Q&A: Lisa Suits

Lisa Suits gives us the down low on macro photography and mushrooms.

Lisa Suits has a keen eye for spotting magnificent micro specimens with her macro lens. Five years ago, Suits set out on a hike with friends to check out an abundant score of chanterelle mushrooms. Little did she know, this trek would turn into a fascination with photographing the fruiting fungi. “I was taking pictures that day, and I don’t know, something clicked — or broke,” Suits says with a laugh. “I just started noticing them everywhere, and it just kept growing and growing.” Her knowledge expanded with her rising interest. She began classifying the mushrooms, and notoriety soon followed. Suits’ photographs are used by the Missouri Conservation Department for identification, and her blog, Mycologista, will be featured in the Library of Congress.

How many mushrooms have you photographed?

About 200 maybe? There are a lot of them. Maybe that’s a little high. At least 100. I take tons of pictures when I hike if it’s a good day. I’ve taken over 300 pictures in a five-hour hike. You’ve gotta take more than one because you might have missed it, or there might have been a stick in the way.

Do you have a method for photographing mushrooms?

Part of my trick is to imagine that I’m 3 or 4 inches tall, and imagine what it would be like to be standing right in front of it. It’s in a little world, and you’ve got to see if you can capture more than just that thing in the frame. With the whole environment that it’s in, you get some perspective on its little world. But I don’t stress on it when I’m doing it; I don’t think about it. I just look at what’s in the frame and wonder how it would look to someone else when they saw it. Is it boring, or could it be a little more interesting if I moved over a little bit?

Have you had any interesting hiking experiences?

I found a big silky cocoon on the ground, and I picked it up and thought, “Huh, that seems kind of heavy,” so I put it in my pocket and kept hiking. I was going back to the car to get some snacks or something, so I took it out of my pocket and was going to put it by a tree because it felt like there might have been a caterpillar in there, like it was a viable cocoon. I put it by a tree and went hiking. When I came back, it had emerged, and it was a gigantic beautiful moth. I think I took about 87 pictures of it. There was no one there to show. I was by myself, and I saw some lady walking her dogs, and I said, “Come here; you’ve got to see this moth!” She did, and she was very appreciative. I ran into her two years later, and she remembered me. She said, “You’re the moth lady!”

What characteristics help you identify a mushroom?

There are lots. Where they grow — if they’re growing in the ground or on a tree or in a grassy field. The time of year, the color, the color of the cap and the color of the gills, the stem and the texture of the cap, sometimes even details about the gills themselves. They’re not just smooth; sometimes they’ll be jagged. The smell, sometimes. Which is pretty subjective, but some of them are pretty unmistakable.

If you could travel anywhere to shoot mushrooms, where would you go?

Oregon. It’s like the Mecca of mushrooms in the country because it’s so moist, and there’s lots of rainfall, which is the most important thing that mushrooms need. If there’s not enough rain, there are not going to be any mushrooms.

What kind of photography did you do before mushrooms?

None! I just can’t seem to take good pictures other than macro things. I don’t know what it is, macro is just my thing.

Why do you think this kind of photography is important?

I do it pretty purely for my own pleasure, for my friends and those people who seem to be interested in it as well. It’s just fun to share your little discoveries. It’s always great when people learn new things about the world and their environment. It’s like when you travel to another country, it opens your eyes. There’s more to the world than lawns and parks. The sheer number of amazing little details in the world out there is just mind boggling. Enthusiasm about a little wonder that you’ve found can rub off, and if that keeps rolling on and expanding, that might make a difference.