Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The other morning I noticed a little patch of dew drops on one of the shrubs outside our front door, glistening in the 6 a.m. sunlight.  At least I assumed they were dew drops.  We have an underground sprinkler system that runs overnight and that might have been responsible for the water drops, but I would prefer to think of them as dew drops.  A closer look revealed that the drops were actually suspended in some spider webbing.  So I thought I would try to get a few shots.

Photos of water drops suspended in spider webbing are legion, and I realized I was not going to be creating something new or unique, but I did want to see what I could get.  Here is the first of the shots that I took.  It might be noted that all of these photos were of a very small area, somewhere between one and two square inches.

[Keep in mind that you can enlarge a photo by clicking on it and can return to the blog by hitting the back arrow.]

One of the major challenges with macro photography is depth of field.  Theoretically, there is only one focal plane that is in focus, and objects become more and more out of focus as their distance either in front of or behind that focal plane increases.  Narrowing the aperture of the lens reduces the rate at which objects not in the focal plane fall out of focus, referred to as increased depth of field.  Conversely, as the aperture of the lens is widened, the depth of field is reduced.

The nature of the optics of macro lenses is such that depth of field for a given aperture is generally quite shallow.  It's also important to keep in mind that the focal plane is perpendicular to the line of sight of the lens, that is, parallel to the back of the camera.  Ideally,  the subject of the shot should be flat, or at least shallow front to back, and the camera should be positioned so that it is perpendicular to the subject of the shot, so that the subject is all on the focal plane.  If the camera is at an oblique angle to the subject or if the subject has significant depth, there will be degradation in the depth of field.

In terms of my dew drops, it would have been ideal if the webbing presented a flat surface, for which I could position the camera so that the lens was perpendicular to that surface.  In my case I was able to position the camera to be perpendicular to the webbing, but the webbing was not flat; rather, it sagged downward in the middle so that the center of the webbing was further away than the periphery.  

This first shot was taken at a mid-range aperture of f/9 and presents a few problems.  First, although the right side of the shot is in good focus, the left is quite out of focus.  Second, the foliage behind the dew drops, although quite out of focus, is a little distracting.  Finally, even where the dew drops (at least the portion of the drops closest to the lens) were in good focus, the complex of webs supporting the drops was only partially in focus.

In an effort to increase the depth of field to bring more of the dew drops into focus I narrowed the aperture to f/25.  This brought more of the drops and the webbing into better (but not perfect) focus.  However, it also brought the foliage into better focus, creating further distraction from my main subjects, the water drops and webbing.  In addition, I noticed that a couple of small twigs were embedded in two of the larger drops--interesting, perhaps, but not what I was looking for.

Not satisfied with what I had, I returned to the dew drops and noticed that there was a secondary patch of webbing that was "flatter" and was at a significantly greater distance from the foliage behind it (perhaps 3-4 inches rather than 1-2 inches)  The configuration of the webbing was not as complex, but the shooting conditions were a lot better.  Here is one of the shots of that section that I took:

This was taken at a extremely narrow aperture of f/57.  Because of the "flatness" of the array, the drops are in very good focus across the image.  In addition, because of the narrow aperture, the webbing is also in good focus.  Unfortunately, the foliage is also in fairly good focus, creating a major distraction.

Because depth of field is generally a matter of compromise, I often bracket several shots at different apertures to compare how they appear on the computer.  The next shot was taken at a wider (but still narrow) aperture of f/25:

In a way, I like this shot because the foliage is blurry enough that the viewer is drawn to the drops and webbing which are in good focus, while the foliage tells a bit of a "story" about the context of the picture.

The next shot (which has been cropped a fair amount) was taken at a wider f/8 aperture:

I liked the fact that the foliage, even though totally out of focus, provides some interest in the form of a variation in color saturation.  As indicated, this shot is cropped quite a bit.  I would have liked to have a larger number of drops in the image, but the drops were not uniformly in sharp focus, so I chose to crop the shot down to those at the best level of focus.  It's interesting that the drops in this shot are nearly all spherical.  I like the surreal nature of this shot quite a lot.

Still not totally satisfied, I went back out the next morning (its only about three steps outside my front door) and took a few more shots.  Here is the best of those shots:

There is more complexity in the webbing and the drops, which added interest.  With the aperture at f/9 and given the distance between the webbing and the underlying foliage, the latter was basically not an issue.  There was more sun on the drops when I took this shot--not necessarily a good thing as the perimeters of the drops were a bit blown out.  The differences in the sizes of the dew drops adds both interest and apparent depth to the shot.  Although when I see spiders they don't seem to be doing much, they obviously must get busy from time to time.


  1. Hello John,

    I was searching the net for a web with drops of water, and I found your pictures which are amazing. I would like to kindly ask for a permission to use the last of them as a cover picture for my friend's book. I would further process the picture, and make some changes in Photoshop but it will basically stay the same. Please let me know if it would be possible. I would really appreciate it. Thank you very much!

    Best regards,

    1. Jiri,
      Thanks for your comments about my photos.
      The only thing I need to know is whether the book would be produced for profit (many copies to be sold commercially) or just for private use (such as a one-of-a-kind book). If just for private use, be my guest. If for commercial use, then please contact me, including an email or other convenient method for communicating.
      It appears that you are located in Napajedla, Czech Republic. My only experience with the Czch Republic is Prague, but it remains my favorite European city. Your English is excellent, by the way.

  2. Thank you, John. Yes, I'm from Czech republic, about 350 km from Prague, close to the eastern border, and my English needs to be improved a lot. The book will be produced for profit, though not so many copies will be printed. It is a medical book about neurons and how human brain works. The man I am doing this for is a doctor, and the primary purpose of this book is not to make profit because it is not aimed at general audience. So I would say it's something in between what you wanted to know. My email is, please contact me for further info. Thanks!