fairy Cups or Lemon Discos

We’ve had fairly regular rainfall this year, and the garden and natural areas around us are lush. This means ideal conditions for fall fungi and a great time to grab your camera, tripod, reflector, diffuser and macro lens and head out to explore local natural areas. Yuet and I did a walk in Elk Island National Park recently, along the Amisk Wuche trail, and we were not disappointed.

Amanita muscaria

Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria

b21d3ce45f74dc6f1f4e23d97c269aa5Amanita muscaria, the Fly Agaric, is a mushroom I have not seen for a while. It was not in an ideal location, but it is such a stunning mushroom that it was worth the effort of pulling back branches and tucking away grasses to get a clear view. It is not fully open yet, but in that form, it is the classic storybook mushroom, something you expect gnomes to sit under or fairies to fly around. Poisonous, this Amanita can cause delirium, sweating and ranting,something you don’t normally associate with children!

Children of the Forest by Elsa Beskow (1910)

Children of the Forest by Elsa Beskow (1910)



Hericium sp. (probably H. coralloides)   Comb-tooth fungus.

The Hericium genus of fungi (above) looks like a frozen mass of tiny icicles that have erupted from the dead tree. The size of the mass and the bright whiteness is sure to capture your attention when walking through the woods.


Because bracket or shelf fungi (above) are often found on dying and dead tree trunks and sometimes at eye-level, they are perhaps the most visible fungi to the casual observer. These are polypores (family Polyporaceae) so named because they have massed tubes (the pores) rather than gills to support the spore-bearing basidia. Click on the above images to enlarge.

Lycoperdon pyriform

Lycoperdon sp.

Besides the many types of bracket fungus, Lycoperdon puffballs (above) were probably the most visible fungi in the woods. Children (and immature adults 🙂 ) love to poke them to see the spores puff out like smoke. Drops of rain are the normal trigger for releasing the spores, and wind helps disperse them. Rainfall guarantees that they are released during moist conditions necessary for spores to begin germination.

And finally, another puff-ball in the genus Lycoperdon (above) that looks like a white hedgehog, probably L. echinatum. White puff-ball are generally edible at this stage before spores begin to develop.

Hedgehog spines!

Hedgehog spines!

Comments or ID corrections? Please let me know!

Special Note: I dedicate this post to Annie Pang, who checked up on me at 2 in the morning (!), wondering if I was working on another post for Splendour Awaits! Thanks for reminding me, Annie! 😉


  • Thanks to Martin Osis of the Alberta Mycological Society for assistance with ID (Bisporella and L. echinatum)
  • Mushrooms of Western Canada. Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, AB, Canada. Schalkwijk-Barendsen, H.M.E. 1991.
  • National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms by Gary A. Lincoff, Gary H. Lincoff, Carol Nehring. 1981


Next: Photographic techniques for the forest floor

Posted in Accessories, Alberta, Autumn, Camera, Canada, Canon, close-up, Composition, Elk Island National Park, Equipment, Fungi, Habitat, macro, Moss, photography, Season Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Odds and Ends

Camponotus novaeboracensis (Fitch, 1855), one handsome carpenter ant.

Mandatory bug shot: Camponotus novaeboracensis (Fitch, 1855), one handsome carpenter ant. Halfmoon Lake Natural Area, Alberta.

I’m back after a long absence from this blog. Besides the usual dealing-with-life issues,  I simply have not managed to get out into the field as much as I would like. During the times when I did get out, I have spent more time on videos rather than still photography, and this takes longer to edit. I hope to close the last few weeks of the season with more field trips and more bug photography before winter shuts things down. In the meantime, here are some items that may be of interest.

