A New England and Eastern Canada Edible and Medicinal Mushroom Resource
Recent advances in digital camera technology have changed the face of digital photography. I used digital cameras going back to the first Sony Mavica but only for quick auction listings and web page photos. I was never impressed with the resolution (1.3 mp) for "real" pictures. I love digital photography now. Small "point and shoot" cameras can have so many advanced features that carrying around suitcases of equipment may not be necessary. Most of the photographs on this site were made with a point and shoot digital camera. Digital cameras can be just too easy sometimes. I can get lazy or in too much of a hurry when picking mushrooms losing my mind in a big stand of chanterelles or black trumpets. I should take more time and care. I used to be a professional photographer after all. My newest Canon camera is helping make much better images but unfortunately it has no personal behavior settings. A feature called "Whoa, settle down" is the one I'm looking for. The more recent pictures are much better than those I took with my Fuji camera which I fortunately dropped and broke. I had a brief interlude with an Olympus camera that was less than satisfying. It was too small. A small camera can be hard to operate if you have large hands. The Olympus was ergonomically designed to easily slip out of your pocket.
A digital camera that can capture 5 mega pixels of information or more is recommended if you want good pictures of your finds while still traveling light. Cameras that can capture from 6 to 12 mega pixel images are common these days. Most better digital cameras come with good macro (close up) functions and various exposure modes. Most will have auto, program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, and even video modes. Getting a camera with aperture priority and manual mode is a must.
An SLR (single lens reflex) camera is not a requirement for taking good pictures of your finds. For some photographers SLRs really are necessary for sports action, telephoto, or technical photography but for most people an advanced feature point and shoot camera will certainly meet your needs. I think the continued use of SLRs is mostly holdover thinking from earlier times when they really were necessary. They do offer fine optics and the versatility of interchangeable lenses but they are heavy clunky things that require big bags of extra equipment to utilize their slight advantage. The good macro capabilities and many exposure functions of the more advanced point and shoot cameras make carrying a lot of equipment unnecessary. They are pocketable. This is a great thing for a mushroom hunter who may end up with big bags or baskets of fruit bodies to carry out of the woods. I now carry a camera virtually everywhere I go and get so many more pictures of all aspects of my life than I ever did when I was using 35 mm SLRs. No more SLRs for me.
The woods can be quite dark and program or auto mode will give a good exposure but often not enough depth of field (focus). Aperture priority mode is a good feature to have to get better depth of focus because the aperture remains at your selected setting while the camera adjusts the shutter speed accordingly. You can use manual mode to achieve similar or better results if you can out-think your camera. I really like the manual function on my Canon Powershot A630 because rather than having a needle or LED indicator, the image on the viewing screen gets lighter or darker as you adjust the shutter speed. What you see is what you get. The closer you get, the more necessary it is to "stop down". Comparable lenses by different manufacturers are usually very similar in sharpness. Sharpness varies much more by f-stop (aperture) than by camera brand. Most lenses perform with optimal sharpness and contrast in the f-4.5 to f-11 range. F-4.5 and 5.6 may not yield suitable depth of focus if your camera is really close to the subject. My Canon Powershot A630 only stops down to f-8. With other cameras using f-16, f-22, or f-32 will certainly give greater depth of focus but much longer exposure times and sometimes less sharpness due to diffraction. Bracketing your exposures may be a good idea in some cases. Software often cannot restore burned out highlights or underexposed shadow areas. A digital camera's CCD can only cover a few f-stops of dynamic range within the frame. It's best to expose your image to maintain highlight detail. Shadow noise is muddiness and poor detail in the darker image areas caused by lightening an image with photo editing software. Shadow noise is easier to deal with than a burned out highlight though. Conventional film still has a considerable edge in interpreting the darks and lights at the extreme ends as well as much greater resolution. A color slide can be made into an 80MB file.
