It probably goes without saying that if you’re an arachnophobe, it might be best to look away now…
Until recently I’d never tried photographing spiders, but being the exceptionally cool person I am, I joined a spider walk just before I left Bristol. Led by the extremely knowledgeable Mark Pajak, we spent a couple of hours wandering down the Avon Gorge looking for spiders and identifying them. The diversity took me by surprise, so when I got back to Coventry I thought I’d try to track down a few for myself.
Not so much variety here! Almost every spider in the garden seems to be the same species. What I can find lots of are Cross Spiders (Araneus diadematus), named for the distinctive cross marking on the abdomen.
Fortunately with a bit of imagination, the number of different shots you can get from a single species – or even an individual spider – is surprisingly high. This is especially true if you give up on natural light and play with a flash or two instead.
The key to the shot below was to poke holes through a piece of cardboard that originally held the pie I’d just eaten for dinner. I propped up the card behind the spider (who was considerate enough to sit still throughout his impromptu photoshoot) and lined him up with one of the holes. Fire a flash behind the card and through the hole, and you get a cool spider silhouette suspended in an octagon of light. A simple, cheap, and effective way to get a unique image!
The red colour on the left of the photo was the unexpected result of using food packaging as a backdrop. It seems Linda McCartney likes to use a bold crimson to make her products stand out on the shelves.
And by the way, I feel justified in calling this spider ‘he’ rather than ‘it’, because of the large palps at the front of his body. Bizarrely, it’s often easier to determine the sex of a spider than it is to determine its species.
Flash-lit spider photography doesn’t always need to involve the haphazard stabbing of a piece of cardboard. This next shot was of the exact same individual spider, again lit entirely by a single flash. But this time the flash was held up behind and off to the left of the picture, completely unobstructed by food packaging. This let the light shine through the spider and reflect off his web, revealing its structure against an unlit black background.
When you’re making the light, you really are limited only by creativity. Or boredom and frustration, as it can take a painfully long time to get everything right with no natural light and very small subjects.
Next up is the photo that started my spider-photographing spree, although it’s still my favourite of the lot. I’d set my alarm for a painfully early hour to cycle over to a nearby meadow, ready to shoot some butterflies or some other pretty creatures in the beautiful morning light that the weather forecast promised.
As ever, the weather forecast lied.
Not to be outdone, I found another Cross Spider that had spun its web between the leaves of a large pot plant, and I decided to make my own sunrise. All it took was a few layers of orange tissue paper, a headtorch and an elastic band, and suddenly I had a personal star I could carry around in my pocket. By shining it directly behind the spider, the resulting image could well have been taken in front of the glowing red orb of a spectacular rising sun.
The weather was kinder a few days later. With heavy fog oppressing the streets, everything was laden with dew. When the sun finally started to make itself known later on, all the spider webs began to shimmer and shine in the light, practically begging to be photographed.
Shots of dewy spiders and their webs are a massive photographic cliché, but they’re overdone for a reason – it’s great fun and they can look spectacular! There are certainly much more impressive examples out there than what I’ve managed here.
Apart from the disturbingly large and long-legged house spiders that move far too quickly for my liking, the only other spider species I’ve had the chance to photograph was this little guy. This is a Zebra Jumping Spider, and it’s about as close as any arachnid is ever going to come to being cute.
Jumping spiders are absolutely tiny, but also remarkably inquisitive. They have exceptionally good eyesight compared to other spiders because they’re active hunters, running around to look for prey rather than spinning a web and waiting.
Zebra Spiders seem to be actively interested in humans and will often turn to look at you when you look at them, and they sometimes behave differently when they know they’re being watched. This is actually referenced in their Latin name Salticus scenicus, which literally means ‘theatrical jumper’. Very appropriate!
That’s all I’ve got to share this time around, but if you want to see more of my photography and hear the stories behind the shots, please put your email in the box in the sidebar to receive monthly email updates. No spam and no more spiders any time soon, I promise!