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I met my students from the “Communicating Science Through Photography” seminar at Sharon Woods yesterday morning. It was a cold and blustery Autumn morning with temperatures in the 40’s (°F for my non-American readers), and rain and sleet coming down at various intervals. The wind made it challenging for macro photography, but I had something in mind that wouldn’t matter if the wind was shaking the subject around. My very supportive spouse gave me an early birthday present – a Canon MP-E65 mm lens! This is an extreme macro lens that goes from life size (1X) to five times that magnification (5X). I already had the Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX flash system, which is a must have for this lens, and so I decided to give the new lens first light on a patch of lichen that was growing at the base of a large oak tree.

I thought I was just going to be doing some texture/geometry photos, but I actually saw something I’ve never seen before – what I thought was a lichen fruiting body, but turns out to be a Mycena corticola mushroom (thanks, Bob Klips, for the correction). Lichens are symbiotic organisms – a collaboration between a fungus and a photosynthetic organism – usually an algae. Most of the time one just sees a patch of crusty stuff on the side of a tree or a rock or old brick wall. It’s much more interesting than that, of course, but you have to use a magnifying glass to see the wonderful microscopic ecosystem that exists there. I noticed very small insect exoskeletons sprinkled throughout this patch, and lots of silk threads from spider webs. It’s a mysterious hidden world down there in that patch of crust! I never expected to see tiny mushrooms, though – Mycena corticola is a free-living bark mushroom. Pretty awesome, I think.

So, here’s one of the first images from the new lens. It’s a real challenge to use, as most people who have tried it will agree. First of all, you focus this lens by moving it into position – no autofocus, no manual focus ring – just move into place until the subject is in focus. Easier said than done, and my first images could be much better if I had been using a tripod and focusing rail. That will be the next steps. I think I’m going to love the challenge of exploring the microscopic world, though.

Lichen fruiting body - Photo by Andi Wolfe ©2014. Please do not use this image without my permission.

Mycena corticola mushroom – peeking out from behind a lichen – Photo by Andi Wolfe ©2014. Please do not use this image without my permission.