It should be noted that the on camera flash will often help but can be hard to use at very close distance often yielding burned out highlights and high key somewhat unnatural looking colors. When correctly used the flash can help bring out colors though. Your camera's built in flash is likely to be too weak at distances greater than 6-10 feet. If you are going to use flash it is often better to have some distance from your subject and zoom in just a bit. More than five feet away is likely to be too far. Note that the greater the lens' focal length the less depth of focus so it's best not to get carried away with zooming in. Greater focal length (zooming in) also requires greater steadiness. If I need to get close, I often set my flash to minus 2 stops and expose normally or at minus1/3 f-stop using flash to punch in a small amount of light to the darker areas. Some form of stabilization is usually necessary since shooting pictures in this way requires slower shutter speeds. Using a white card as a reflector can be useful in some cases. A piece of cardboard covered with aluminum foil works well too. I use flash almost all the time. What I try to get for a result is an image that looks like flash was not used; well lit, but without the dark background, harsh shadows, and high key subject area so often seen in photographs using a high power flash. The size and shape of your subject often dictates the distancing and camera position. A large maitake is going to allow you more options than a very small mushroom.
There are many bright light situations where you should use flash. In any situation where your subject is strongly backlit using your flash is necessary for good detail of the main subject. For example, looking up a tree at a large flush of oyster mushrooms where the sky is the background, the hymenia (undersides) of the mushrooms would be too much in shadow for good detail. There could be greater than 5 stops of variation of light intensity in this situation so you would use flash to fill the shadows thereby lighting the underside of the mushrooms . Photographing a scene like this both with and without flash is usually a good idea. When using the flash to fill dark areas you may want to back your flash power down a couple of stops. Take a lot of pictures. Experiment with your settings. Use your image view setting to be sure you have gotten the picture you want before leaving the scene.
Sometimes, your best pictures will be taken using available light. Many digital cameras now have image stabilization which can help greatly often allowing you two more f-stops or shutter speeds. You may be able to get a fairly sharp photograph hand held at 1/15th of a second if you are very, very steady. The other solution is stabilization using a tripod, monopod, or beanbag. Often, you can place your camera right on the ground for stabilization too. Get low. Get used to crawling or lying on the ground. I occasionally use the top of my shoe or my knee for greater steadiness. With a digital camera, you shouldn't hesitate to take a lot of pictures. Memory cards are quite inexpensive and can often hold hundreds of pictures. Review and delete your "less than excellent" pictures as you go. Image view mode allows you to zoom in to see how much sharpness there is in critical subject areas. You can know before you have left the scene if you have the pictures you want. Sometimes I may take 500 pictures in a day deleting more than 300 before I even get home. The ability to review and delete or edit your photographs immediately is one way that digital has 35mm beat. 500 pictures taken with Fujichrome ISO 100 would cost almost as much as my camera. The 300 deleted (thrown away) film images are money down the drain.
When making pictures with 35mm film one generally tries for precise framing at exposure. As a student and professional photographer I was very tuned in to doing this. Careful in-camera cropping is important when using a 35mm SLR and most always requires quite a bit of extra time. Previsualization of exposure is very important. Since wasting film is expensive, bracketing of exposures often necessary. Digital photographs are very easy to crop in the computer so tight, precise cropping is less necessary. You can leave a bit more space around your subject which can allow you to shoot from a greater distance resulting in greater depth of focus and apparent sharpness. You can often use just a small portion of a digital photograph that did not have enough depth of focus in all areas of the frame.
Often, those photographers who stick with 35mm photography feel that conventional films give a more accurate and "real" interpretation of the scene. In terms of contrast and resolution you will likely get excellent results but anyone who has loaded 2 cameras with different films such as Fujichrome and Kodachrome will find that these films will yield very different results when photographing the same subject with the same exposure. Films can have very different palettes. I highlight these two film examples because the differences in interpretation are quite dramatic. Forget "real". Films are simply different paint boxes. Ektachrome yields colors more similar to Fujichrome. A digital camera that could be set to a Fujichrome or Kodachrome color palette would be very cool. Slide films are by far the best choice for 35mm photography both from the contrast and resolution standpoint as well as for publishing and storage. Editors and graphic designers often want transparencies (slides). That is changing though. These days they often want digital files. Slides are easier and better to scan than negative film and can be scanned as ultra high resolution TIFF files and easily converted to other formats.
Digital photography is closing the gap. High resolution photographs can be made with newer cameras. Especially those that can make RAW files. RAW files are minimally processed images that are easily edited, printed, or converted to an RGB format such as .JPG or .TIFF. Usually, only more expensive digital cameras capture images in RAW file format but that situation is changing. When making digital photographs with a higher resolution camera composing the image tightly is far less necessary because cropping is exceptionally easy using your computer and a photo editing program. Similarly, dodging, burning and color adjustment is far easier when editing in your computer. Any adjustments made can easily be undone before saving the finished image. For 35mm photographers, a change of mindset is required when changing to the digital format.
