Documenting Mushrooms

Greetings intrepid mushroom hunters! Now that fungal fruiting season has officially hit California, it's time to get out there and find stuff!

For documenting mushrooms, there are several photographic tricks that will greatly aid in online identification. First, let's look at an example of what NOT to do.

A mushroom that will never be identified online.

The above photo is out-of-focus and has no details other than the color and shape of the cap. We'll never know the identity of this mushroom if this is all you give us. In fact, it could be an apple.

You should take a minimum of THREE photos for each species that you document - in situ (preferably with habitat or substrate visible), a detailed shot of the pileus (cap), and a detailed shot of the stipe (stem) and lamellae (gills).

In situ. Notice the live oak leaves?

Cap detail

Gill & stem detail. Amanita magniverrucata

You can also try to capture all three in one shot. This will involve manipulating (i.e. picking) the mushrooms and moving them around. Before you are riddled with guilt, know this: fleshy mushrooms will continue to expand and release spores even after you've picked them - if you pick one, photograph it, and return it to where you found it, you are doing no ecological harm (unless you trample the area while doing so). However large, perennial conks on trees should not be picked, for some grow for years in the same spot.

All-in-one shot. Leccinum snellii

Gill shots can be especially tricky - I carry a small piece of white foamcore (from an art store) to reflect light into the gills. This can be complicated with a smartphone, because it requires two hands. A small tripod (even one that holds a phone) can come in very handy for this.

A shot using reflected light. Sacodon imbricatus

You can also use your camera's flash, but this will often result in overexposed gills - especially with a smartphone.

A flash shot. Note the overexposed stipe. Suillus umbonatus

If you have a species in the family Boletaceae, you may have to slice the mushroom to expose the inside to air in order to look for a color change. Don't worry, it will still make spores once sliced open. Even if you don't have a bolete, a cross-section can often show gill details that you would otherwise miss.

Cross-section showing staining. Boletus coniferarum

It is also important to make notes (either on paper, mental, or digital) of any other details that you observe that aren't captured in your photographs. Is it growing from wood, and if so what kind? Is is on the ground? What are the nearest trees? Is is clustered with other mushrooms or solitary? Does it have a particular smell or texture?

Sometimes to identify a specimen to species, you may have to collect it (i.e. take it home). Rules vary from agency to agency, so check your local laws before collecting.

Once home, you will probably want to make a spore print - spore color is an early question that will be asked in a taxonomic key. Do this by slicing the cap off and laying it flat on a piece of aluminum foil in a quiet spot, away from windows or breezes. The spores will sometimes fall within an hour; other times you may have to wait overnight. Note: if your specimen is very old, it may not drop enough spores to see.

Making a spore print. Suillus umbonatus

After your spore print is visible, photograph it and add it to your observation on iNaturalist or Mushroom Observer ( Then you can fold up the foil and keep it for future reference or microscopy work (if you're a serious nerd).

Unfortunately, sometimes it is impossible to identify a mushroom from photographs alone, but following these photographic and documentation guidelines will greatly improve your chances.

Now get out there and enjoy the rain!

Posted by leftcoastnaturalist leftcoastnaturalist, October 20, 2014 23:12


Thank you! Great information for my future observations/photos/ID's.

Posted by connlindajo about 8 years ago (Flag)

Very helpful indeed!

Posted by gyrrlfalcon about 8 years ago (Flag)

Thanks for the tips.

Posted by royaltyler almost 8 years ago (Flag)


Posted by wisel almost 8 years ago (Flag)

Nice rundown, Trent!

Posted by leptonia almost 8 years ago (Flag)

I am new to this: I don't know how to post more than one photo of the same (possibly) fungus. Also, if I am not sure of the ID, will someone else ID it for me? Can I post photos with no ID? It's difficult for me to ID, as I am not sure what are identifying features, color or shape? sometimes none of the pictures looks like the mushroom I saw.

Posted by allisonblakeley about 2 years ago (Flag)

I want to join but don't have an education in fungi. Is it acceptable for me to post something that hasn't been identified? Do my fungi photos automatically show up when I join or do they need to be added individually? Thank you!

Posted by arlenedevitt almost 2 years ago (Flag)

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