Saturday, October 15, 2011

What to do in 15-20 knot winds

Not a good weekend to photograph wading birds on Biscayne Bay. With a southerly front moving north toward south Florida, the winds have been high and the sky quite cloudy. I headed to Biscayne Bay despite all that. The low was scheduled at about 7 am, but when there are northeast winds, there is no such thing as low tide.

The shallow waters that covered the wading bird grasses moved quickly, reminding me of those cold winter days when the wind blows the snow dust across an icy plain. Today, the wind simply blew me toward the opening of the creek, where I could get into some calmer conditions. No birds foraging the grasses, I had not taken the camera out and did not expect to inside the creek. The sky was gray, which diffuses the light within the mangrove forest, perfect conditions when set up with a tripod.

But, as usual, I find something to photograph and today, it became one of my favorite subjects, the golden silk spider. I wrote about my photography techniques for spiders on July 30, 2011. I talk about the challenges of capturing these small creatures from a boat. Today was particularly challenging and the challenge increased as the winds strengthened and the slack tide became a fast moving incoming. But the good side of this was that the water levels were very high, getting me closer to my spider subject.

I found one that was very close, no more than a foot above my head. I had a lot of difficult managing the boat with only the stick it pin, so I rigged up the anchor and used both. This took several attempts and once settled into a position, I still had to twist myself around to get the spider in the best frame. Most of my attempts were vertical, making it a bit more awkward.

The diffuse sunlight was perfect and fill flash would be in order. The ISO was set at 640 and the aperture at 5.6. These choices were an attempt to increase shutter speed to at least 1/400. Once I had the spider in the frame with only white sky, I compensated the meter to +1. This provided a shutter speed between 1/400 and 1/800. I set the fill flash meter at 0 and I was good to go with that.

Soon, the spider became quite dynamic and appeared to be eating small insects before it began moving across its web, from one branch to another. I believe it was trying to renovate the web. The web was low enough that it was not getting the brunt of the wind. It is difficult to photograph the spiders from a boat and minimizing movement takes practice and good luck. But when you add the effects of the wind on the spider's web, photographing becomes impossible from a boat. Today, I was lucky with this particular spider. As it roamed around its web, I attempted several shots of it. This was very difficult with the spider in continual motion, but I kept at it, knowing that my success to failure ratio for sharpness would be low. This was further accentuated by the various background as the spider moved in front of heavy mangrove foliage, pure white sky and everything in between.

I attempt to capture the spider doing something and if it is motionless, try to capture it with a clear background. Pure sky is always nice, especially today as it was white from the clouds. Here is one of those images from today where it is only the spider and surrounding white. Believe it or not, these photos are straight out of the camera. For this particular image, I cropped it slightly and that's it. Note also the abdomen on this one, wider than the other spider.

Regarding the spider that was busy working on its web, I attempted to capture it with various backgounds, but nice even tones. Spider photos with busy backgrounds do not work for me; the spider should pop out of the frame and the background should enhance rather than distract from the main subject. The open aperture today provided a low dof, giving the background leaves a nice bokeh. Normally, I prefer to close the aperture a bit more (f8 to f16) with these spiders, in order to get their legs and body in focus. But today, it was too challenging to attempt these shots with a slower shutter speed and I do not like to go higher than 640 with the ISO. Here are a couple different backgrounds. Enjoy these images of the beautiful golden silk spider.

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