I have a Canon Powershot A630 8 mega pixel camera I like quite well. It is pocketable (big pocket) but not too small. I take mine most places I go. The screen flips out and swivels to many different positions making photographing next to the ground, overhead, or photographing yourself much easier. I have never taken so many pictures spontaneously! I have seen my photographic future in the Canon PowerShot G9 12.1MP Digital Camera which makes files in RAW and .JPG formats and has a 6x optical zoom. It also has image stabilization that my present camera does not have. A Canon PowerShot Pro Series S5 IS 8.0MP Digital Camera is a very versatile camera that bridges the gap between SLRs and point and shoot for a reasonable price. It is larger but still almost pocketable (bigger pocket). It has a 12x optical zoom. A Canon Digital Rebel XTi 10.1MP Digital SLR Camera is a nice lower priced digital SLR. If you don't mind hauling a lot of equipment there are many digital and 35mm SLR's to choose from. 35 mm is always a good solution for high quality pictures but you are no longer traveling light. I personally like and recommend Fujichrome ISO 100 film for vivid color.
For Canon Powershot cameras and some other brands, you can get CHDK firmware files. CHDK files enhance the firmware functions of your present camera. Small files are installed in the root directory of your camera's memory card and can be enabled when powering your camera on. Your camera's original firmware is not altered. CHDK is always evolving and firmware versions are available for may functions. They can override and expand your shutter speed selections, f-stop choices, ISO, and have depth of field and color map graphics. Most all versions allow you to shoot RAW files. There are special builds for fast motion, stereoscopic, and other specialized applications. They can be downloaded free from the internet. Find information at http://chdk.wikia.com/
Mini tripod A mini tripod (or regular tripod) is almost mandatory for photographing in aperture priority mode with no flash if the lighting conditions are challenging. The little ones with the flexible legs seem a bit cheesy but they work better than you might expect. Here is an exceptionally cool but inexpensive flexible tripod that is good for mushroom photography. I have the smaller version which is quite small but I really like it. It gets really low and it grabs on to all sorts of inanimate objects. The tripod block is exceptionally small. I can leave it mounted on my camera and not even notice it. It allows me to quickly slide my camera onto the head of the tripod and and lock it on with a definitive snap. The Canon PowerShot Pro Series S5 IS 8.0MP Digital Camera may be too large for this tripod and require the larger version used for the larger SLR cameras. Using your self timer with your tripod will help you get sharper pictures.
Monopod A monopod can be very useful too. It is best if you have one that collapses to be fairly short. In addition to using it on the ground, I sometimes use it with the base lodged behind my belt buckle for sharper hand held pictures made from a standing position. Your monopod can also double as a walking stick. You can use it to push aside bushes, ferns or other plants when you hunt. It can also be used to knock those high growing oyster mushrooms from the tree.
Bean bag This is a great item to have (and a bit of a photographer's secret). They are easy to carry. Often you need to photograph with your camera on or very near the ground. A bean bag for support can really give great steadiness and positioning yielding very sharp pictures. In many situations it is better than a tripod because it is less affected by wind or vibration and you can get a really low angle of view. Once you get the camera settled into the correct position, using the self timer for "hands off" exposure will give a sharper picture. You might want an extra one for supporting a slave flash. You can make one quickly and easily by putting navy beans in a sock and tying the end.
Auxiliary flash with slave (optional) A small flash with slave unit for wireless synchronization can be quite useful for adding extra light for exposure and some side or back light for a more natural look. The problem you can run into is that most digital cameras have a pre flash for red-eye that can fire the slave prematurely creating the light burst too soon. You can shut off the red-eye flash setting on most cameras. It's best to leave it shut off for photographing mushrooms when using auxiliary flash. You may find that you can resurrect an older flash and slave that way. An even more sophisticated solution for flat lighting is Sunpak FP-38 E-Flash, On-camera Flat-Light Kit with Mounting Bracket and Built in Slave Your mini tripod or a beanbag can come in handy for supporting the auxiliary flash. You will need to experiment with different setups to get the kind of look you will like.
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