The Food Chain

The Food Chain

It’s kind of become an annual tradition here on Weekly Fifty for me to post a picture of a garden spider in the fall, but as autumn marched onward and the leaves started to fall I must admit I had to wonder if I was going to get a picture of one of these black and yellow friends this year. Almost without fail one of these shoes up in our yard sometime around Labor Day, spins a big old web, and hangs out for a few days until it moves on to greener pastures.* The fall of 2017 was turning out to be a big of a bust though, and as the weather got a little chillier and the days grew shorter I kind of gave up on the idea of seeing one appear. And then, in an amazing display of arachnid consistency, my kids found this one hanging off the side of our house just like his (her?) forebears in years past.

And just like we always do, my boys and I spent a couple days feeding the spider with crickets and grasshoppers and watching the fascinating intricate display of dexterity as, with each insect we dropped into the web, the spider nimbly bound its prey in a whirlwind of webbing before closing in for the kill. It’s like watching a nature documentary without the television, and it’s a fun way to share a rather singular experience with my two boys who, like most kids their age, are endlessly curious about, and fascinated by, the world around them. After watching this spider capture the grasshopper my oldest, who turned six this summer, turned to me and said “It’s the food chain, daddy.” He went on to explain that the grasshopper had no doubt eaten other things, and now it was food for something else. I was both proud and relieved, since it has never been my intention to put bugs into spider webs in order to be cruel but to demonstrate to my kids that this is how our eight-legged friends survive. And to hear my son explain this back to me was a nice affirmation that something has stuck with him along the way.

Whenever these situations present themselves I always try to find a way to get photographs, and that is often a little tricker than it might seem. After using my close-up filters for so long I had a good idea of what gear I needed to get the shot I was going for here, so after this spider wrapped up the grasshopper I ran inside and grabbed my D750, 50mm lens, and +4 filter. Even though it was near sunset there was still enough light to get a good exposure at f/8, which I knew I would need in order to get a sharp image with a wide depth of field. Shooting at a smaller aperture would have left too much of the image out of focus, and shooting with a +10 filter would be far too close to see what’s really happening.

The shot you see here was taken at f/8, 1/180 second, ISO 5600 and I think it does a good job of showing what is really happening here. I tried a few different angles and also made sure to take the background elements into consideration–by showing the web the viewer is able to get a better sense of context, and by moving myself to position the spider in front of the gray eaves I was able to make the subjects stand out from the background.

Looking back on previous spider pictures I have posted it’s fun to see a progression in my photography, and also get a sense of just how much I still don’t know and have left to learn. And I’m confident that about a year from now I’ll have another opportunity to practice this type of shot.

*or wherever spiders go when they stop showing up. I have no idea :)


  1. “What a wicked web I weave,” said the spider to the hopper.

  2. David Beresford says

    Any idea why I no longer have access to the play button on your photos? The last two have not had this facility. The photo and text are there but not the commentary.

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