I went for a bush walk in a rather remote Victorian forest today and, unexpectedly, stumbled across an isolated patch of Omphalotus Nidiformis mushrooms – the “Ghost Fungi” which give off a very dim eerie glow in the forest at night (to our naked eyes without colour vision, using only rods in the dim light, they appear white).
The above was hand held resting on my thigh at 1/4sec, f/3.5, ISO 1250.
The above was hand held resting on my boot at 1/4sec, f/2.5, ISO 640.
The above was hand held resting on my thigh at 0.6sec, f/4.5, ISO 1250.
So, hoping I was correct, I headed back into the closest town, had a quick bite, then headed back well after twilight had finished, and there they were, once my eyes had adjusted to night vision, the patch of fungi giving off their strange light.
Here are a few I shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II with Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2 lens sitting on a towel as a support (jpegs straight from camera just re-sized for web – no light painting or artificial lights, and white balance for these was set to sunny day):
The above was at f/2.8 (trying to get some more DOF), ISO 1600, noise filter = LOW, long exposure NR on with an 8 minute exposure using the very handy Live Timed function (I didn’t bring a remote to activate a BULB mode – thankfully the OM-D’s don’t need one!) and shows some lovely orange as well as green, with the top left corner being the brighter night sky (perhaps 2 stops brighter) illuminated by an Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.
The still night air without a breeze to be felt allowed me to use these nice long exposures, rather than having to open the aperture up to f/1.2 and loose depth of field even more than I was losing.
I could just imagine all the local insects coming out to dance and sing under the soft light – but it was too cold for most of them tonight – which saved me getting a few bites at least!
The above was as for the previous one but f/2.0 at 4 minutes exposure.
And, finally, just for a little fun at 10pm on a winter’s night, all alone in a remote forest, a fisheye view – taken with the unique Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens sitting on a towel at f/1.8, ISO 1600, 2 minutes to avoid the bright auroral sky washing out – and yes, you can tell it is looking south from the out of focus star trails making an arc around the South Celestial Pole somewhere near the centre of the image.
Camera settings for shooting these ghost fungi at night:
- I used a 25mm lens (50mm in full frame terms) but one could go wider than this
- getting adequate depth of field while keeping ISO low and exposure duration a minimum is a challenge without resorting to complicated post-processing focus stacking techniques – for the 25mm Olympus lens I prefer the f/2.8 setting but this required 8 minutes exposure at ISO 1600, if using an equivalent 50mm lens on full frame this would require using f/5.6, 8 minutes at ISO 6400 – so any high ISO benefit of full frame is lost.
- if it is windy, then you will not be able to achieve nice imagery, even if you chose to shoot at f/1.2 and ISO 12800 to gain a shorter shutter speed, it may still be too long if the fungi are moving – go on a still night without wind, and suffer the pea soup fog on your drive home.
- if you can’t shoot BULB (you didn’t buy an Olympus and you forgot your remote control), then you may need settle with f/1.8, ISO 6400 and 30secs
- manual focus and a torch is a must – and it helps if your lens has a nice MF clutch, and your camera can do magnified view to allow you to accurately manual focus using a torch to assist
- I chose to shoot sunny day white balance as I wanted to see what the colours were like compared to our normal visual experience of a sunny day
- Noise filter should be set to LOW or OFF as ideally you should be removing noise in post-processing (I haven’t done this in these images – I will wait til I get a chance to process the RAW files)
- Long exposure noise reduction should be set to Auto or ON – this does double the length of waiting for exposure to finish but it removes the thermal noise and you don’t need that!
- I decided not to use my tripod as I wanted to be at ground level so i rested the camera on a towel
- turn IS OFF
- If you don’t have an Olympus camera then you will need to bring a remote trigger for your BULB mode to get past 30secs
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with 25mm f/1.2 is great for this type of photography as:
- the image stabiliser is fantastic when using it hand held for the dusk shots
- ISO 1600 or 3200 is usable, and that is all you really need for the night shots
- the flip out LCD screen means you don’t have to get down level with the camera on your stomach and get real dirty or have crawlies all over you
- the 25mm f/1.2 not only is an amazing lens which focuses twice as close as similar full frame lenses, but it has a wonderful manual focus clutch
- accurate manual focus is easy using magnified view mode
- noise reduction phase displays a count down so you know how long you have left
- if your torch is getting dim, you can have the Live Timed mode automatically activate Live Boost so you can see in the dark better
- normal timed exposures go to 60 secs not like most other cameras where you need a remote control to activate BULB mode to get past 30secs
- Live Timed mode allows you to visualise how the image is developing (eg. every 30 secs):
- if you stuffed something up like composition, just terminate the exposure rather than wait until your planned exposure finishes
- you can see how the histogram and image exposure is devloping, and then terminate when desired – this is how I chose to terminate the fisheye shot – when I saw the sky was starting to blow out
- unlike BULB mode, you can set a duration for it to last and it will self-terminate the exposure without you having to be there with a remote control – this allows you to use another camera to do something else such as take Milky Way astroscapes while you wait 16 minutes for an 8 minute exposure and 8minute dark frame.
- you don’t need a remote control – just wait for it to time out or press the shutter button to terminate exposure.
- you can see from 5m away what the status is – is exposure still occurring or is it in noise reduction phase when its OK to turn torches on, or is exposure complete
For more mushrooms, see my previous post