Some say that rainbows are symbols of hope. I tend to believe that. I love rainbows. There’s something awe-inspiring, breathtaking about them. So, let’s take a look at photographing rainbows.
What is a rainbow?
Without getting too much into the science behind the rainbows, we’ve learned in school that when white light passes through a prism, it decomposes into what we often associate with the rainbow colors, visible light:
red – orange – yellow – green – blue – indigo – violet
But it doesn’t have to be a prism. Light traveling through water drops–rain, clouds or fog–enters the water drops as white light and comes out as visible light, the colors of the visible spectrum or, as we often call it, the rainbow. Hence, during a sun shower (when it rains while the sun is still out) there’s a good chance that we see a rainbow.
When the bow does appear in the sky, it often shows itself as an arc in the sky (the French name for rainbow is just that, “bow (or arc) in the sky” or “arc-en-ciel,” I was reminded of that by activist Carlos Idibouo, whom I interviewed and photographed for A&U Magazine not too long ago.)
Hawaii is also known as land of the rainbows. The rainbow is part of the HI license plate. Oh, and by the way, the Hawaiian word for “rainbow” is “anuenue.”
Here’s a partial rainbow crossing an angry sky, reaching the palm trees on the island of Maui, Hawaii.
Some call the rainbow an optical illusion. Others consider a certain kind of rainbow, the fog bow or Brocken spectre, an optical illusion. The rainbow (fog bow) is much larger than a usual rain bow. The fog bow (Brocken spectre) is about half a circle that surrounds your shadow, if you happen to be in the right spot. This rare, amazing apparition lasts for only a few short moments.
And here’s an image of the Brocken Spectre captured with a wide-angle lens:
Rainbows are actually full circles. When we see a “full rainbow” we often see only half of that circle. More often than not, rainbows appear as bows of visible light crossing the sky. We can see them from the ground level or from the sky. And we can also fly through a rainbow, if we’re lucky.
How to have the chance of flying through a rainbow?
When in Hawaii, take helicopter rides in an open-door helicopter. It’s pricey, but it’s definitely worth the money. That’s the only way you can have the chance to actually fly through a rainbow, or a double rainbow, like I did. Pure luck!
Here’s a look at the rainbow we were about to fly through:
And here’s a bit of a video from that flight:
But, back to rain- and other bows…. Moon bows are rainbows created by the light reflected off the moon’s surface. I hope I’ll be able to capture a moon bow one day.
But one doesn’t have to travel to the Aloha islands to spot a rainbow. One can also notice rainbows over New York City.
Oftentimes the rainbow creates an arc, a bridge over the river, between Jersey City and Manhattan. Here’s an image capturing such a rainbow. The end of the rainbow reaches the Holland Tunnel air vent on the Jersey side of the Hudson.
Here’s another, pretty bright rainbow from a few years ago, and a ferry boat sailing down the Hudson through that rainbow.
And a close-up image of that ferry sailing through the rainbow.
Sometimes the rainbow colors are bright, vibrant; other times, barely there. Sometimes the rainbow appears against a clear blue sky, while other times its bow is interrupted by pockets of clouds.
Depending on where you are and what gear you have with you, do try to capture the rainbow if you do spot one.
You can capture the rainbow as part of a landscape or cityscape, or you can zoom in on the rainbow as it crosses a certain part of the landscape or cityscape. If possible, include landmarks, recognizable buildings or objects in the image.
Use a polarizing filter.
Use a tripod, if you have one with you.
If you have to photograph in the rain or mist, protect your gear. Use a lens hood (not only for mist, but in general, to protect your lens), and also buy a couple of lens sleeves to protect your lens and camera body if you happen to shoot in the snow, rain or mist. If it does pour outside, maybe it’s a good idea to find shelter, a place from where you can photograph without getting completely soaked–you or your photo gear. The lens sleeve won’t help much when it pours.
And here’s an image of the rainbow crossing the Manhattan skies on a stormy day:
As always, thanks for stopping by!