Say cheese.

The mist lingered this morning, its fine droplets revealing the previously invisible homes of spiders in our lawn and garden. Looking out our patio door, we could see dozens of patches of fine white weave among the backyard foliage.

My daughter took one look and declared that she was never going out there again.

I admire spiders. Unless they’re in the house, in which case I will stop at nothing to return them to the great outdoors. The plan to do so must somehow include staying as far away as possible from the spider. In most cases, said plan involves me calling the Mr. to scoop up the spider and fling it into the backyard.

So despite all my admiration, they still give me the heebie-jeebies. I was determined not to “never” go into my own backyard again, so to prove my bravery to my first-grader, I slipped on my shoes and sidled up close to the dewdrops, trying to get a peek inside the woven funnels where these spiders lurk.

Fine, maybe they’re not lurking. In fact, they’re probably hiding from big, lumbering creatures like me.

My daughter didn’t really stick around to witness my act of courage, but I soon forgot about that as I became preoccupied with the jewels clinging to the silken webs and spruce needles.

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Well, I’m no nature expert, but a quick Google search suggests these arachnids are classified as Agelenopsis (“grass spiders”) – and according to spiders.us, they’re “timid” and “non-aggressive.” (Whew.) And, in that case, I’m glad this one stuck around to pose for me.

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In the spotlight.

Our backyard faces south, which usually means we’ll melt if we hang out on the patio during summer afternoons. A canopied pergola is on my wish-list, but until such wish is granted – I’m not holding my breath – we’ll slather on our sunscreen and melt on, thankful to have a patio in the first place.

But in the early mornings there’s a bit of shade, and a dark patch in the corner of the garden where sunlight leaks through the slats between the fence boards, throwing lines of light onto the foliage below.

My growing interest in photography means I’m making efforts to learn how to observe light and how to use a camera to catch it the way I see it. Often I’ll point and shoot and inevitably be disappointed in the way the light is rendered in the photo, even if I’m happy with the composition of the shot. I finally realized it’s because when the camera’s in any sort of automatic mode, it wants to do its job and make you an evenly-exposed photo. As in, not too light and not too dark. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the photo looks good.

So I’m trying my hand at shooting in manual mode more often. The trouble here is that I’m already slow and bumbling with my camera even in aperture or shutter priority mode, so shooting in manual means I better be dealing with a subject that isn’t about to get up and walk away while I’m fiddling with dials and settings and test shots.

I wanted this photo of the smoke bush to be dark so that shaft of light illuminating the leaves would really pop. I didn’t want the camera to “fix” the exposure and lighten up the dark bits. I switched to manual mode and experimented with a fast shutter speed and wide-ish aperture until I got the look I wanted.

Well, I don’t know whether anyone else likes this photo, but that shouldn’t really matter. I like it. It’s a success to me because it represents one of the first times I’ve taken full control of the camera – my sometimes confusing and misunderstood tool – and used it to capture a quirky-light moment the way I envisioned it. Wish granted.

Now I just need to work on that pergola.

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