Chasing Rainbows!

China Cove, Point Lobos State Reserve, California
Canon 5DMKIII, Nikon 14-24mm @ f/16, 1/50th, ISO 100, Fotodiox Circular Polarizer

Wintertime means storm shooting, and where there are storms, there are rainbows! Armed with a few facts, one can truly – up the odds – of capturing beautiful bows in either an approaching or clearing storm. I recently spent and afternoon at both Garrapata State Park and Point Lobos State Reserve chasing (and finding) rainbows during a clearing storm.

Author Donal Ahrens described a rainbow as being, one of the most spectacular light shows observed on earth. I have to agree. Rainbows have a way of bringing out my inner-child. They are fun and magical at the same time. So just how do we go about finding them? Well, here are 10 tips that I follow – hopefully they will help you in chasing your rainbows!

1.) Keep the sun at your back and look towards the sky at a 42 degree angle. There needs to be moisture in the air (rain drops, mist, etc.). In the image above. the sun was setting out to the west (behind me) while the storm was moving east).

2.) We don’t see the full circle of the rainbow because the earth blocks it. At sunset, we see the most, a full semicircle of the rainbow with the arch 42 degrees above the horizon. The higher the sun climbs, the smaller the arch is above the horizon. Full rainbows can be seen from an airplane.

3.) Primary rainbows are made up of: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet bands. The top band, red, is seen at 42 degrees and the lower band, violet, at 40 degrees.

4.) The light path involves refraction and a single reflection inside the water droplet. If the drops are large (1 millimeter or more in diameter) red, green and violet are bright but there is little blue. As the droplets get smaller than 0.05 mm, a white rainbow or fog bow will appear.

5.) Rainbows are not seen in the midday since the whole 42 degree circle is below the horizon at most latitudes (the sun is too high).

6.) You can never be directly under a rainbow.

7.) No two people ever witness the same rainbow as the eyes of two people cannot occupy the same space.

8.) As you move lateral to the rainbow, the rainbow will move with you (this knowledge helped Galen Rowell capture his famous image of Rainbow Over Potala Palace, which has totaled into the millions in sales!

9.) Some rainbows have faint arcs just inside and near the top of the primary bow, known as supernumerary arcs.

10. You can make a part or all of the rainbow disappear by turning your polarizer – so be careful!

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