It’s my final day of taking five black and white photographs a day but this time I didn’t get the chance to go further than the back garden. The mossy lawn, overgrown pond and garden shed didn’t look very inspiring but as soon as I saw the honey fungus on the path I began to focus in on the grassroot jungle of the meadow and the moss garden on the sandstone rocks surrounding the raised bed.
I’M NOT EXPECTING to see any natural history on our weekly morning shopping with my mum but I’m wishing I’d brought my camera as there’s a 2 square foot plus clump of a Coprinus fungus on her back lawn.
Apart from the main clump there are streaks of it following the lines beneath the turf of the roots of the old horse chestnut tree which was felled at least 5 years ago.
With no camera to hand there’s no choice but to go back to my old method and to do a very quick sketch. I’ve shown some of the fresh fungi and a couple of the caps which are beginning to curl up at the edges and turn to black ink.
Fresh caps have radiating grooves, like the struts of an umbrella.
It’s so good to have a clear desk again. Clutter might be more interesting to draw but a blank desk gets me thinking about fresh projects.
And I’m catching up on technical bits and pieces that I should have sorted years ago. Getting logged back onto Skype proves too challenging for me but luckily my iMac came with something similar and a whole lot simpler, so I’m able to do my first ever FaceTime video chat live to California, where it must be quite early in the morning, but sunny judging by the light flooding through the window on the surprisingly good live-streaming image I’m getting.
But it is rather alarming seeing a little video image of myself inset, looking like the cartoon I’ve just drawn of me being baffled by Skype.
I can’t seem to get out of the ‘complete your profile’ dialogue without giving Skype/Facebook my personal phone numbers which are actually none of their business.
IT’S ABOUT a month since we last walked through the woods at Newmillerdam and it now feels as if autumn has arrived. Bracket fungi are starting to sprout from the fallen silver birches with shapes that remind me of the cream-filled meringues of my childhood.
A Finger on the Button
Like most digital cameras my new FujiFilm S6800 focuses on whatever is in the centre of the screen when you half press the shutter button. But what if you’d prefer to have your subject off centre?
As I should have worked out long ago when using previous cameras, if you keep button half-pressed you can then move the camera to get the composition you’re after but the focus of the lens will stay as it is, set to your subject.
I think that having the main subject at the junction of thirds, rather than slap in the middle of gives a better composition. Central can sometimes be too obvious, like a passport photograph.
Throwing the background out of focus also gives emphasis to the subject.
As a record shot to help with identification it wouldn’t matter if the subject was central or the background in focus but I feel that by moving the subject to one side you introduce a little bit of narrative, a bit of expectation perhaps, and keeping the background out of focus goes a little way to building up that feeling of mystery that you get when you see fungi emerging in autumn woods.
Inspired by the new camera, I’ve been reading Doug Sahlin’s Digital Landscape & Nature Photography for Dummies. I’m making an effort to get thoroughly familiar with its controls, so that they become second nature to me. With previous digital cameras I’ve had such good results with the auto or programmed settings that I’ve never got around to trying manual settings such as aperture priority and shutter priority.
It’s the photographic equivalent of making the move from marker pens to watercolour in sketchbook work. There’s nothing wrong with in-your-face boldness in photography or in illustration but when it comes to trying to express a more enigmatic mood I think you need to develop a more subtle technique.
I LOVE the 30x zoom on my new camera. There’s an element of luck in what the autofocus chooses to latch on to but you can take several shots and hopefully one will catch something. The 4600 pixel wide images give plenty of scope for cropping in to find some suitable composition, like this Greylag keeping a wary eye on me.
If I can get such close ups as this in a few minutes just ambling along the lakeside path imagine what I might be able to do if I spent a morning in one of the hides at a wetland reserve.
It would be interesting to try a catch bird behaviour on film – like this juvenile Black-headed Gull diving into the lake, possibly to catch fish or perhaps even small freshwater mussels. A series of images might provide some clues. The camera has a continuous mode for capturing movement.
Water birds are good subjects to experiment with as they’re large and usually not hidden by foliage so when we saw a Carrion Crow in a waterside willow I tried photographing it.
I was struggling to keep the camera steady when I tried to photograph the Grey Heron preening itself in a willow at the other side of the lake. The image is rather blocky but it would be useful if I was gathering reference for an illustration.
It’s good to see a heron engaged in some kind of activity rather than standing at rest.
Not surprisingly after the warm humid weather that we’ve been having there were one or two fungi about. The toadstool with the scaly cap is a relative of the Fly Agaric while the purplish, smooth capped and much eaten into toadstool (below, right) looks to me like one of the Russulas.
Summer warmth and a few heavy showers have triggered the growth of some small fungi on our dewy back lawn this morning. They’re going to get trimmed off when I get around to cutting the lawn so I pick them to draw and to take some close-ups using my USB microscope.
The cap which is about a centimetre across is smooth with no trace of ridges. It has dark brown gills, which I’d describe as distant as opposed to close or crowded.
The circular stem is hollow and there’s no swelling at its base.
The pattern of growth, as far as I can judge by this little group, is trooping. I couldn’t see any trace of a fairy ring starting to form.
I’m taking spore prints which might help narrow down what kind of fungus it is.
My thanks to Steve Clements for this suggestion;
Most likely a Mottlegill (Panaeolus or Panaeolina) – the commonest one on mown grass round my part of Sheffield is Brown Hay Cap – Panaeolina foenesecii – which is supposed to be slightly hallucinogenic. The spores are blackish, and warted (under the microscope). The gills look mottled under a hand lens.
The Collins Guide calls this species Brown Mottlegill and adds that the ‘dark brown-black’ spores are ‘ellip to lemon-shaped’ which is how they look in 200x photograph that I took with my microscope.
I DIDN’T get as far as I’d hope with identifying fungi last month. Looking back through my sketchbook I found this drawing, made from a photograph taken on a walk around Newmillerdam. As I’ve mentioned in my notes, it was growing not far from the track in mixed woodland which included larch.
I guess that it’s a relative of the Parasol, although this lacks the scales on the stem and the cap has turned concave; the Parasol mushroom, Macrolepiota procera, would be convex, with a boss in the middle but like this fungus, it has a ring around the stem and dark, flattened scales.
THERE’S A NEW fungus emerging on the edges of the woodland rides at Newmillerdam, Shaggy Parasol, Macrolepiota rhacodes. As you can see from these two young specimens, which had been uprooted, they don’t start out with shaggy scales; the one on the right still has its cap almost intact while the one on the left has broken the surface of the cap as it continues to expand.
Roger Phillips in Mushrooms classes it as edible but warns that it ‘may cause gastric upsets in some people’.