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04.19.2012

Each year I anxiously await spring mushrooms. When early rains have saturated the ground and warm sunshine brings out new organisms on the forest floor, I grab my macro gear and head into the woods, seeking fantastic fungi!

An American Toad crawls between two scarlet cup mushrooms, one of the earliest fungi to emerge in the spring. Sigma SD1, Sigma Macro 50mm F2.8 EX DG, Sigma CR-21 Cable Release, ¼ sec. at f/16, ISO 100. Gitzo GT2541EX tripod, Gitzo GH2780QR ball head. Image processed in Sigma Photo Pro and Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza Plug-in applied.

One of the earliest to find are brilliantly colored scarlet cups. If it’s been a wet spring, you can count on many and large orange bowl-like cups. In the mushroom world, good size is a relative term. Large scarlet cups can grow to about 2” in diameter, just the right size to collect fragments of leaves and, if you look closely, a variety of forest creatures!

Truth be know, the real reason that I enjoy spotting these early red fungi is that scarlet cups are happy harbingers of the arrival of my favorite mushrooms: morels. Fungi of the genus Morchella are hunted by photographers and epicures alike. Photographers love their intriguing colors and textures; chefs seek their woodsy flavor and delicate consistency.

One of the earliest spring mushrooms is the black morel (Morchella elata). Mushroom hunters may find two or three dozen of this these approximately 2” – 3” tall beauties within an area the size of a two-car garage. Plenty of rain and warm weather bring out these dark-colored fruiting bodies. Sigma SD1, 105mm F2.8 EX DG Macro, Sigma CR-21 Cable Release, 1/30 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 100. Gitzo GT2541EX tripod, Gitzo GH2780QR ball head. Six separately focused images combined in Helicon Focus 5.2; image then processed in Adobe Photoshop CS5, NIK Viveza Plug-in applied.

Several morel species grow in North America. The earliest are the black morels (Morchella elata). Soon thereafter “spikes” or half-free morels (Morchella semilibera) appear. Finally, the season ends in a bang with crowd-pleasing yellow “sponge” morels (Morchella esculenta).

The half-free morel (Morchella semilibera) can be one of the most prolific spring morels in my home state of Ohio. They often spring up a couple weeks after the black morels. A wide angle lens—here the Sigma 20mm F1.8—allows you to capture the landscape around a macro subject. Nikon D2X, Sigma 20mm F1.8 EX DG ASP RF lens, Cable Release, 1/2 sec. at f/16, ISO 100. Gitzo GT2541EX tripod, Manfrotto 486RC ball head.

Photographing mushrooms is among the easiest of macro subjects because they don’t move much! While it is true that mushrooms can pop-up overnight, a few minutes of photography won’t reveal much movement—other than camera shake. So make sure to bring a tripod, especially one that lets you get low to the ground. A cable release or wireless remote is also a good idea.

I utilize a variety of Sigma lens lengths, depending on how much background I want to show. Long macro lenses, say, 105mm, 150mm, or 180mm, allow subject isolation; I often, however, pull out shorter focal lengths—50mm and 70mm macros, along with wide angle lenses such as the 20mm—to show the landscape behind a particular specimen.

Perhaps the most sought-after mushroom in North America, the yellow “sponge” morel (Morchella semilibera) is a glorious mushroom, with a cream-colored brain-like appearance. Nikon D2X, 70mm F2.8 EX DG Macro, Cable Release, 1/13 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 100. Gitzo GT2541EX tripod, Gitzo GH2780QR ball head.

When it comes to tripods, I mount my cameras on my Gitzo GT2541EX, which has legs that spread flat to the ground. If your tripod can’t get that low, it may allow you to invert the center column and shoot with the camera mounted upside down. In this case, it’s often easier to prepare all the camera settings before swigning the camera into the inverted position.

WARNING: Do not take the images and descriptions here as a guide to mushroom edibility. Each year in the United States tragic accidents happen when people misidentify mushrooms. Always learn proper identification from experts before trying any species of mushroom. To find a local mushroom expert, visit the club directory at “Mushroom: The Journal of Wild Mushrooming,” and consider joining the North American Mycological Association for further education opportunities.

David FitzSimmons is Sigma Pro photographer, and free lance writer, and an educator. See David’s macro techniques in his new, award-winning picture book CURIOUS CRITTERS or visit www.fitzsimmonsphotography.com.  Click here to check out David’s upcoming photo workshop schedule!

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