If you’ve ever taken a walk in the woods, especially after a rain storm, you’ve definitely walked by one of photographer Alison Pollack‘s subjects. You may have even stepped on one. But unless you had a magnifying glass handy, you never even knew they were there.
Pollack specializes in super macro photography of fungi and Myxomycetes, and her Instagram account is full of stunning photos of these minuscule mushrooms (well, sometimes mushrooms) blown up large enough so that you can see what you’re missing when you tread your way through the woods.
Pollack tells PetaPixel that she’s been exploring the forests near her home for a long time, enjoying the different aspects of nature that each season brings. She always carries some sort of camera on these walks, but it was curiosity that led her to her subject of choice.
“I started to get serious about mushroom and Myxomycete photography a couple of years ago, when I found and photographed my first Myxomycete,” Pollack tells us. “I had no idea what it was, so I looked it up online. I was immediately fascinated with the Myxomycete life cycle, and I have been avidly hunting and photographing them ever since.”
“As I looked for the tiny Myxos, I also started noticing really tiny fungi, and started photographing them as well,” continues Pollack. “These tiny organisms are all over the forest when it rains, but they are so small that people just don’t see them. My goal is to reveal their beauty and magic!”
It’s important to note that Myxos and mushrooms are not the same thing. Pollack explained that they’re in a separate biological kingdom called Protista (AKA slime molds). But no matter what you call them or whether you can tell them apart, their amazing diversity of color, shape, size, and texture makes them an ideal subject for macro and super macro photography.
“I am especially drawn to the tiny ones, and the detail that cannot be seen by the naked eye. My passion is to photograph these tiny organisms and show people how amazing and beautiful they are!” says Pollack. “Many people have never heard of Myxomycetes, and also do not know that there are so many beautiful tiny fungi. My goal is to photograph them to show people the magical beauty right at their feet as they walk in the forest.”
Every rainy season (typically winter) she goes out into the forests near her home in northern California several days per week for most of the day, hunting for mushrooms and Myxomycetes.
“Tiny fungi and Myxos are difficult to spot, but once you know where and what to look for, they can be easily found,” says Pollack. “I look for dots of color on the forest floor and on decomposing logs, then I look more closely with an LED-lit 10x magnifying lens I always carry with me.”
Pollack tells PetaPixel that she will often spend hours with “a good decomposing log,” finding these hidden treasures, cleaning them with small paintbrushes and surgical tweezers, and composing the perfect shot.
In terms of gear and technique, she uses a Sony a7R II with a Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens. From there, she’ll add a Raynox 250 super macro diopter “to get about 2.5x more magnification,” and places the whole setup on a sturdy tripod. For the tiniest subjects, anything that’s 1 millimeter or less, Pollack will use the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X ultra macro lens to reveal the detailed textures.
Once she has her subject lined up, she uses focus stacking in order to capture more than the most infinitesimal slice of focus. The stacks themselves vary in size depending on which of the two setups she’s using.
“With the Sony macro lens and the Raynox diopter, my stacks are typically 10-50 images, all shot in the field manually,” explains Pollack. “With the ultra macro lens, especially at 4 or 5x, the depth of field is only about 0.05 millimeters, and I use an automated rail (the Cognysis Stackshot) to take 100-300 images for stacking, in my home studio.”
Finally, she’ll pull the stack into either Helicon Focus or Zerene Stacker software to create the initial composite, then Lightroom for minor post-processing after that. Given enough light (she prefers natural light, but will use flash if need-be) and a sufficiently still day (she calls wind “the enemy” when focus stacking) the results … well … they speak for themselves:
Pollack’s exceptional work has recently received some much-deserved attention from the artistic and photographic community, and we’re incredibly grateful that she took the time to share so much detailed information about her process with our readers.
To see many more incredible images of tiny fungi and Myxos of all shapes, sizes, textures and colors, be sure to follow her on Instagram @marin_mushrooms.
Each of her photos is usually accompanied by a caption that explains what it is you’re looking at, just how tiny it is, and sometimes even goes into detail on how she captured that shot. Whether you’re a lover of nature, fungi, or photography, we’re confident you’ll be impressed.
Image credits: All photos by Alison Pollack and used with permission.