Here’s the shot that defines my boundaries between fear and photo. I wasn’t prepared for the series because I was brought to the location very nonchalantly. It wasn’t a place where I could have expected to see anything the least bit scary. And I just happened to have my camera in my hand when I was asked to see this. But fear didn’t even cross my mind even tho this is one of the few living creatures of which I’ve had very bad encounters. I still don’t feel it: you know, that “OMG! did I DO that???” moment. I honestly think I lost my ‘natural self’ inside my Nikon D90 and shot 3 dozen images as simply a photographer.

The black widow spider is probably in the Top 10 list of mostly widely-known dangerous creatures, and in the Top 3 mostly widely-known dangerous spiders. I’ve been bitten twice by the female black widow spider, the most venomous spider in North America, and neither time was good. Both sent me to the hospital. I have major fear of snakes, scorpions, and Black Widow spiders. I stared down a common (and completely non-dangerous) Water Snake and you can see that single occasion in my Face-to-face gallery. I got stung by a scorpion and wound up with a major (tho highly localized) staff infection that required 48-hour intervenous intervention. But the Black Widow bites were the worst. I can’t even pretend to “share” a square mile with a Widow. For me, they are to be pursued and killed with extreme prejudice if I know one is anywhere near me.

All that said and I stood no more than 4 inches from the biggest one I’ve seen, easily 3/4 of an inch. (They average 1/2 inch or 1 1/2 inches with legs spread out). It was a wild experience and this is one of the images I took as I watched a little horror from so close I couldn’t focus the 18-105mm lens.

The interesting stuff…

Location: this is the weird part. The spider was living in a mostly-exposed, 90 degree acute angle of an exterior corner of a building. The only Widows I’ve previously experienced were in cool, damp, mostly dark places or (like the one that crawled up my pants to bite me) in wooded environments where they could hide easily. There was no place this Widow could retreat that wouldn’t be readily visible. (If that previous geometric garcon was strange to you, the translation is “the usual shape of a corner inside your house”. I like to use descriptions that bewilder me when I read someone else writing them).

Webbing: Widows are “cob weavers” and make sticky & dense but irregular webs. I sat and watched this insect create about 20 lines of webbing and ALL of it was in a pattern. There were even insect corpses dangling from parts of it. It may be that these spiders actually do create patterned webs but “overwrite” them so many times they only seem random. I don’t know and since I kill them on sight, I haven’t seen one moving except to get away from whatever I’m using to smash it.

Camera: My Nikon D90 has never been fitted with a true macro lens. Good ones cost more than twice what the camera is worth. :-O I used the standard kit lens and moved my camera into the closest focal range. In the ‘heat of the moment’ tho I forgot a key piece of Photographer’s Basic Rules: change the aperture to increase/decrease depth of field. My mind said ‘get the shot first and foremost’ so I went full automatic and never thought about it since the flash never popped up. Usually when the camera’s flash pops up, it sets off my warning bells that the shot is gonna look cheesy. Since it didn’t, I kept shooting to get as many images as possible to capture something usable, maybe even GOOD. The result was that I lost clean focus on the whole of the Widow and only captured cleanly whatever was in the ‘spot focus’ rectangle in the view finder. That wasn’t bad per se but it wasn’t as good as it could have been.

Technique: I shot with the highest resolution I could and sprayed out as much as 4.5 images per second. That’s fine when everything is already set and perfect; that’s bad when a bug moves. The Nikon D90 has 3 focusing modes under these circumstances: automatic (where the camera keeps deciding if the subject is in focus and only shoots when something appears to be); single (where it gets a lock on something and keeps shooting as if nothing is changing); and continuous (which is a complete FUBAR cluster-f where the camera does whatever it thinks you want it to do even tho it can’t “think”. The shutter will open and close no matter what’s not in focus). I shot in auto which wasn’t completely bad since it always got something in focus before making an image but it also stopped the camera from shooting some good shots and grabbed some perfect shots… of the web and wall).

Options: I had the presence of mind to go into “movie mode” for a bit. That mode on the D90 is iffy at best but it WILL give you a feel for the action long after the action has stopped. I got just enough video to verify what I thought I saw with my eyes and that was the fact that this spider wasn’t just weaving a random web. The bonus was that it got the actual spinnerets making the web! That was well worth the 95% worthless “movie”.


The Bloody Details (so I can submit this to certain unnamed groups. LOL!)

Nikon D90
Nikkor 18-105mm lens
f/stop: 5.6
Exposure time: 1/125 sec.
ISO: 1250
Exposure bias: zip
Nikon Creative mode: flat
Metering Mode: pattern
No flash.
No dead bugs (except see below).
No dangerous risks. The spider was never closer than 3 inches from the lens
Compass direction: east, north-east
Location: Rancho Cordova, CA
Time: 10:57am
Date: 8/26/2010
Editing program: Adobe PhotoShop Elements 7.0
Computer: Toshiba Satellite laptop


I went out for seconds 1 hour and 45 minutes later only to find some oily spots on the wall, a web that was suddenly much more visible, and one very dead Black Widow. I have mixed feelings about that for the first time in my life. I can stick my hand into a beehive and know I’m risking serious injury but I can’t stand the thought of sleeping anywhere near where a Black Widow might be lurking. But to kill such a beastie just minutes after I captured its image was heartrending. Worse, this Widow was unusably large, had fresh kills hanging on the web and completely undisturbed by me or my camera poking into her world; she had to have been there a while and become accustomed to people sitting no more than 36 inches from her.


