Nature @


The Secret World

©Mark Hilliard (2000)


Nature surrounds us, from the dark rain forests of the Amazon to the potted plant on the kitchen sink. All you have to do is look. This article is not about unlikely locations but rather about unlikely subjects!


They are everywhere, out in plain sight but unseen, under every tree, in the mulch and if you take a stroll through the woods you will step on more than you actually see. The mighty trees we see around us everyday of our life would not be mighty without them. Have you ever stopped and looked at one, really looked at it? You know what I am talking about right? Of course, the innocuous mushroom! Is it a plant or an animal? Neither, it is in a world of its own, a fifth kingdom if you will, one filled with such awe-inspiring beauty that it will take your breath away. Keep reading and you will be forever hooked on this fascinatingly beautiful unseen side of nature.


Amanita citrina


Take a look at this first photograph of a common Amanita citrina mushroom found growing from the ground up through a rotting stump in Myrtle Beach, SC. The mushroom itself is only about 2 inches high and on the inside of a hollow stump. From our normal vantage point all we would see of this is a white cap. But when you actually get down on its level a whole new magical world opens up to us.


As photographers trying to capture the beauty of these little wonders, a new world of hardships is thrust upon us because we are now in the world of macro photography. To take the thought one step further, lets discuss this type of photography using todays new DIGITAL cameras! There are three areas of difficulty in mushroom photography that must be overcome in order to achieve good photographs, focus/depth of field, lighting/stability and the ability to see what you are looking at in such low positions.



The first and formost hardship when photographing in the macro world is focus and depth of field. Most digital cameras offer a macro mode of some sort, the camera used for this photograph has a minimum focus distance of around 8 inches which is decreased by the addition of a +4 diopter closeup lens. This lens is simply a screw on adapter that attaches to the front of the camera via the filter attachment threads, and it reduces the minimum focus distance to about 4 inches. This is generally close enough to allow the capture of most small mushrooms that you might come across. Most digital cameras on the market offer a macro mode, some have filter threads. Keep in mind that as we decrease the minimum focus distance we also decrease the depth of field, which brings us to the second major hurdle. To keep mushroom in sharp focus, you have to focus on the closest edge of the cap next to the camera, so to keep the depth of field wide enough to allow a sharp photograph we must shoot at the smallest aperture and for most digital cameras this is around f8. So right off the bat we see that our choice of a digital camera for macro photography must have the ability to at least have an aperture priority control. Always use the smallest aperture that your camera can support.


Russula pulchra



Due to the small aperture, lighting becomes an issue so a sturdy tripod is a must. At these close distances a strobe is usually out of the question, it would burn out the photograph totally. Some companies offer controllable ring strobes that attach to the front of the camera lens, but only a few of the consumer/prosumer digital cameras on the market have the built in intelligence to control this type of strobe. I prefer to shoot in total shadow so that I can totally control the lighting and contrasts. In the first photograph I used two small flashlights with ultra white Xenon bulbs. One was used to highlight the top of the mushroom and the second provided highlights from the bottom right. As you can see, it provided a nice exposure and a pleasing photograph. The same technique was used in this second photograph of a Russula pulchra mushroom found in Murrells Inlet, SC. Again the mushroom was put in as much shade that I could provide then the Xenon lights were set for highlights and contrast control. Since two lights are being used a means for holding them in place must be found. Several camera companies sell goose neck clamps that work well by attaching the lights directly to the tripod. All of the exposures using this method of lighting are quite long, usually 1/30 to 1 /2 second so a very sturdy tripod is necessary. Now back to the use of a strobe in macro digital work. The new Nikon 990 has a TTL built in strobe that can be adjusted from -2ev to +2ev. This is a marvelous tool for macro work. This next photograph shows a Cantharellus cinnabarinus mushroom that was lit totally with the internal Nikon strobe set at -2ev from a distance of 1 inch! The best tip on using a strobe for this type of macro work is to just experiment with it. You can cover a portion of the strobe with a white cloth to further reduce its light output.


Cantharellus cinnabarinus


A remote shutter release cable is also a must, but few current digital cameras have this capability. If yours does not, then use the cameras built in self timer instead.



One of the important considerations in macro mushroom photography is the LCD display on the digital camera being used. Taking a photograph at eye level is fine but if you are attempting it a ground level or inside of a hollow log, the ease in which you can see the LCD becomes very important. Look for a camera that has a rotating LCD or a portion of the camera itself that rotates. There are several cameras on the market that do this and all are good choices. If you can see the LCD from above while taking ground level photographs you will enjoy the session much more!


Psilocybe pelliculosa


Nikon 990 Digital Camera full size TIFF mode
Canon Pro 70 Digital Camera full size TIFF mode
Canon 250D +4 diopter closeup lens
Canon remote shutter release
Benbo Trekker Tripod
Mag Lights with Xenon bulbs.


For further information you can contact Mark at or go to his web page



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