Photographing Fungi: an alluring subject
Alison Pouliot is a natural historian who is passionate about fungi – in fact she moves between northern and southern hemispheres to have two autumns each year, guaranteeing a double dose of fungi!
In her beautiful book The Allure of Fungi she documents this forgotten corner of the natural world that is both beguiling and fundamental to life. We’ve asked Alison about her love of fungi and also about her other passion, photography.
I’ve been photographing fungi and their kin for a good while. Their extreme diversity and astonishing manifestations make them a compelling subject. Some have bizarre behaviours, others appear in unexpected places (such as sand dunes or herbivore scats). Avoiding getting a leech up one’s nose in the process adds a further challenge.
Fungi are often maligned or considered unappealing, even disgusting. I endeavour to counter those impressions by presenting them at their most aesthetic or extraordinary. I try to showcase their staggering range of forms and colours, to spur the imagination and perhaps even a little rapport. Some fungi are striated and some are spotted. Some are elegant, others elephantine. Some glow in the dark. There are those appear jewelled and others that sport a skirt. Some look ferocious, others phallic. And there are those that appear to have emerged from an ancient ocean.
My efforts to find interesting fungi to photograph have taken me to remote and sometimes extreme locations. I’ve found myself perched on clifftops, in the dripping depths of tropical rainforests and traversing glaciers. Each experience has provided the opportunity to better appreciate not just fungi, but their habitats and interactions. Time is paramount when photographing fungi. Sometimes just moments after photographing a fungus, it has succumbed and collapsed. The ephemerality of fungi adds to their allure.
Fungi are perplexing. As a scientist, I try to make sense of the living world. As a photographer, I try to retain a little of its mysteries. Photography offers the opportunity for both. Fungi provide a fitting and at times flamboyant subject.
A few fungus photography tips:
- Become a good observer. Go out without your camera. Spend time in the bush tuning to your senses and sharpening your observation skills.
- Know why you’re taking the photograph. Are you taking a ‘diagnostic’ shot so that the species can be identified, such as one that might appear in a field guide? Or are you taking a more aesthetic or inspirational shot to spark someone’s interest in fungi? Or are you taking it for another reason? You will photograph very differently depending on what you’re trying to portray.
- Become intimate with the subject. Know your fungi. Being able to anticipate when and where particular fungi appear is crucial. Mushrooms are short-lived and sporadic and there are only narrow windows during which to photograph them.
- Stabilise the camera. Fungi often grow in the darkest depths of the forest. Use a tripod or whatever is available in the environment to steady the camera.
- Don’t forget to ask them to smile . . . .
More information about Alison’s beautiful book, The Allure of Fungi, can be found on our website.
Or check out Alison’s personal website here (external link).