After walking Annie around the block every morning I usually spend a few minutes in the back yard letting her sniff around and chase chipmunks. For the last couple weeks we have had a spider stretching a web each evening across from our deck stairs to a nearby Hickory. At least twice my wife and I have done a face plant right into the web in the dark. There is something in our DNA that says that’s a bad thing.
This morning as Annie was running around I notice the web was still up and our inch long spider was hanging around in the center of the 3 foot wide web. As I looked over I watched a bee fly close and make a fatal left right into the lower part of the web. Our spider flashed across, grabbed the bee and began rolling it up in webbing. It was incredibly fast. I thought it might make an interesting photo so I grabbed the Canon 5D II and a 100 macro. I shot a few but the exposure was 60th at 2.8 at ISO 800. There was nothing exactly ‘wrong’ with those shots but I knew that exposure would likely show a lot of camera motion and look ‘noisy’ or grainy, losing detail. I also knew there was no way I could have the whole scene in focus. In addition it meant the background would be as bright as the foreground and distract from the spider.
He was still working on his capture so I thought I had time to work on mine too. I went back inside and grabbed a Canon 580 EXII speed light and a Pocket Wizard remote trigger. That let me move the flash around independent of the camera. I was immediately able to lower my ISO to 200, reducing the ‘noise’ in the photo and get more detail. I was also able to then change my aperture to 11 and 16 and get so much more of the drama in focus and finally my shutter speed moved from an unsteady 60th of a second. I bounced around shutter speed between 100 and 250. At 250 I didn’t have any background at all, just black behind the scene. I liked that fine but ended up slowing back down to 100th and trying several where I had sky areas behind the spider to give it a sense-of-place. Too much sky washed out the web so I experimented with angles there trying to add drama to the web. I did like the shot across the web surface but couldn’t work close enough for fear of entangling myself in the web. As it was Annie was so curious she kept bumping one edge making the web bounce.
My first shots with flash were with it backlighting the scene. They were dramatic but didn’t give me the detail I wanted. I moved the flash several times experimenting with side angles and finally some directly above the scene from about 15 inches away. I probably could have done even more with a second light but I like blending one light with the natural light.