Beginners Guide

How to photograph rainbows

Rainbows are a beautiful natural phenomenon and, with a few tips, you should easily be able to capture them with your camera To be honest the problems do not come from photographing rainbows, the real problem comes with finding rainbows, but from finding them.

Rainbows are a beautiful natural phenomenon and, with a few tips, you should easily be able to capture them with your camera. To be honest, the problems do not come from photographing rainbows, but from finding them.

Wikipedia gives a good definition and description of how rainbows are formed:

A rainbow is an optical and meteorological phenomenon that is caused by the reflection of light in water droplets in the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky. It takes the form of a multi-coloured arc. Rainbows caused by sunlight always appear in the section of sky directly opposite the sun.

From this we know we have to look in the sky opposite the sun and common sense tells us that the best time is as rainy weather approaches. Rainbows also develop at waterfalls; behind waves and anywhere you have spraying water. There is no need for special equipment and any camera and lens combination will do. If you want to capture the whole of the rainbow, it is obvious that wide-angle lenses are needed. Do not forget that longer lenses are also useful and you can photograph where the end of a rainbow comes to earth. Most photographers tend only to hold their cameras horizontally (landscape format), but you will often create interesting images if you hold your camera vertically (portrait orientation).

I personally tend to use a polarizing filter as it enables me to capture the colours at their most vivid. One has to be careful as the filter can be aligned so that the rainbow disappears completely. Turn the filter until it produces the effect you want to capture. Remember that using the filter will lose certain amount of light, and that if your shutter speed is too low you should use a tripod to avoid camera shake. Consider underexposing your images by about half a stop — it helps to bring out the colours.

Rainbows are often accompanied by rain and I try to remember to have a plastic bag or some plastic wrap in my camera bag. which I use to cover the camera. For some or other reason the front of my lenses seem to attract rain and the drops on the lens can ruin the images so always have a microfibre cloth at hand to continually dry the lens or filter.

Generally, rainbows do not last very long so the first thing I do when I see a rainbow is take a ‘grab shot» so as to have a record shot. I once spent a day photographing surfing at a surfing contest in Jeffrey’s Bay. I had returned to my campsite when I noticed a magnificent rainbow indicating that the ‘pot of gold» was at a surfing spot, Supertubes.

Instead of taking a picture, I ate an ice cream; ( still kick myself when I remember that moment. After the first image, I start worrying about finding a composition which works with the rainbow. Beautiful scenery like country landscapes obviously form the best backdrop for a rainbow, but city and urban rainbow images are equally interesting. In the coastal environment where I live, I find that dark brooding storm clouds over the sea work well as a backdrop for a rainbow.

Sometimes you will just be in the wrong place when a rainbow appears but they sometimes almost make an electricity pole seem attractive to a photographer! By taking time and looking around, you will produce interesting compositions by having the end of the rainbow reaching the earth behind any feature.

If you have the right conditions for the formation of a rainbow in a photographically interesting environment it sometimes it pays to wait Some bad weather conditions take time to develop and if you see a part of a rainbow forming it is worth waiting for the full rainbow to form. I spent over an hour in the wind and rain at a lighthouse waiting for a rainbow to form. Initially the rainbow was away from the lighthouse but as the bad weather approached, the bow eventually fell behind the lighthouse and I got my picture. Even a segment of a rainbow can add a bit of colour to a grey sky.

I hope that some of you will try to photograph rainbows; they are beautiful and if captured correctly make beautiful images.

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