Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


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Picture This: Shooting Rainbows

How to boost your chances of capturing this fleeting phenomenon.

By Earl Nottingham

Like many of the other good things in life, rainbows are fleeting, and it’s often a matter of luck and timing to be able to experience them. Many times we miss the opportunity. However, when it comes to capturing a great photograph of a rainbow, a few tips will put the odds in your favor.

1. Although it sounds simple – be ready! Remembering that moisture in the air plus sunlight equals a possible rainbow can give you a heads-up on a possible rainbow. As the moisture turns to distant rain, the odds increase, especially in the evening as the sun tracks toward the horizon. If you are lucky enough to shoot during “magic light” as the sun is just about to set, you are almost guaranteed a piece of wall art. With these atmospheric conditions, make sure your camera is at hand and ready to shoot. Your opportunity may last only a few seconds.


Emerging from low-hanging storm clouds, the last rays of light create a brilliant rainbow, briefly bathing this Panhandle scene with warm light. A good rainbow photograph is a combination of good lighting, location and luck.

2. Consider background and foreground objects. While you may be in awe of the rainbow and eager to shoot, resist the urge to fixate on it as the only object in the photo. Consider backgrounds and foregrounds that will include the rainbow in context and as a part of an overall scene. If time permits, move to an area void of telephone lines, poles or other distracting objects. Also, keep in mind basic composition concepts such as the “rule of thirds” by placing the horizon in the bottom one-third of the frame. But hey, feel free to break the rules if the situation warrants!

3. Select the right lens. Typically, a wide-angle zoom lens such as a 16-35mm will allow you to quickly compose a full or double rainbow to show the full “bow” along with any dynamic skies surrounding it. A tighter zoom will allow you to concentrate on the pot of gold (or other point of interest) at the rainbow’s end.

4. Use a polarizer. Although its color-enhancing effects can often be overdone, the polarizer is still one of the essential filters that should be in every outdoor photographer’s bag, especially for capturing rainbows. A slight rotation of the filter can cut through atmospheric haze and reveal a rainbow’s bright spectrum of colors that initially might look faint to the eye. The filter can also totally eliminate the rainbow if rotated too much. A quick turn of the filter is all it takes to show you that one “aha” position where the rainbow comes alive and stands out against the sky.

5. Carry a tripod. The loss of light caused by both evening conditions and use of a polarizer typically will require a lower shutter speed, which may lead to a blurred image caused by camera movement. If a tripod isn’t available, try resting the camera on any available stable object such as a car window or fence post.

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For more on TP&W magazine photography, go to our Photography page


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