Book Review

Cover: Photographing Fungi In The Field by George McCarthy. Photographing Fungi in the Field

Author: George McCarthy

Publisher: Guild of Master Craftsman Publications

ISBN 1-86108-263-3

George McCarthy has been a professional photographer since 1986 and specialises in the flora and fauna of the British Isles, with a particular interest in fungi. He has put his experience and knowledge to good use in writing this book.

The book seems to cover the whole gamut of fungi aspects relative to the photographer: history, folklore, identification, edibility, conservation and photo tips. The world of fungi is weird and wonderful, and that’s just how I found this book.

Over 200 superb colour photographs are excellently displayed throughout the 151 pages, providing a visual treat for the reader. Each photograph is accompanied by an extended caption containing information about the subject. Sometimes the fungi displayed relate to the surrounding text, sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t seem to matter as the photographs are interesting enough in their own right.

Looking at the contents panel the reader would understandably assume that the text is broken into an introduction followed by eight distinct chapters. This is not the case. In fact there are really only three real chapters in this book; Folklore, The Fly Algaric and How To Photograph Fungi.

The Introduction lays out the premise of the book and accurately describes it as a celebration of fungi. Chapter one relates numerous riveting anecdotes about fungi and is a thoroughly enjoyable read. The main body of the book comes next in a chapter titled The Fly Agaric. Beginning with a study of this classic red-with-white-spots example and then moving on to fungi in general, the reader is lead through an engaging read that covers all aspects of fungi types, classification and conservation. This is where the “weird” aspect of this book comes to the fore. The chapters listed in the contents panel materialise as sub-titled sections within this chapter, except for conservation, which doesn’t even manage that - the text just rolls naturally onto the subject. I couldn’t help thinking that the words were crafted and then the titles engineered later to fill the contents page.

By now you are 127 pages into the book and probably wondering where the “photography” bit is (justifiably so if it was the title that attracted you to buying this book in the first place). The 33 pages of chapter three looks at photography. Half of the chapter deals with equipment and materials, which adds nothing new to the experienced close-up photographer but will undoubtedly be very useful to the beginner. The second half of the chapter discusses various techniques for photographing fungi that (for the majority of photographers buying this book) is probably the most important bit of reading. It does include some useful tips from a seasoned professional.

The book finishes with a few paragraphs about the photographer and two indexes, one for fungi and one in general.

As much as I like this book I can’t help thinking that an opportunity has been missed here. Although the word “photographing” appears large at the top of the cover and on the spine, the subject has been relegated to 20% of the pages at the back of the book. The superb photographs are inspirational and I’ve also used them to help me identify subjects I’ve photographed myself. But I would have liked to have seen some photographic details included in the captions.

I’m left with the impression that if the superb photographs had supported the photography chapter with some technique information being included in the captions, then this would be the best book ever on fungi photography. But as they don’t, it isn’t.

I would recommend this book for anyone who has a general interest in fungi and is thinking about having a go at photographing them. If you are already a seasoned fungi photographer looking forward to 151 pages of in-depth fungi photography know-how (as the title implies), I’d suggest you look elsewhere.

Photographing Fungi In The Field by George McCarthy. Sample Pages.