Archive for March 2014

Single-Image Sunday: Rock of Ages   10 comments

Columbia River Gorge

St. Peter’s Dome, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Yesterday the light was beautiful in the late afternoon when I went out to the Columbia Gorge.  I really like this section, and unbelievably no photographers seem to be interested in it.  They go for the waterfalls and creeks, and also the flower display to the east.

But this area features some of the most spectacular terrain on the Oregon side, and when weather is moving through the cliffs attract the fog like velcro.  There is a steep ridge hike in this view that we call ‘Rock of Ages’, which seems so appropriate.  It’s a b*** buster, if you know what I mean!

Something bad happened this evening.  I hate when bad things happen!

Friday Foto Talk: Creeking   13 comments

Gorton Creek Falls in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

Gorton Creek Falls is not very well known and not on a trail: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

No this post isn’t about creaky knees.  I don’t know any more than you do how to stop the process of a nature photographer’s knees going creaky with age.  It’s a different spelling anyway!  No, this post is about photographing creeks and streams.  Big rivers require a different sort of approach, so this will focus on the small and medium-sized water courses.  When I go out to shoot in these environments, I call it “creeking”, a term borrowed from hard-core kayakers.  If you’re from certain areas of the U.S., you might pronounce it “cricking”!

If you’ve seen enough of my images, you know I like to shoot water, and usually that water is photographed more or less smooth (long exposure).  After going out again yesterday afternoon for some good old wet miserable creeking, I thought about how I have come to do this sort of shooting.  It really is unlike any other kind I do, and I’m not sure if it’s fun I’m having or not.  Since it’s Friday, I’m going to be positive and say it’s fun!

Creek and moss, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Mist and fog add atmosphere to any creek shot: Gorton Creek, Oregon.

Since the way you photograph water is a personal thing, I will talk little about the details of exposure and such.  Instead I’ll concentrate on the approach I take to ensure I get the most out of my flowing, gurgling or tumbling subjects.  But I will say you would do well to at least try long exposures with water.  Don’t get married to it of course, but also don’t be surprised if you get drawn into a passionate romance.  However long your exposures, the fun part of this is composing an interesting “‘intimate landscape” – an image of a fairly small piece of nature.

Many of these I captured yesterday in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  Please click on the image or contact me if you are interested in any of them.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.

EQUIPMENT:

  • Tripod:  Since streams are often lined with trees, light is usually low.  Also, for long exposures a tripod is almost a necessity.  The only other way to do them is to set your camera on a rock or your pack.  That’s a hassle and you also run the risk of dumping it in the water.
  • Tripod Head:  A ball-head is probably best, since you will want to quickly change the camera angle in a number of directions.  Make sure your entire attachment system is bomb-proof.  Having a camera come off the tripod in the grass of your front yard is okay.  But when you’re perched over a stream, you can’t afford anything of the sort.  So check the screw that attaches your camera plate to the camera & make sure it’s tight.  If it frequently works itself loose, apply blue Loctite to it.  Your tripod head’s clamping mechanism should fit well and be very snug on the plate.  Get a camera plate made for your camera and buy both the clamp and plate from the same manufacturer.  The camera shouldn’t move at all if you push and pull at it.  You can also attach a safety strap from the camera to the tripod head.  But if the whole tripod goes tumbling that will just make sure your camera follows.  At the edge of or in water (and also near cliffs), I either keep the camera strap around my neck or loop it around my arm.
Wahclella Falls

From a creeking trip last week, this is Wahclella Falls.