This piece was featured in Image Writing Group and that makes my day cuz I wrote a LOT of detail. LOL!

I’m a “scatter-focus” artist. ANYTHING may be here or roundabout my galleries. Expect nothing anywhere and you’ll always be OK. ;-)

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Comments

  • Karen  Betts
    Karen Bettsover 4 years ago

    OH wow what a wondeeful looking Spider and Im NOT a spider person. the colour and red gives off that warning sign. I know what you mean by photgrapher and camera takes over you other self that would not be there is forgotten. I can see whyyou would feel sad at the loss of the spider even for the photgraphic oppurtunities.

  • You hit the nail on the head on all counts. Thank you! Spiders in general used to spook me as a (gasp!) kid but I got over that primal fear until getting bitten. Even the non-dangerous ones keep me wary these days. :-)

    – Lenny La Rue, IPA

  • Anne-Marie Bokslag
    Anne-Marie Bok...over 4 years ago

  • Way cool! Thank you. If I got paid-by-the-word I’d be a billionaire even if a big part was fluff. I can easily settle for more humble but significant achievements. :-D

    – Lenny La Rue, IPA

  • Ray Clarke
    Ray Clarkeover 4 years ago

  • Thank you very much! Any closer and I’d have had to ask for a dance. :-O

    – Lenny La Rue, IPA

  • crackedpot
    crackedpotover 4 years ago

    It’s very similar to the Red Back which lives in Australia. In fact, experts now think it may not be native to Australia but a deviant of the American Black Widow. It is the only spider I deliberately kill – nay, that I seek out to kill. They kill pets as well, which is my main concern. Hot summer nights bring them out of their hidey holes….
    You did well Lenny – acted like a true photographer:-)

  • Thank you very much, babe! I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if a mutant American spider was vexing your continent. Insects are one of the few “hitchhikers” I can accept as unforeseeable problems. What happened here is plain criminal. Sacramento has a levee system to keep the two large rivers from flooding the town yearly. It’s being ruined by some small fuzzy crabs that got here from ships that didn’t dump their ballast water before coming into port and they loaded their water with the pests in Asia. (And more the 80 miles inland, Sacramento has a major port). Those monsters were avoidable but we’ll never get rid of them nor know who infected us. They are a part of the ecosystem now and even finding a way to eradicate them would cause a chain reaction of misery, especially for shore birds.

    When researching Widows for the series, I found mention of various different appearances even locally. The shape is pretty unique but even the markings and body colour may be ‘wrong’. I was NOT amused. But the location of this one was highly unusual because there was no place to hide and it was out in broad daylight just as bold as a common jumping spider. If larger and bolder Widows are a trend, I’m in trouble; the squirrels, Jill, and every other creature in Weedy Field may be in trouble. :-(

    – Lenny La Rue, IPA

  • Karirose
    Kariroseover 4 years ago

    Looks like an amazing shot to me, Lenny. I have never thought about Black Widows being the focus of a photograph since they are usually the focus of the bottom of my shoe. (Kahlan also likes to use the bottom of my shoe and has been seen to run in the house, grab one of my shoes, run out, smash a spider, run back in and put my shoe away. Mind you, she’s wearing her own shoes… lol) Your video sounds very interesting. Well done, oh brave photographer. :)

  • My heart’s with Kahlan’s sensibilities a lot more than mine that day. There are times I can just do stupid things FIRST, well before anything like common sense (or even a healthy fear of nasty stuff) licks in. I’d smash a Widow if I knew where one was at this very moment. Better than that, I wouldn’t use MY shoe, either. LOL!

    – Lenny La Rue, IPA

  • rocamiadesign
    rocamiadesignover 4 years ago

    Awesome shot, Lenny! I applaud your courage. There’s no way I would go anywhere near one to get a photo. Shaun has to take all the spider photos in our home. My son, Brian, has been bitten by a black widow. He normally has a very high toleration to pain, but he admitted that it was very painful. Another son got bitten by a fiddle spider in boot camp. That took several months to heal because it causes a wound similar to the flesh eating virus. The biggest consolation for me, living in such a cold place, is that we don’t have venomous spiders or snakes around here. I loved growing up in California, but I can do without all the nasty little creatures down there. My only bad experience growing up, though, was trying to play with a nest of fire ants. I guess I was very fortunate.

  • I prefer exactly the sort climate where I get into these bugs’ space: cool, damp, undisturbed. I was expecting to find plenty when I repaired some outdoor stairs in the woods but only found one and smashed her mostly likely because she wouldn’t abandon a lumpy bundle nearby… :-O (Two generations + one 2×4, = zero bad feelings).

