Mushrooms: A Photographer’s Guide to Finding the Unexpected in the Dunes

By Mark Johnson

As a landscape photographer, I often like to take the big picture and encompass as much of what’s around me as possible. I also like to look for the unexpected, surprising and also patterns in nature. I feel these are the ingredients that make interesting pictures.

I live in North Devon and am a very frequent visitor to Woolacombe and its dunes. Like anyone, I’ll take pictures featuring the paths around the dunes and the ample grasses from above. However, if you take a much closer look down towards the ground, you’ll find some surprising things.

On one occasion in the summer of 2016 while spending a day at the beach, I really wanted to try find something different and started to look a lot closer to the sand beneath the grass. Firstly, I was interested in the stem of the Marram grass as it rises into the sunlight and I next I found some tiny and very photogenic flowers.

Marram grass Mark Johnson
Dune Flower Mark Johnson

Then I found some empty shells that made a really nice picture and was finally really excited and surprised to find a time delicate mushroom hidden amongst the grass. It was a sunny day and the mushroom was casting a beautiful lollipop shadow into the sand. I knew that if I got down to the level of the mushroom and done my best not to disturb the sand around it, I could get a really attractive picture featuring the mushroom, with its shadow and the beachside context. In the end it made such an interesting photo which is one of my favourite to this day.

I have since made sure I look out for these chaps on visiting the dunes when I know they appear in July and August. They’re known as Dune brittlestem and are saprotrophic on dead Marram grass. There are plenty about, but you have to be a little patient to spot your first one because their colour is so similar to the sand.

Dune Mushroom

Psathyrella ammophila is their Latin name and they are fairly common among coastal dunes around the UK and also other parts of Europe. Whenever I have seen them, they’re always on their own and fairly spaced out although they can be clustered into small groups.

So, next time you’re at the dunes, remember to have look out for the little things and prepare to be surprised. If you’re taking a picture, try and get down to the level of the subject and a bit of context adds even more interest!

Dune Mushroom with Shells
Dune Mushroom 2

About the author

Mark Johnson

Mark is a photographer based in North Devon. You can see more of his images on his Instagram account @markclintonjohnson