As professional wildlife and nature photographer Michael Snedic explains, rainforests provide a rich source of macro photography subjects.
When most people think of rainforest photography, they conjure up images of tree ferns and waterfalls. For me, rainforest photography is about fungi – those small delicate organisms that are found in a variety of habitats, but particularly rainforest areas, especially after a decent amount of rain. For people who take the time to look, the rainforest ifs full of small wonders waiting to be photographed – from strange insects to weird and wonderful flora.
In this article I have put together six tips to help you shoot great macro images in the rainforest. The important thing is to keep your eyes open and to look for the smaller details – if you do, your next trip to the rainforest will be rewarded with a symphony of amazing subjects to photograph.
01 DIFFUSE LIGHT
Direct, harsh sunlight can totally ruin a great macro shot. If possible, I recommend heading out when the sky is overcast, as this allows for even, diffused lighting. If the weather is sunny and the light is harsh, however, you can still achieve decent macro shots by taking a portable, hand-held diffuser with you. The diffuser is held between the sun and the subject being photographed, to create soft lighting and reduce any glare or overblown highlights. If possible, hold the diffuser quite close to the subject, as this will create a lovely, rich colour. Portable diffusers can be purchased at most photographic stores.
In a sea of green moss, I found this gorgeous pink coral fungi. The sky that day was quite sunny, so I used a portable diffuser to get rid of harsh light. By holding the diffuser close, I was able to bring out the beautiful, rich pink colour. Nikon D700 with Sigma 150mm f2.8 macro lens, f22 @ 0.4s. ISO 200. Gitzo tripod, cable release.
02 GET CLOSE
Using a dedicated macro lens on your SLR camera will generally give sharp results and allow you to focus quite close. If you want to fill the frame with a very small subject, I recommend using extension tubes, which greatly reduce the minimum focusing distance. Extension tubes can be used in conjunction with most lenses, including macro lenses.
For point-and-shoot camera users, switching to the 'macro' setting (usually represented by a flower symbol) will allow for quite close focusing. Depending on the camera model you own, there are also settings such as 'super fine,' which may allow you to focus within centimeters of a subject.
This rainforest fungus is absolutely miniscule. I used three extension tubes between my SLR and 105mm macro lens so as to be able to get the image to fill the screen. The sky above was overcast, creating soft, even lighting. Nikon D300 with Nikon 105mm macro lens, three extension tubes, f40 @ 4s, ISO 400. Gitzo tripod, cable release.
03 GET DOWN
Regarding composition, it is usually preferable to get as low as possible when shooting fungi. If the fungus is in a rainforest or other wet area, try placing a poncho or raincoat on the ground to keep you clean and dry. If the fungus you are shooting is attached to a small piece of wood you may be able to move it to a better position for the photo. Once you have finished taking your shots, put it back where you found it.
I had been searching for a blue fungus like this for years and finally found this specimen in a rainforest in Cradle Mountain, Tasmania. It was growing on a piece of wood down a hill, very difficult for taking photos. I picked it up and placed it at a comfortable height for photography, placing it back when I finished. Nikon D700 with Nikon 200mm f4 macro lens, f22 @ 1.6s, ISO 200. Gitzo tripod, cable release.
04 WATCH YOUR BACKGROUND
Photographers are often so absorbed by the subject they are photographing that they forget to look at what's in the background. Distracting objects, especially harsh, sunlit patches, immediately take the viewer away from the subject you are trying to show. Check the background and, if necessary, recompose or remove distracting objects behind the subject. A few seconds spent thinking about the backg in the field can save you hours of post-processing later on.
This beautiful gilled fungus was attached to a piece of rotting log. The background was quite messy and ‘busy’ so I repositioned myself so that I had no distractions to contend with. This created a blurry background, which in turn made the fungus stand out. Nikon D700 with Sigma 150mm f2.8 macro lens, f32 @ 1/4s, ISO raised to 800 to minimise wind movement. Gitzo tripod, cable release.
05 THE LEADING EDGE
When I find a fungus with gills underneath, I often position the camera so that some of the gills are visible. I then focus on the edge of the gills, as I know this is where the viewer of the photo will generally look first. This is known as the 'leading edge' or ‘front edge’ and is where I recommend you concentrate your focus.
You can use autofocus but I find using manual focus, especially in conjunction with Live View, makes for more accurate focusing, exactly on the spot you require.
It pays to do research when you are photographing fungi. I found out that this particular species of luminous fungi only glowed around late February/March in Lamington National Park, in Queensland, where I photographed this specimen. I also carefully identified what the species looked like during the day, as there were many that looked similar but didn’t glow. At night, with a headlamp used as my light source, I manually focused on this specimen and patiently waited during each very long exposure. Nikon D700 with Sigma 150mm f2.8 macro lens, f8 @ 819s, ISO 200. Gitzo tripod, cable release.
06 DO YOUR RESEARCH
It pays to do some research before you head out looking for fungi. Knowing where, when and what type of fungi grow in the area you’re visiting can save you hours searching endlessly along tracks. There are a number of useful resources online including the Australian Mycological Society – http://www.australasianmycology.com – which includes links to a variety of local organisations.
The orange of this bracket fungi stood out against the dark background created by using a macro flash. Nikon D200 with Nikon 105mm f2.8 macro lens, f22 @ 1/60s, ISO 200. Manfrotto tripod, cable release, macro flash.
Michael Snedic is a professional wildlife/nature photographer and professional photographic tutor. He is owner of WildNature Photo Expeditions, specialising in quality photography workshops and tours across Australia and overseas. His aim is to show participants the most amazing subjects and locations, while at the same time teaching the best techniques for photographing them.