In my last sketchbook post, I included a photograph of a spider that inspired a sub-project within my ongoing macro project. Over the summer, our garden was overrun with European garden spiders (Araneus diadematus), and they’d made webs everywhere imaginable. I initially tried to just improve on the previous attempt, looking for bigger spiders to fill the frame. But as I photographed them, I saw more possibilities, and decided to try creating a (small) body of work focused on spiders. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been developing the first images for the collection. I want to include a straightforward ‘portrait’ of a spider, and I’ve been working on some possibilities.
The two shots above are the the kind of thing I had in mind as ‘portraits’. These were much bigger spiders than the one in the sketch in my previous post, so they take up more of the frame and reduce the amount of black background. In both cases, I wanted the web to be a significant element in the design and to provide lines that would lead the eye to the spider. In the first, the front-on view suited a central placement of the spider, with the web around it. In the second, I’ve photographed from an oblique angle, which worked better with the subject off centre and the lines of the web leading to it. I’ve also rotated this image in processing to give more dramatic angles in the frame, and I think this gives the image a lot of energy. Between the two, I think these angles give the second image a dynamism that makes it more engaging to look at than the first, but I think the first puts the spider front and centre, and there’s a lot of detail to look at. I’m not sure they should both be part of the final collection, but I’m not sure at the moment which is more worthy of a place.
Unlike the two fairly generic images above, this one is more of an individual portrait that I like to think captures some of the spider’s character. This spider had made its web between two pot plants on our patio and sat there all summer. Every time I stepped out of the French windows onto the patio, it ran from the centre of its web to one of the plants. I don’t know if there is a behavioural reason for this, but a second spider subsequently made its web parallel to this one’s, and that one didn’t run, so I came to believe that this individual was just a bit of a scaredy cat. What’s more, I noticed that when it ran and sat on a leaf, it put its front four legs around its face as if it were hiding – this seems to be a behaviour of this species, as I noticed other individuals do it too. I therefore wanted to capture this one in its ‘scared’ pose on the leaf – it wasn’t difficult because it ran there every time I got near. In developing this image, I cropped so that the spider was at the extreme edge of the frame to convey the idea that it’s hiding in the corner. Including the whole leaf gives more context and shows where it’s come from. I find that in images like this, green can overpower everything, so I’ve desaturated the greens to some extent. I’ve also pushed hue of the greens slightly towards blue, and increased the saturation of oranges and reds in the spider to some extent. The idea is to exploit the complementarity of orange–blue and red–green to make the spider ‘pop’ a little more.
Many images of spiders, particularly when they’re sitting on their web, are taken to show the ‘top’ of the spider, like my first two images above. I also wanted to get an image of a spider from its front while it was sitting on its web – a view that is much less common, but which I thought would be more dramatic. It proved more difficult than I imagined, and took several goes with several spiders. Obviously webs are always made pretty much vertically, so I had to shoot upwards. This made it awkward to get close enough to the spider without disturbing the web, and the light fall off from my flash combined with the almost vertical angle so that the background – usually a wall – was bright at the bottom of the frame, but faded to black by the top. This spider had made its web in front of a window that, at the angle i was shooting from, reflected the sky. This meant the background lighting didn’t rely on my flash, keeping it even and fairly dark, but not black, which I like. As for the other images, I wanted the web to be a significant element, but for it to be more like a surface that the spider is sitting on. It works again to provide leading lines, and I really like the shape of the spider when viewed from this angle.
As well as portrait images that focused on the spider, I also wanted an image in which the intricacies of the web were as much the subject as the spider itself. This photograph was opportunistic – it was raining, and the water on the web made its lines more obvious. It’s actually taken through a window, which wasn’t ideal, but taking the picture from the other side would have meant there would be reflections from the window, the spider would have been behind the web, and the water droplets wouldn’t have been backlit in the same way. At the time I took it, I didn’t expect much from the result, and the image straight out of the camera was underwhelming – the contrast was low because of the window glass, and the web wasn’t that obvious. I thought it had potential though, and developed it to reduce colour saturation in the background and increase the clarity and contrast. These changes pulled the web out, and made it much more prominent as the subject. I cropped to place the spider so that it pulls the eye, but not so much to detract from the web as the subject. As it happens, the spider is sitting at the centre of the golden spiral that starts from the top right, although I didn’t use the spiral to determine the placement. If you look at the image full size, the window glass has clearly affected the resolution, but if you don’t pixel peep, I think the image largely works overall. My main doubt is the amount of bokeh that I’ve got in the background – I’ve dampened it to some extent, but I’m not sure whether it still interferes or adds to the atmosphere.
I’m yet to decide which of these will go into my project gallery, but would love to hear any thoughts, either below, or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.