  • Backpack:  You need a camera backpack for this.  A sling or satchel type doesn’t really cut it, since you’ll be scrambling and balancing.  Try to find a backpack that fits closely to your body and wears like a real backpack.  Clik Elite is one company that sells such packs.  Unfortunately, most packs sold are too bulky and awkward, poorly suited for hiking in rough conditions.  Make sure your tripod attaches securely to the pack.
  • Camera Protection:  It helps to have camera & lenses that are fairly well sealed against moisture.  I’m not talking about waterproof cameras here, though you could use a waterproof housing if you can afford one.  Any DSLR or non waterproof point and shoot camera that falls into a stream will be in need of immediate service – not good!  But even aside from the creek itself, there’s always plenty of water around a creek.  Fine droplets hang in the air near any stream, especially near waterfalls.  In addition you will often be out when it is raining or threatening to rain.  So you need some way to cover your camera and keep it dry in rainfall or in the spray of waterfalls.  In the camera store, try to play with raincovers and see which one fits your camera best and yet still allows you to use the controls with relative ease.
  • Photographer Protection:  Figure the temperature near streams will be at least 10 degrees colder than away from them.  Also figure on getting wet, which will make you colder.  Bring rain coat and pants.  Wear your most water-resistant footwear, plus thick wool socks.  Bring a warm hat.  You can try rubber boots (wellies) but it’s easier than you think to get in water too deep for them.  A better choice: hip waders.  They will allow you to wade in as deep as you probably want to anyway.  I just use an old pair of boots and warm socks.  I don’t mind getting wet and hip waders have always seemed too clunky to me.  I bring a change of socks, shoes & pants for after the shoot.
  • Footwear+:  One more note on footwear.  If you are really into creeking consider getting felt-bottom boots.  These are the kind fly-fisherman wear.  Felt is the perfect sole material for slippery wet rocks.  Most people don’t know this, but so are your socks!  Since I”m too cheap for felt-bottom boots, this is how I do it when the rocks are super-slippery.
  • Hiking Pole/Staff:  It helps to have a hiking pole or stick to help balance and probe when creeking.  I sometimes take one of my (pair of) trekking poles, but only when I think I will be fully crossing streams.  Usually I just use my tripod.  But a hiking pole with a strap that goes around your wrist is best for stream wading.
  • Camera Gear:  You’ll want the option to shoot long exposures, so an auto-everything camera won’t really work.  A DSLR is perfect, and a full-frame DSLR even better.  Bring your wide angle lens; you’ll be using that most of the time.  Also bring along a circular polarizing filter.  Though not as useful as a CPL, a graduated neutral density filter comes in handy as well.
Eagle Creek, Oregon

Eagle Creek’s Inner Gorge, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Other than that the gear is pretty much the same as for other kinds of landscape photography.  So let’s get out and do it!  Here are some things to keep in mind for a successful creeking trip.

  • Clouds are Best:  Creeks are normally found in the forest, or at least lined with trees.  And so sunshine is generally the enemy.  The colors of vegetation and cobbles are washed out by sunshine, and contrast in sun-dappled scenes can be a nightmare.  An overcast sky is good, and so is heavy cloud-cover and rain.  fog and low clouds add atmosphere.
  • Composition is King:  As always, composition is really the make or break in your images.  And when you get under the trees and into the small-scale settings of a creek, it becomes even more important (it stands more on its own because light doesn’t steal the show as much).  Be very careful about having too much “junk” in your photos.  Sticks, ugly rocks, really anything can clutter a creekside photo.  Be patient and hunt around until you find relatively clean and beautiful compositions.
  • Light Still Matters:  Although you can easily get great shots in the middle of the day (provided it’s cloudy) while creeking, golden hour is still golden.  Even if you’re in a canyon with only a small part of the sky above you, when that sky gets filled with great light near sunrise or sunset, the resulting reflected light down near the creek can become special.  I used to try and leave the creek before sunset so I could get somewhere to shoot.  Now if I’m somewhere nice I stay put and take advantage of the good light in the canyon.
Hidden Waterfall, Columbia River Gorge

A benefit of creeking is finding small, hidden waterfalls as you wade up the stream.

  • Get Wet:  If you are determined to stay dry, and to avoid going into the stream, your images will simply not be as good as they could be.  Sooner or later you’ll need to enter the water.
  • But Be Careful:  Being around water is a hazard for both you and your equipment.  This means taking your time and being deliberate about all your movements.  Use your pole (or tripod) to probe ahead.  Place your foot only when you know how deep it is and what the bottom is like.  Don’t take chances balancing and hopping when it’s much safer to  just walk through the water.  Plan ahead before you enter the stream so you aren’t fussing with gear and changing lenses.  Your camera is either around your neck or on your tripod (preferably both!).
  • Beware the Current:  People are surprised when they find out how it only takes a shallow stream to knock them off their feet.  If it’s swift, a creek does not need to be that deep to be powerful.  So enter current only after you’re sure of its power.  You can get an idea by probing with your pole/tripod.  Face upstream and take a wide stance, don’t take really big steps, maintain good balance.  Also be aware that your tripod will only be stable up to a certain speed/depth of water.
Panther Creek Falls Vertical

Here at Panther Creek Falls in Washington, I used the logs spanning the stream to help frame the picture. The heavy mist & rain, while a hassle to deal with, made for a great atmosphere.

