Autumn is by far my favourite time of year. Whilst everyone else is trying desperately to make the last of the sunshine and complaining about the cooling weather, I’m secretly getting very excited. I’ve never been a lover of hot summer days and clear blue skies, so when the first leaves begin to fall from the trees and the evenings start getting shorter, I start thinking about all the great autumnal photos that I can take. One of my favourite subjects is the humble mushroom, and Angi and I have spent quite a few weekends in the local woods, trying to find all the strange and unique fungi that crawl from under the carpet of freshly fallen golden brown leaves.
I haven’t been shooting mushrooms for more than a couple of years, and I’m by far an expert on when and where to find them. So far I’ve learned that the best times to find them are after a downpour the day before or overnight. If we slide on our wellies and venture out into the wet woodlands around this time of year, I’m sure to find some interesting mushrooms amongst the mush of dead leaves and fallen trees in the lesser trodden areas of the woods. Luckily we had a bit of rain on Saturday (I bet I’m the first person you’ve heard say that!), so on Sunday we packed our macro gear into the car and made our way down to Thornecombe Woods near Dorchester. We’ve had a bit of luck here in the past, and we’re always keen to go back. It’s a large wood just off of the main road that leaves Dorchester heading for Poole and Bournemouth, and the small gravel car park on its nearest edge is usually rammed with cars. Mountain bikers, dog walkers and photographers are some of the more commonly found types of people here, but it is a very popular family walking spot too. As such, parking can be a realissue, and a few times we’ve not been able to park at all.
As we arrived, a little after lunch time on Sunday, we came to the dreaded realisation that we should have arrived much earlier. There was not a single space in the car park, and any gap that looked remotely large enough had a car in it, sometimes they were parked so awkwardly that they looked like their owners had taken them to the woods to abandon them. We turned around in the car park and on the way back out, managed to find a small gap on the side of the lane where I could leave the van for a couple of hours without getting in anyone’s way. A quick walk through the gate and into the woods, and a few minutes later we were in our favourite area.
There was a large worn path curving around the bottom of a group of redwood trees, and on the other side was a wooden fence with a gate. Next to this gate stood a large tree that was covered in moss, where we’d found many mushrooms buried inside before. Unfortunately this tree was mushroom free on this occasion, so we walked single file through the gate to the other side, where there looked to be a darker area where the dense trees shaded the ground which was covered in leaves. As we walked over to this previously unexplored area, we spotted a few “regular” looking mushrooms growing out of the floor. As we walked carefully through the leaves with our eyes pinned on the ground, I spotted a small purple object, no bigger than a centimetre or so in size. I crouched down to investigate and was amazed to see that it was a tiny little mushroom, a kind that neither of us had ever seen before. This was just what we wanted!
Carefully I set the tripod up and crouched down, trying not to damage any other mushrooms that might lie hidden around me, and set my camera up on the ball head which now sat upturned on the bottom of the tripod. This was a feature that meant I was able to get down to floor level, and get a close up of the mushroom whilst looking at it horizontally rather than downwards. Getting down low is fantastic for the photo, but is really not great for the human body, something that I was reminded of quickly as crouched low next to the tripod. I have a small foam kneeling pad that I often bring with me, but I’d forgotten it on this trip, and after only a minute or two I had to stand up to avoid getting cramp in my feet and legs. Next time I’ll remember the pad!
As I composed and focused on the subject, I took a couple of test photos to check for focus and exposure (as I mainly use film for other subjects, the ability to take some test photos is a real bonus for macro, and one reason I still shoot digital too). As I looked at the back of the screen, I saw a small object on the mushroom that I hadn’t actually seen with my own eye. I zoomed in and was surprised to see a tiny spider on the lower edge of the “head” of the mushroom. Wow! I immediately refocused on the spider, and used a wider aperture to really isolate the spider and mushroom from the background. Now I was really chuffed, not only had I found a mushroom that was new and unique to me, but there was a small spider clinging to it too, which made the photo ten times more interesting to look at.
The photo below shows the actual true colour of the mushroom, which I have since learned through the power of Google is an Amethyst Deceiver. (although feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!) If you have any questions or comments then please post them below, I’d love to hear about any weird and wonderful mushrooms you’ve spotted too.