Photograph Rainbows And Find A Pot Of Gold


I love it when a plan works out. I had been photographing petroglyphs in Saguaro National Park all day and towards evening, rain clouds began to build over the Tucson Mountains. Although hazy much of the day, it looked like rainbows might be a possibility right about sunset if the sun popped out under the building storm clouds. I found a good vantage point with my camera pointing directly away from the setting sun and sat down to wait. Times like this, you have to have confidence that the weather will deliver. Would the sun actually come out? Would a shower be in the right location to deliver a rainbow? Would I get sunset-tinted clouds along with a rainbow? If I had worked out the odds of all that happening, I probably would have just gone back to my camper for dinner, but sometimes luck really does favor the prepared and I got everything I wanted. It really did feel like a gift, the proverbial pot of gold.


Although rainbows are a fairly rare event, sometimes repeating weather patterns makes it possible to anticipate their creation. Oddly enough, Santa Barbara, with its consistently clear skies, is one such location. During the winter, when we do have actual clouds, the sky tends to clear at the end of the day. Maybe it’s the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other controlling our westerly winds, but even on rainy days, the clouds tend to break at the end of the day. A shot of a double rainbow over the Santa Barbara County Courthouse was a result of this specific pattern.

Logan Temple and rainbow, Logan, Utah

Rainbows can occur any time during the day, of course, and the only trick to photographing one is making sure your own shadow does not appear in the image. Photographing the Mormon Temple in Logan, Utah, for a book by the Smithsonian, required me to sit down to avoid having my shadow break up the beautiful pattern of a fence surrounding the property. I had not noticed it before, but the second rainbow of a double rainbow always reverses the order of the colors.

We are coming up on rainbow season in my part of the world and you can be sure I will be looking for subjects to frame with a bright band of color. Scope out your location, place the sun at your back and enjoy photographing one of these great gifts from the clouds.

The 2 Conditions That Create Beautiful Photographic Reflections

A great blue heron glided into my image, landing right where I would have placed it—if I had a trained blue heron. Better lucky than good! I was photographing a book on San Diego, working with reflections of the ornate Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in Balboa Park. Afternoon was not a particularly colorful time, but as the sun moved lower, the warm tones of the buildings were intensifying and I was photographing the saturated reflection of the architecture in the Reflection Pond. Almost at sunset, the surface of the Reflection Pond was shaded while the buildings caught the last rays of the sun. The golden reflection of an ornate Spanish Revival building was contrasting beautifully with the cool tones of the green lily pads and blue reflected sky, producing a unique image of Balboa Park.

Blue Heron in reflecting pool, Balboa Park, San Diego, California


If there is a trick to photographing dynamic reflections, it is making sure that the subject is well lit while the reflecting surface is shaded. Almost any shiny surface can be used to produce a colorful reflection, including store windows and car hoods. My favorite, however, remains water. For me, nothing else conveys the serenity of being on the ocean as does warm light relected off of fishing boats or a coastline at the beginning or end of the day. Even a choppy ocean surface can reflect well with a long enough exposure.

Cathedral Rocks, Red Rock Crossing , Red Rock State Park, Sedona, Arizona


Still water acts exactly like a mirror, to the point where some of my tight reflection images have been published upside down. I now add lilly pads or some reference object, if there is no background, to indicate which side is up. I will have to admit, however, some reflections are fscinating viewed upside down and in either case, a reflection provides a unique view of the world and a great change of pace for a photographer.

Capture Easy Color For Powerful Photographic Images

fruit is sold in the mercado in Zaachila, Oaxaca, Mexico

A student recently asked me how I consistently produce images with so much color. I have been working as a professional photographer for over twenty-five years and do many things automatically. I had to think about the question for a few minutes before I could explain it properly.

The short answer, of course, is that I look for color everywhere I travel.
For me, color is an integral part of the travel experience. A vendor’s stall of colorful fruit in a Mexican mercado at sunrise or the rainbow hues of Native American regalia at a powwow draw me like a magnet.  Throw in an occasional sunset and you have the photographer’s “easy” color.

Most travel photographers look for the right light, rather than just colorful subjects. Color tends to be emphasized in certain situations and we capitalize on that. The first and last hour of the day is definitely the most popular time to shoot for many professionals, from nature and travel shooters to architectural photographers. That warm light streaming through your image sets a mood that is hard to beat.

Sienna, Italy

I was standing there, panting, at the top of a bell tower in Sienna, Italy. I had dragged my gear up what seemed like, at least, a thousand stairs, but I knew the image I was about to make would be worth the effort. The sun was on the verge of setting and delicate pink light was sweeping across the ochre-colored town below me, long shadows giving the buildings volume. I merely had to crop tightly with my 80-200 mm zoom lens to capture the intricate mosaic of a beautifully lit Italian hill town.

This opportunity was not an accident or plain old good luck. I had planned this image before I had even left home. I try to plan my shooting schedule so that, for each location, I have at least one main subject to cover each sunrise and sunset. My research even tells me what direction each main building faces, so I know what time of day will give me the best results.

Creating images during the “Magic Hours” of sunrise and sunset can certainly give a photographer great color, but rather than capturing just another sunrise/sunset, use that warm light to create atmosphere as it washes over a new location or subject. Break the “sunset habit” and turn your back on the sun. You may find the color just as saturated and the subjects considerably more interesting.