Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

What made the nonagons

with 26 comments

Drops in Spiderweb 8745B

Click for larger size and greater detail.

I believe that light refracted by drops of water caught in the spider’s web you saw last time made the glass elements in my 100mm macro lens produce the nonagonal artifacts that you also saw. What you didn’t see was the drops, so here’s another photograph from the same session at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, on June 20. Notice that some of the nonagons in this second photograph are elongated.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2016 at 5:06 AM

26 Responses

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  1. Gorgeous picture.

    Maria Gianna Iannucci

    August 27, 2016 at 5:27 AM

  2. Steve, I have an entire book on photographing water drops. These two shots rival anything presented in that book. Gorgeous!


    August 27, 2016 at 7:26 AM

    • I’m impressed that you have an entire book about photographing water drops, Lynn, and grateful to hear that you find these two pictures rival anything in that book. To tell the truth, I was so intent on focusing the spider that I didn’t really pay much attention to the drops and the artifacts. Maybe the author of your book should add a technique: inadvertence.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2016 at 7:38 AM

  3. Long live light, indeed. I am not familiar with the term nonagon, but this image is beyond stunning.


    August 27, 2016 at 8:20 AM

    • We can safely say that for most people nonagon is non-existent and fullygone. As if in confirmation of that, the WordPress editor insists on putting red dots under the word. Usually all that it takes to make a nonagon not nonsense is the explanation that a nonagon is four more than a pentagon, one more than an octagon, and one less than a decagon. I’m glad to hear that for you the figures are hyperstunagons.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2016 at 8:30 AM

  4. Beautiful Steve .. Sparkly jewels


    August 27, 2016 at 3:08 PM

  5. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen drops reflecting drops before. it’s a wonderful effect, thanks to the clarity of the water droplets.

    As it happens, I spent nearly all of yesterday out with my new macro lens, identical to yours. Since the purchase was bound to happen, I figured better sooner than later. Anyway, I wandered off-path and discovered a spinybacked orb weaver. I had to get lower than the spider and shoot upwards, toward the treetops. When I looked at the photos last night, there were the nonagons. They aren’t as well-defined as yours, but they were clear enough to count the sides.

    I’ve only seen circles with my other lens. When I was trying to sort that out, I read an article that mentioned the rings that can appear in blur patches. Just above and to the left of the biggest drop, there are some good examples. Fun!


    August 28, 2016 at 7:30 AM

    • It’s great to hear about the inauguration of your 100mm macro lens, which as you know opens up a whole world of possibilities. It may also mean you’ll be doing more sitting and lying on the ground (thereby gaining stability), so you may want to carry a mat around with you. At Academy a couple of years ago I bought an exercise/yoga mat and cut it into three pieces, one of which I take with me into nature. The mat also serves as a pusher-aside of vines and scraggly branches when I’m walking around in the woods.

      The number of sides in the polygons generally corresponds to the number of blades in the lens’s diaphragm. I expect physicists and the people who design lenses have figured out the intricacies of how the artifacts of light and color get formed, but I’m happy enough to look at those things in terms of what they add to images.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 28, 2016 at 7:58 AM

  6. A wonderful introduction to refractory optics. By the way, though I’m not that much of a fan of the group They Might Be Giants, my daughters are, and they (the group) have some unforgettable compositions. Nonagon is, I’m afraid, one of them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5m8BWk5LoQ.


    August 28, 2016 at 9:19 PM

    • I’ve never heard of that group or song, but if I were still teaching math I’d play the song for my students. YouTube followed it up with “The Polygon Song,” which I’d play for my students as well. What a surprise to find that there are at least two songs about polygons. Geometry lives!

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 29, 2016 at 7:26 AM

      • Maybe I’ll write a new song about a guy who has lost his parrot and call it “Oh, Where, Oh, Where Has My Poor Polly Gone?”


        August 29, 2016 at 2:32 PM

        • In my reply to your comment I’d almost posed a riddle I remember from childhood: What do you call a dead parrot? — A polly gone.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 29, 2016 at 5:11 PM

      • And even more surprising they have received more than a million views. Geometry more than lives; it rules.


        August 30, 2016 at 5:59 AM

  7. Well nonagon was a new word for me too. This is a favourite for me. Abstraction, spider webs, maths/physics and light effects all in one shot. Oh, and it’s pretty too. 🙂


    September 17, 2016 at 2:11 AM

    • Thanks for your effusive comment. You may have missed a career in advertising.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2016 at 8:33 AM

      • The income would have been better than what I receive now! Sadly, I cannot bring myself to promote something I don’t personally believe in though. You deserve the praise, Steve. 🙂


        September 17, 2016 at 8:41 AM

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