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!)
Nikkor 18-105mm lens
Exposure time: 1/125 sec.
Exposure bias: zip
Nikon Creative mode: flat
Metering Mode: pattern
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
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!