    Cool places are cool but you’ve got other things to worry about: polar bears wandering about with bad GPS; tons of rain to the west and desert to the east (Where can you run for tsunamis?); mating Elephant seals who suddenly feel all warm and fuzzy towards you; and quick mud that wouldn’t stop at sucking off your shoes. It can leave you naked!

    Fire ants need to be labeled by the Federal government: “Warning! Not safe for kids under 250 years old.” So small, so painful! Up there you need to avoid the trees. I don’t know if fire ants had adapted to living in them but OUR ants have. Makes for suddenly shortened and noisy photo shoots.

    This is bad because it shows one of the very rare times when I was mean and cruel to animals but I need to confess. My mom was into pottery for a while and after she created a KILLER chess set for me, she left her supplies on the back patio. Doing what I do best, I crawled around home exploring (I had to be something like17 but I still crawl a lot. Weird.) I crawled to a line of ants and followed them to their home inside a piece of firewood. They weren’t planning very well and left only one entrance & exit. To be honest, a couple stray ants got on me and that scared me badly for a moment thinking I’d accidentally diverted their thick line of march up my pants leg. My response was bad-bad and I’m ashamed: I got a nearly full can of pottery glaze and made a frozen line of right into the hole.

    I smiled a bit then realized the marching didn’t stop elsewhere so I had to do it again, creating a dual level ‘still life’ sans camera. After about 10 layers the ants got adaptive, realized their mistake at the log, and started tunneling out behind the original now-plugged. I plugged that hole as soon as 100 or more were out and looking for each other (or me). And this time the spray didn’t work; they tunneled right thru it since the ants at the bottom of the pile weren’t glued. Now I’m fighting a war at both ends of the log cuz some of the marchers changed their route into the log and wound up joining that group. There were just too many coming out where there should have been only a limited supply trapped in the log by both ends.

    This horrible war ended when I was overrun by the sheer numbers of ants and an empty glaze bottle. I backed away and was soon extremely impressed with the LARGE black mass covering the logs. Many were carrying larva so this must have been the relocation of a very big hive.

    Guilt is a strange thing in me. It lingers forever. I was one of the last employees forced to take a lie detector test for casual employment. In a week or two the California banned it for all but jobs more sensitive than working a one-person grocery store. I passed my test because I failed it so spectacularly. I wasn’t guilty of any crime but my overall quilt level kept forces the test to stop while I explained my true answer. Admitting I’d completely disregarded others’ lives on occasion (like this one) racked me with what the tester concluded was a guy plagued by already feeling too badly about doing wrong to ants to commit a human crime. Turns out he was correct. But my “guilty nature” has turned me towards saving and photographing lives and pottery glaze is no longer in risk if short supply in Sacramento.

    Whew. Glad I did all that confession on MY post or I’d feel guilty right up until some member killed my verbose ass. :-O

    – Lenny La Rue, IPA

  • jeffrae
    jeffraeover 4 years ago

    You make me laugh…you have a poetic way of describing things and some of them like this I can totally relate to…I do the same thing with bees and I am allergic…duh. There is something about having a camera in front of your face that makes you loose perspective as to where you are in relation to what you are shooting and I too have taken the panic mode of throwing my camera into auto since not fulling trusting of my capabilities and not wanting to blow the moment. You did well to show and describe it all so well that I felt I was actually there watching you!

  • I’m as proud I got the storytelling well as captured my fear before capturing the shot. LOL! I’m sure there are many people like us and have been since cameras were first taken into war zones by non-combatants. I hate the thought of killing a single bee since they’re seemingly losing the fight to survive on the planet. But I’ll kill one if I can’t do anything else to protect someone else.

    Full auto wouldn’t be on pro-sumer cameras unless there were thousands of us who are just that tiny bit unsure when a shot is short but absolutely critical. The Nikon D3X lists at $8000 (body only) and doesn’t have a full auto mode. It does have a PROGRAM mode which is barely a step above full auto: the shooter can choose to do nothing but turn that one dial IF desired and the camera will automatically set both the Shutter and Aperture. LOL! So I guess that touch of doubt (or human laziness) goes right to the best of the best shooters too. :-D

    By the way, after comparing that incredible camera’s specs to my D90, I noticed one stunning similarity: they both shoot extremely fast multiple shots. My D90’s fastest speed is 4.5 shots per second. The D3X barely tops that at 5 shots per second. As of July 2009, Canon hadn’t achieved that at 24 megapixels. If you are one of us yet, it’s never too late to be a Nikon fan. Hehehe!

    – Lenny La Rue, IPA

  • jeffrae
    jeffraeover 4 years ago

    My son has the D90…cortesy of me “Santa”. It is a nice camera too. As for me, I have too much invested to switch unless I win the lottery…for now mine is a Canon 50D…the best of what I can afford for now. Don’t you wish you could try out all the best toys???

  • fototaker
    fototakerabout 4 years ago

    what a image!!! i am envious BUT not of your being bit!!! great details and yes, you do write somewhat “short” narratives, don’t you? hahahahaa congrats on the feature too!!

  • DJInfuriated
    DJInfuriatedover 3 years ago

    Wow where did you find this one?

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