SPIDERS AND SPIDER WEBS – HOW TO FOCUS
Certain things in photography seem like they should be simple, yet end up being a challenge. Spiders in webs, or just the webs on their own are one of these challenging subjects. Have you ever tried to focus on a spider web and found the camera simply won’t do it? Time after time it will focus on the background as though the web doesn’t exist.
Your autofocus system often can’t ‘see’ a spider web. You’re trying to focus on something incredibly fine and almost transparent; the camera simply looks right through the web to focus on the background. It can help (a little) if there is a spider in the web to give the camera something more solid to lock onto. But a tiny spider, or even a larger one like the orb spiders (male and female) below, are still relatively insubstantial and the camera will often still choose to focus past them to the background. And even if you do manage to lock the autofocus onto the subject for one shot, you may find yourself back in the same situation on the next attempt.
The solution? Switch to MANUAL FOCUS. That may seem obvious but for many people who are very comfortable with autofocus, the idea of using MF simply doesn’t occur to them.
A great feature of MF is that once you have focused, the focus won’t change unless you physically change it. That means you can focus once and then keep shooting without having to re-focus for every shot. That doesn’t make it foolproof though – if the wind is blowing or you and/or the camera move, the subject will quickly lose sharpness.
My best tip for maintaining sharp manual focus with a hand held camera is this: don’t keep re-focusing by turning the focus ring on the lens. Focus once, and then if you see the subject getting softer, move the camera back and forward until it becomes sharp again. This is usually easier and less ‘fiddly’ than trying to continually adjust the focus on the lens.
ONE FINAL TIP: BE AWARE OF YOUR MINIMUM FOCUS DISTANCE. If you don’t do a lot of close-up photography, you might not realise your lens has a minimum focus distance. This is a genuine, physical limitation. Some lenses can’t focus any closer than around 35cm. For some it’s 50cm, for some it’s 100cm, and for some larger telephoto lenses the limit can be up to 2 metres. Now if your lens can only focus – let’s say – to 50cm, then if you get any closer than that to your subject, the camera WILL NOT be able to focus no matter what method you use. So make sure you know the limits of your lens before you tackle something like a spider web!