  • Get Creative:  Look for logs and other interesting elements to help frame your pictures (see image above).  Climb up above the stream and look down, shoot both downstream and upstream, move up and downstream looking for creative compositions.  Try using a fisheye lens if you have one.
  • Use a Polarizer:  Put your polarizing filter on, point it at a bright part of the stream, where it’s reflecting the sky, or at rocks shiny with water, and rotate it to see the effect.  You’ll notice how, just as with your sunglasses, it’s possible to see the bottom of the stream when you do this.  If there are multicolored rocks below the water, you have a nice foreground if you have a polarizer.  It will also help to bring out the colors, especially if things are wet.  There are exceptions to the rule, of course (see image below).
Panther Creek Bridge, Washington

Standing in the middle of Panther Creek, I liked the reflection off the water, thought it may look good in B&W, so took off the polarizer for a shot.

 

  • Go Long:  Most photographers want to get at least some longer exposures, where the water takes on that silky look.  Yet another benefit of the circular polarizing filter is that it stops anywhere from one to two stops of light from reaching your sensor or film.  So this (plus smaller aperture and lower ISO) may be all you need for longer exposures.  If it is bright out, or if you want really long exposures, you’ll need a neutral density filter.  You can buy those that rotate to give you a varying degree of darkness, but be cautious about the quality on these.
  • Keep a Lens Cloth Handy:  Water droplets from a waterfall or rain will get on your lens surface and interfere with the light.  Then when you come home and look at your pictures, you will be disappointed.  Unlike dust spots, water droplets are very hard to clone out with software.  I have ruined many a shot not being fastidious enough about keeping my lens dry.  Prevent water getting on the lens by using a lens hood and covering up with a towel until the moment of the shot.  Check and wipe with a dry lens cloth when necessary.  That can mean constantly when it’s raining or near a falls.  Annoying but definitely necessary.
  • Take your Time:  Since there is a safety aspect here, taking your time is very important.  But more than any other kind of photography, especially when it’s raining (when I usually go), creeking takes time.  So plan on at least a couple hours in each location.  Exploring up and down the creek, to areas that are not accessible by trail, setting up, being careful with your camera gear, all this takes time.

 

I hope you got something out of this post.  And I hope you take some time to go play along a stream with your camera..soon!  If you’re patient you could easily come away with a beautiful intimate landscape that you’re proud to hang on the wall.  Have a great weekend!

Gorton Creek, Columbia River Gorge

Gorton Creek’s moss and ferns take on a glow as beautiful light seeps into the canyon at sunset.

Gorton Creek, Columbia River Gorge

Blue Hour in the Canyon:  One more shot before darkness falls at Gorton Creek.

 

 

Wordless Wildflower Wednesday: Grass Widow   3 comments

Eastern_Gorge_3-25-14_5D3_004

Single-image Sunday: Reflection of the Sky   15 comments

This recent image from Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge shows the more subtle effects of reflection.

This recent image from Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge shows the more subtle effects of reflection.

 

A quick follow-up to my last post on reflections, this I captured toward the end of day in the inner gorge of Eagle Creek.  I bushwacked into the area and crossed the swift cold stream three times to get to this point.  But then I knew I may as well wait until late-day light, when if I was lucky a sort of golden overtone would pour into the canyon from below.

I got lucky and that happened.  Also the sky above the canyon remained bright and added a highlight – a subtle gold  – on the river in the middle of the picture.  These are all small things, but it’s the small things that add up to a nice image.  Click on the photo to go to the gallery on my website, and please contact me if you have any questions.  Have a great week!

Weekly Photo Talk: Reflections   25 comments

Mount Rainier, Washington is reflected in the blue waters of Bench Lake.

Mount Rainier, Washington is reflected in the blue waters of Bench Lake.

This post dovetails with the weekly photo challenge – Reflections.  I’ll be brief and to the point.  Here are some things to keep in mind when photographing reflections.  By the way, all of the images here are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  If you are interested in one, just click on it to go to the gallery part of my website.  If you have any questions or special requests, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest!

