Digital photography of the natural world is some of the most interesting, dramatic and spectacular pictures that any photographer can add to his or her portfolio. The subject matter can be massive, a mountain range or seaside cliff, or small, a flower petal, an insect’s wing or the slight body of a spider. Spider webs and their residents are excellent subject matter for nature photographers, those that want to become one or just as a challenge to improve one’s photography skills. The spider’s body is tiny and the strands of the web are both strong and delicate, but together they create an object more substantial than the separate parts. It’s this contrast and synergy that attracts so many people and photographers to spider webs.
This PhotographyTalk.com article presents 11 tips to help you capture better pictures of spider webs.
Shoot when there is no wind.
Early morning is typically the time of day when the air is most still. In addition, as mentioned in many of the PhotographyTalk.com articles on nature photography, early morning light can also be the best throughout the day. Of course, you want no wind or air movement of any kind, including caused by you, because the depth of a spider web is incredibly miniscule, which means your depth of field is also very narrow. The slightest movement, and the web is no longer in focus.
Watch the dew.
Early morning is also when dew will likely be clinging to the Web. The moisture tends to swell the strands, making them more visible. That makes for great photos, but if there is any wind, the weight of the dewdrops could also break the web strands. This same tip applies to raindrops.
There may be no wind, but that doesn’t mean your camera can’t move, so plan on using a tripod whenever photographing spider webs.
Protect the critters.
Like any environmentally conscious photographer/naturalist, please leave the area of a spider web exactly as you found it, including the spider that lives there.
Select the right background.
Even though it may not be in focus, the background of any photo is an integral part of its composition. That’s why the best kind of background for spider web pictures is consistent and dark. You want the light to make the strands appear white, or light, and be clearly seen against a dark background. (Read the PhotographyTalk.com article, Beginner Photography—Put the Background in Its Place, for more information about backgrounds.)
Compose with a shallow depth of field.
If you’re standing parallel to a spider web, then you don’t need or want much depth of field to isolate it from the foreground and background. To narrow the depth of field, select a large aperture (small f number).
Take a parallel position.
As suggested above, the view of the spider web that you want to make sure you take is standing parallel to the plane of the web. This allows you to move closer or farther, so you can show the entire web or just the spider at the center waiting for its next meal. Change your angle to the plane of the web to determine if there are other interesting photos to take. You may have to adjust aperture to increase the depth of field to see more of the “surface” of the web in focus at an angle.
When you shoot in close-up, or macro, mode, focusing on a small part of the web, you should use manual focus mode. There is so little margin of focus error that you don’t want to rely on your camera’s auto-focus.
Standing too far from the subject is one of the major mistakes of amateur photographers. Spider webs are generally more interesting the closer you are. Move close, and then move even closer, to fill the frame dramatically with the subject. Shoot with a macro lens or switch to macro mode, and you’ll be forced to be close to bring the web, spider, etc. into focus.
Go 180 Degrees.
Move completely around the spider web to see how differently you can photograph it from both sides. The direction of the light will change, of course, which can create an excellent image. A change of background could also result in interesting pictures you wouldn’t want to miss.
Try the Light of a Flash.
Spider webs are one of many kinds of nature photographs that are improved with the use of flash as a fill light.