Tips for Getting Great Spider Photos

The SPIDERS OF BC resource has four pages:

Tips for Getting Great Spider Photos by Thomas Barbin

Key ID features and angles required
  • Eye arrangement
    • Helps to have the camera as close to the spider’s eye level as possible (get low!)
  • Dorsal
    • Showing abdomen pattern and cephalothorax
    • Shallow depth of field
      • One shot with abdomen in focus
      • One shot with cephalothorax in focus
      • One shot with eyes (if not in focus on cephalothorax shot)
    • Easy for some species. Hard for others (salticids)
  • palps/epigynum
    • Sometimes you can get epigyne shots of orbweavers in their web
Tips for photographing in situ
  • Go for record shot first (dorsal ideally)
  • Move in slowly, occasionally stopping to take photos getting closer and closer
  • If the spider runs you can block it with your hand. It may take a few blocks before the spider stops moving and you can go back to photographing. Sometimes they will take cover under your hand and you can slowly lift it and continue photographing
  • In sandy areas you can dig a sand hole so when the spider runs it keeps falling back towards the center until it needs a rest. Then take photos.
Catching and photographing
  • Very useful for active spiders
  • Some situations it is easiest to pop the vial over top of the spider then get the lid on. Other times it is easier to suck the spider up with a pooter then put it in the vial.
    • Takes experience to know which method will work best in the situation. I’m still constantly losing spiders because I pootered when I shouldn’t have and vice versa
  • Some spider you wish to capture just to bring them to an open area where you are less likely to lose the spider if it darts
  • Before bringing the spider out of the vial take some photos of the spider in the vial. This is a good opportunity to try for epigynum shots. Vial photos aren’t ideal, but they are better than nothing if the spider ends up escaping when you bring it out.
  • Using a stick/rock/leaf
    • First choose an area where you are least likely to lose the spider
      • Consider the ground. Will the spider disappear as soon as it jumps off your object? (e.g. tall grass, bushes, lots of large rocks)
      • Is it windy? Try waiting until it isn’t windy or find shelter from the wind.
      • If you are using flash to illuminate the spider, pick a shaded area so the flash is the main light source, not the sun. If no shade is available you can often get away with turning away from the sun and using your body.
    • Attempt to coax the spider onto the object you’ve decided to photograph them on. It is quite likely the spider will jump off and it will take a few attempts to get it to stay on your object.
      • Tip for Salticids: They leave a drag line when they jump in case their jump is unsuccessful it will catch them and they can climb back up. If a salticid jumps off your object you can quickly grab on to their drag line and lift them back up onto the stick.
      • Some Salticids are super stubborn and keep jumping off. If you’re patient, some of the most stubborn individuals will eventually stop jumping off the stick. I’m curious if after a while they have left behind enough silk that the stick feels familiar to them and less like a foreign object. After they’ve spent some time on the object it can be hard to get them to leave that object.
    • I prefer to stand while doing this. The higher you are, the more time you have to grab the spider if it jumps. When Salticids are high enough off the ground they jump and repel down to the ground slowly. If they know they are close to the ground they will often just plummet leaving no chance to grab their drag line.
    • Once the spider is on the object you can move the object around for different angles of the spider. You can also face different directions to get different backgrounds (blue sky, sunny foliage, grass, dirt).
    • Hold the object with your left hand and the camera in your right hand. Rest the end of your lens on your wrist area. This makes everything move as a single object (kind of) reducing camera shake and makes it easier to focus on the spider.
Spiders to avoid handling:
  • Western Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus)
    • Very reluctant to bite, but neurotoxic venom. Seek medical assistance if bitten.