Focus stacking in the field isn’t easy. If the subject is moving it is practically impossible, with cameras that typically shoot only at a paltry 3 to 7 frames a second. Hand-held and if the subject is not moving,  you might do a three shot burst that’s usable for stacking.  Recently, some photographers have been praising 4K video for its ability to capture the best instant in time, because it runs at a frame rate of thirty 8 MP frames per second. It didn’t take long for someone to figure out that 30 fps would also be a great frame rate for hand-held focus stacking. Read all about it at macro-guru  Paul Harcourt Davies’ blog: Learn Macro.

◊ Every year for the last 4 years I have been invited to display my images at the Bug Jamboree at the Ellis Bird Farm. This is an event mostly aimed at kids, where Alberta entomologists and bug enthusiasts like myself share their fascination with all things buggy. Butterflies and pond dipping are the main attractions, but many people do take the time to come into the information centre and look at the images. At every event, there is at least one person who is a true enthusiast, someone who take extra time to look at each image and to ask questions. This year was almost the same. An older woman, very neat and well dressed, fit for Ascot, took some time to look through all the images. She was silent and asked no questions, and even stopped to read my biography and artist’s statement, all the way through, both pages. She then looked up to me and praised the images, and added words to the effect of, “It’s so important that people appreciate this sort of thing. Do you give presentations at schools for children?” I am glad that someone is thinking of the future and concerned that many kids today are growing up without a connection to nature. I haven’t yet given presentations to children, but I have often thought I should. But how can I make bug photography presentations as interesting to kids as live bugs? Please use the comments if you have any suggestions!

◊ I’ve started a long and slow journey into the subject into image composition–why it matters and when it doesn’t. It begins at the other blog with Photography and Composition. Most people don’t care, they just like what they like and don’t bother to analyze an image at all. This series arises out of my own experiences and observations in why certain photos have appeal and others not, including how much is dependent on the skill of the photographer, how much depends on the visual literacy of the viewer and how much is dependent simply on the basis of the subject.  I am pursuing this as a personal project to strengthen this aspect of my workshops. I am already finding that it is great fun doing the research and digging up creative common and public domain images to share.  Anyone interested in following this journey can tag along at Voyages Around My Camera and contribute in the comments. Subscribing is probably the best way to go as my posts will be dependably irregular.

Coming soon: we have had a good, moist season, which has been great for garden slugs (booo!) but even better for fungi (yayyy!) …images and technique from a short walk in Elk Island National Park.


Posted in Alberta, Blog Link, Bugs, Canada, Composition, Formicidae, Insect, macro Tagged |


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Posted in Bugs

Book Review: The Complete Guide to Macro and Close-up Photography

Harnischmacher_Macro_and_Close-Up_C1-319x400Have you heard the phrase, “Write the book you want to read.“?  Well, when I first flipped through this book after I received my free copy in the mail,  my first thought was, Someone wrote my book!

The Complete Guide to Macro and Close-Up Photography by Cyrill Harnischmacher sets out to be a, “…comprehensive handbook on macro and close-up photography, offering both ambitious beginners and veteran photographers all the information they need to create great macro photographs.” (back cover blurb) How does the author set out to do this?

After an introduction and inspiring photographs, the book leads off with some essential photographic terminology, lingering properly at the key subjects of magnification and depth of field. There are useful charts for optimal apertures, exposure relationships, depth of field and calculations included. (I found only one error– in the magnification calculation page, the beetle’s size is listed as 12.5 cm instead of 12.5 mm, throwing the whole calculation out.)

After this, the book is arranged much in the same way as my macro workshops, beginning with cameras, equipment, and various means of obtaining magnification; then moving on through electronic flash, the qualities of light and into a useful chapter on studio and table-top photography. Notable is the section on dealing with various types of blur and another on how to hold your camera properly: two basic but essential components of doing photography right.

Electric guitar detail by Cyrill Harnischmacher

Electric guitar detail by Cyrill Harnischmacher

Continue reading »

Posted in Accessories, Book Review, Camera, close-up, Composition, Equipment, Flash, Focus stacking, Inspiration, Lenses, macro, New Book, photography, Review, Studio, Technique Tagged , , , , , , , |