One of my favorite night images, the moon and Jupiter times two in Mt. Rainier's Reflection Lake.  Please click on image if interested in it.

One of my favorite night images, the moon and Jupiter times two in Mt. Rainier’s Reflection Lake. Please click on image if interested in it.

      • Seek out reflections, especially when the light is nice.  Don’t worry about being cliche or boring.  Reflections multiply a beautiful sky or other nicely lighted subject.  They add zing to any photo.  They also help to control contrasts, evening out the light and making exposure easier.
This scene had subtle, rather dim but beautiful light, and Lake Crescent (Olympic Peninsula, Washington) reflecting that light made the shot.

Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.  Light was subtle, rather dim but beautiful, and the reflection multiplied that light and made the shot.

      • Reflections can close shapes or complete patterns.  Just look at the image below and imagine how the shadow and mountain would look without the reflection.  They would make half a shape.
Appropriately named Blue Lake near Mt. Rainier, Washington.

Appropriately named Blue Lake near Mt. Rainier, Washington.

      • As always, variety is the spice.  In order to avoid the same old look of upside down subjects, move in close, angle your camera down to take in only the reflection, work the light and subject both.  Do abstracts and close-ups.  Try reflections off buildings and use bright rocks too.  For times when the reflection is disturbed by wind, view them as opportunities to get a different kind of shot.  Watch carefully what the light does as the wind blows.
These trees along the Columbia River are flooded in spring's high flows, creating the opportunity for an abstract-like composition.

These trees along the Columbia River are flooded in spring’s high flows, creating the opportunity for an abstract-like composition.

      • When you have a fairly standard situation, like for example a reflection of a mountain off a lake, try exposing for the reflection.  Put your camera on manual and point the center of frame at the brightest part of the reflection (or if that is very bright just to the side of it).  Set the aperture you want and then adjust shutter speed to center your light meter reading.  Then move the camera to recompose and get the shot you want.  Shoot and then review the image on the LCD, paying attention to the histogram.  You want to make sure the histogram isn’t climbing up the right edge (overexposure) or way too far over to the left (underexposure).
The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are reflected in a high alpine tarn.

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming are reflected in a high alpine tarn.

      • In general, reflections are a little dimmer than the light source.  Remember that when you’re using a graduated neutral density filter, whether in the field or on the computer later.  Using the example from the point above, keep the reflection from becoming brighter than the brightest areas of the sky.
Don't forget night-time reflections:  Milky Way over Mt. Adams, Washington.

Don’t forget night-time reflections: Milky Way over Mt. Adams, Washington.

      •  When the sun glints directly off the water, those often beautiful highlights are normally the same or very close to the brightness of the sun.  So if they are blown out, so that they make the histogram hit the right edge, don’t worry about it.  Just like you don’t worry about blowing out the sun, who cares if those details lack highlights?
A winter sunset from Timberline on Mount Hood, Oregon reflects from the snow.

A winter sunset from Timberline on Mount Hood, Oregon reflects from the snow.

      • When you are shooting reflections in windows or mirrors out on the street, pay special attention to everything in the frame.  Of course this is always a great idea, but it’s even more important with street shooting.  Now I know it’s very cool to be surprised later on the computer when you see something you hadn’t noticed at the time.  But in general you want to control what is appearing in your composition.  It pays to be very observant with reflections.

I hope you are blessed with great reflections on your upcoming photography forays.  In my opinion, they are worth their weight in gold.  I also hope your weekend is as beautiful as ours is in the Pacific Northwest.  The first weekend of spring, yippee!

This house and the Mendocino Coast (California) headland it sits on are reflected beautifully off wet sand.

This house and the Mendocino Coast (California) headland it sits on are reflected beautifully off wet sand.

Fall along the Animas River of New Mexico.

Fall along the Animas River of New Mexico.

A glorious sunset sky is reflected from the Columbia River in Oregon as a seal cruises by.

A glorious sunset sky is reflected from the Columbia River in Oregon as a seal cruises by.

