Photographing Spider Webs, 1


Basic Web Photo

Technical – Nikon D300, Nikon 105mm 1:1 macro, 1/160 sec, f/5.6, EV=-0.33, ISO1600, WB=Cloudy, center-weighted metering, aperture priority, RAW capture, tripod, circular polarizer, manual focus

Essentials –

  • Camera alignment with web (tripod)
  • Fast shutter speed and/or no breeze
  • Examine the settings above for clues & hints

Composition – Composition deals with the arrangement (syntax) of the “words” of visual design which are points, lines, shapes, texture & tone.

Webs mostly limit our words to shapes & lines
An important syntactical element that we can use in our arrangements is the notion of visual rhythm (if you’re serious about your photography, follow that short link – Cornell Univ.)
This image’s composition is all about the rhythmic arrangement of lines, pure & simple


If done right then almost no post-processing should be required; maybe a little tonal contrast adjustment.

A basic web image is one with –

  1. Every strand and dew drop tack sharp from top to bottom & left to right. To do this means –
    • The camera sensor plane and the plane of the web must be absolutely parallel
    • The focal distance to any point of the web must not change
  2. No distracting background

To accomplish #1, ideally you need a tripod, a good eye to judge parallelism, and no breeze and/or a fast shutter speed
You can see that between #1 & #2 there are conflicts.

Tack sharp usually suggests a stopped down aperture. Fast shutter speed requires just the opposite. Ditto with the background with no distractions (selective focus) means an open aperture which conflicts with the tack sharp web requirement for stopping down.
These conflicting requirements are best satisfied if (only if?) you can keep the sensor/web geometry under control. This means getting the sensor and web planes parallel (I can’t emphasize this enough!!) and keeping them that way (no breeze helps else shooting a fast series as described in this post on wild flowers in the wind may save you).

Your best opportunity is early morning. You don’t do early?? Forget about webs then.

This is when you’ll find dew drops
The lowest wind/breeze of the day is before the sun rises. Check it out sometime – watch a still web begin to dance uncontrollably within minutes of the sun appearing over the horizon. It’s an obvious phenomenon – the sun’s rays begin to warm the air which causes air currents. It doesn’t take much – almost nothing – to move a spider web.
Be prepared to get a little wet stomping around in the weeds. I did mention that you’re not working at eye level, didn’t I? 😉
Be very careful setting up your tripod not to disturb or break the web. The strands go everywhere and you’re likely to break some when your tripod moves nearby vegetation.
I use manual focus (actually my macro lens is always set to manual focus; with a very shallow DOF I want to choose the focal point precisely and auto focus can’t help me with that)
Examine the four edges of the frame very, very carefully. If all four are not tack sharp, adjust your camera’s alignment – PARALLEL!. Consider Live View with a big-time zoom of your display and panning your view around the four edges.
A characteristic of a quality macro lens is that its edge sharpness is better than a regular lens (hint, hint)

Like almost anything requiring skill, successfully making web images takes practice. Don’t be discouraged. Basic web photography is as technically demanding as it gets photographically. Not rocket science, though. 😉
Tomorrow I’ll discuss getting a little fancier. Here’s that post. The 3rd & final post, the grand finale, illustrates making artful web abstracts that will WOW! your viewers.
Here are samplers from post #2 and #3 –
Here are some more basic webs (both in the form of a slide show & a gallery – take your pick). Click on any gallery image to enlarge.


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