The beauty of autumn dew on a spider's web
Arachnophobia or the fear of spiders is the oldest and most common phobia in the Western culture. The word Arachnophobia is derived from the Greek word ‘arachne’ meaning spiders.
If you have this fear you may wish to skip this blog and tune in again tomorrow.
In Victoria Australia we have just kicked into Autumn; strangely we do not follow the dates of the Equinox like nearly all other countries. Actually, I am not sure of any other country where the seasons commence on the 1st of the month.
For a country with a small population, we like to punch above our weight of doing this differently.
Spider silk is incredibly tough and is stronger by weight than steel. Quantitatively, spider silk is five times stronger than steel of the same diameter.
What we will be looking at today is the beauty of spiders’ webs and how to photograph them, often easier to photograph with the sun shining on the autumn dew lingering on the web.
Photo tips and photos courtesy of Darren Rowse (digital-photography-school.com) and I have thrown in some fun facts for those that like these. The facts are courtesty of Russell McLendon (mnn.com).
1. Shoot on a still day
Spider’s webs are incredibly light and if there’s even a hint of breath in the air they’re likely to move as you photograph them. This has the potential to not only cause blur in your shot – but also movement will shake off any moisture on them and potentially could even break them. Generally, the stillest part of the day is early morning (which is also a great time for finding dew covered webs).
It has been suggested that a Boeing 747 could be stopped in flight by a single pencil-width strand and spider silk is almost as strong as Kevlar, the toughest man-made polymer.
2. Be an environmentally friendly photographer
Remember that where there’s a web there’s a little (or not so little) creature that made it.
It is finer than the human hair (most threads are a few microns in diameter) and is able to keep its strength below -40°C.
3. Find a dark background
The backgrounds of all shots are important as they either add to or distract from the shot. With spider’s webs it is particularly important to have a plain and preferably dark background. This will enable the web itself to stand out and be the feature of the shot.
4. Narrow your Depth of Field
To isolate the web further from your plain and dark background choose a large aperture (small ‘f/number’) to give you a shallow depth of field. This will throw your background out of focus.
The diving bell spider spends almost its entire life underwater. It only leaves its air chamber to grab prey or replenish the air supply, but even that doesn't happen very often, since the silk bubble can draw in dissolved oxygen from the water outside.
5. Shoot from head on
Photographing webs from all angles can leave you with interesting results – however getting directly in front of the web and shooting from straight on will enable you to keep the full web in focus as the distance from your lens to all parts of the web will be similar – negating any narrow depth of field you might have. Of course, you might also like some shallow depth of field shots (large apertures for these) from different angles to see what effect you can get.
6. Use Manual Focussing
Switching your camera to manual mode is something that most macro photographers find helpful because even the slightest changes in focussing can have a large impact. As webs are so fine even being slightly out of focus can ruin your shot.
"Most spiders have poor eyesight and rely almost exclusively on the vibration of the silk in their web for sensory information." "The sound of silk can tell them what type of meal is entangled in their net and about the intentions and quality of a prospective mate. By plucking the silk like a guitar string and listening to the 'echoes,' the spider can also assess the condition of its web," according to researchers from the Oxford Silk Group at Oxford University.
Keeping the web still by shooting on a still day is important – but so is keeping your camera still. The intricate details of a web on a contrasting background mean that camera movement will be very noticeable.
8. Dew on the Web
One of the classic photos of spider’s webs are those with dew or rain droplets on them. The great thing about moisture on a web is that it widens the web slightly and helps it to stand out more clearly.
9. Fill Your Frame
Use your zoom to get in as close as you can to the spider’s web. If you’ve got a macro lens or macro mode switch to it to help you focus up nice and close. Another framing is to focus upon just a smaller part of the web and the patterns that you see there. In this way you can end up with some real detail and abstract composition.
An individual spider can typically make at least three or four kinds of silk, and some orb weavers can make seven. Spiders often replace their webs every day, sometimes even if they still seem perfectly fine, before spending their evenings waiting for prey.
10. Shoot from both sides
Sometimes a web can look quite dull and lifeless from one side while the other side has the light falling upon it in a way that just brings it to life! This will also help you to see the web with a different background.
Humans have been co-opting spider silk for thousands of years. Polynesian anglers have long relied on its toughness to help them catch fish, for example, a method still used in some places. Ancient Greek and Roman soldiers used cobwebs to stop wounds from bleeding, while people in the Carpathian Mountains treated wounds with the silk tubes of purse web spiders. Its toughness and elasticity likely made it well-suited for covering wounds, but spider silk was reportedly thought to have antiseptic properties, too.