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Photographing the Wild Tarantula

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2020   |   POSTED BY MICAH GARTMAN

 
     
 

2020 has been a year of trials and tribulations for Sydney Sue. After suffering through an unusually long pre-molt, Sydney Sue finally shed his skin for the seventh time on June 7th. He's now a BIG spider. Seriously—he's bigger that the palm of my hand.

Here is the exuvia from Sydney Sue's latest molt:

 

 

 

     
   
     
 

In August, the exotic pet community was rocked by The Great Cricket Crisis of 2020. Every pet shop in Houston, Katy and Sealy was out of crickets. Fortunately, we discovered a cricket farm in Louisiana that delivers by mail. There was one caveat, however: their minimum order was a quantity of 100 crickets! Sydney Sue eats only one cricket every five weeks, so 99 lucky bugs were released into the wilds of Houston's Energy Corridor.

With the year coming to a close, The Gartman household is settling into The New Normal. Our spirits are running high now that the new season of The Repair Shop begins next week. Thank God for Netflix.

 

 

 

     
   
  © Copyright 2019 BBC One. All Rights Reserved.  
     
 

To alleviate some of the boredom brought on by Harris County's "Stay Home, Work Safe" initiative, I pledged to channel my built-up energy into a positive and creative hobby. I have decided to take up tarantula photography. I have an iPhone and a tarantula so this should be a slam dunk, right?

Here are some examples of my favorite tarantula photos:

 

 

 

     
   
  © Copyright 2012 Anna M. All Rights Reserved.  
     
   
  © Copyright 2012 Michael Pankratz. All Rights Reserved.  
     
   
  © Copyright 2016 Julian Kamzol. All Rights Reserved.  
     
 

If you've ever tried your hand at photography, you know it's far more difficult than it looks. I know several professional photographers and they're armed with an arsenal of cameras, lenses and lights—not to mention decades of experience. Since I have neither the equipment nor the talent, my photos are not exactly on par with the photographic maestros.

But that's what makes this such a fun hobby. Learning from errors and inventing solutions is a significant component to the learning process.

Color
My first challenge has been Sydney Sue's environment. He is a perfect model since he sleeps in the same spot for hours at a time. He's also a brown spider sitting on a brown burrow surrounded by brown dirt. His camouflage is perfect for the woods but isn't favorable for picture taking. In this photo, Sydney Sue is taking a nap on top of his burrow:

 
     
   
  Click on the photo for a larger version.  
     
 

Lighting
Lighting is important no matter what you're photographing. Sadly, Sydney Sue is ultra-senstive to light, so I'm forced to wait for natural light to slowly filter in through his bedroom window. And as soon as the lighting is just right, Sydney Sue slinks off into the shadows.

 
     
   
  Click on the photo for a larger version.  
     
 

Shooting Through Glass
My greatest challenge has been photographing though glass. Sydney Sue's house is made of clear plastic, and it is highly reflective. So much so that you can see the reflection of my iPhone in almost every photo. Here, Sydney Sue shows me the cricket he just caught:

 
     
   
  Click on the photo for a larger version.  
     
 

I've since wrapped my iPhone in a dark-colored case which has eliminated most of its reflection. It's still visible, though. My next project is to create a veil that hides everything but the iPhone's lens and also acts as a light diffuser. Smart, n'est-ce pas?

 
     
   
  Click on the photo for a larger version.  
     
 

Space
The iPhone has difficulty auto-focusing, especially through glass. Its manual focus options are extremely limited too. Tapping on the iPhone's screen tells the camera where to focus, but it magically un-focuses by the time my finger reaches the shutter button. The end result is an unwanted depth of field effect.

 
     
   
  Click on the photo for a larger version.  
     
 

Composition
This is the one area where Sydney Sue and I shine as a team. He is always ready to strike an interesting pose. He calls this one "Blue Steel."

 
     
   
  Click on the photo for a larger version.  
     
 

My Success So Far
Since January 25th, I have taken 192 photos of Sydney Sue. Most are out of focus, others are too dark and almost all have a reflection of my phone. But there is one pretty darn good photo from the whole bunch. It is an honor and a privilege to present to you my best photo of Sydney Sue in 2020
:

 
     
   
  Click on the photo for a larger version.  
     
 

2021 will be another exciting year for Sydney Sue. He turns 7 years old on December 6th. He will also be moving into a new super-sized mansion with two burrows and several plants. We will document the entire house "reno" and will film Sydney Sue being re-located into his new housing. It's going to be a real rodeo.

Until then, stay safe and take care of each other. And of course:

Be nice to spiders :)

 
     
 
 
     
  PREVIOUS
The Sydney Sue Instruction Manual
INTRODUCTION
Meet Sydney the Tarantula
 
     
 
 
     
 

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