Happy World Water Day!   8 comments

Yesterday I found myself caught in drenching rain at this waterfall in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Yesterday I found myself surrounded by water, caught in drenching rain at this waterfall in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

Fresh water is something we all take for granted until it is in short supply.  Though the world will not soon run out of fresh water, it is a precious resource that we waste as if it is created out of thin air.  Only 2.5% of the earth’s water is fresh, the rest is in the oceans.  And over 2/3 of that 2.5% is locked away in ice caps and glaciers.  Most of the rest lies below ground.  All this means that only .03% of the total fresh water on this planet is fresh and on the surface (in rivers and lakes).

I hope you enjoy these images.  Just click on any image you’re interested in to go to the full-size version, where purchase options are a click away.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  These versions are too small anyway.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for your interest!

At Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River carries a lot of sediment, giving it the power to erode some of the largest landscape features on earth.

At Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River carries a lot of sediment, giving it the power to erode some of the largest landscape features on earth.

There may come a time that our population is too great to feed.  Not so much because of lack of land or soil, but for lack of water.  We mine it at unsustainable rates from ancient aquifers and when our wells run dry we simply drill another one and dip a longer straw into the drink.  These aquifers replenish themselves on geologic not human timescales, so we are guaranteed to run short eventually.

Then we will need to transport water long distances from places where the groundwater is not yet depleted.  We will also need to figure out a way to cheaply desalinate water, but this is always going to be energy-intensive, so may not be a great option unless we figure out how to exploit solar on an enormous scale in the future.

Life may have evolved in a pool like this one, Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

Life may have evolved in a pool like this one, Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

All that is pretty depressing.  But let’s step back and appreciate water for the wonderful thing it is.  Water is the most important reason why life evolved on this planet.  It is not only the ‘universal solvent’, where all the chemistry necessary for life can take place, but it also literally keeps our planet breathing.  Water in the atmosphere transports heat from warm areas to cold, making agriculture possible in many places where it would otherwise be too cold.  It is the most powerful greenhouse gas.

Primeval water:  This Indonesian volcano is spewing water and other gases into the air every day.  The lake color comes from all the minerals.

Primeval water: This Indonesian volcano is spewing water and other gases into the air every day. The lake color comes from all the minerals.

(But please ignore those who doubt the role of CO2 in global warming.  These ‘skeptics’ believe that water dominates as a greenhouse gas and will keep us from warming.  They don’t know what anybody who takes Meteorology 101 knows, that the effects of water are buffered and even out over short timescales.  CO2 and methane are still the most important greenhouse gases as far as climate change goes.  Water’s role as greenhouse gas is important only in terms of weather- not climate change.)

A pristine spring feeds a rushing river in Oregon's Cascade  Mountains

A pristine spring feeds a rushing river in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains

Water is also responsible for erosion, transporting materials from the mountains to make the soil we grow our food in.  Water deep inside the earth is critical for melting of rocks, creating volcanoes.  Volcanoes are crucial for recycling gases back into the atmosphere, including CO2 and water itself.  We would have frozen over long ago without volcanoes.  Water essentially lubricates the earth, making plate tectonics possible.  Without plate tectonics the earth would be dead or nearly so, with only submicroscopic life.

One of the Columbia Gorge's prettiest waterfalls is Faery Falls.

One of the Columbia Gorge’s prettiest waterfalls is Faery Falls.

So let’s celebrate water today and every day.  Enjoy it but respect it too.  Take shorter showers, turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth, never leave a hose or faucet running, plant your yard with plants that do not need extra water beyond what falls from the sky.  Install low-flow fixtures.  Remember the old saying “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.”  You can, I’m sure, think of many other ways to conserve water.

The flooded wetlands of Botswana's Okavango Delta are a magnet for Africa's amazing wildlife.

The flooded wetlands of Botswana’s Okavango Delta are a magnet for Africa’s amazing wildlife.

Wordless Wednesday: Water for Rivers   4 comments

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Single-image Sunday: Full Moon Ski   6 comments

This has been quite the skinny year for skiing in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon & Washington.  I took the opportunity yesterday to go with a couple photographer friends up to Potato Hill  up in the mountains (don’t ask me why it’s called that).  I was on my XC skis and they snowshoed.  The summit area has a wonderful view of several rugged high peaks of the Central Oregon Cascades.

Down at the highway, the snow had melted much too early for this time of year, and there were bare patches.  But once we climbed most of the 1500 feet to the viewpoint, the snow was in great condition – smooth and spring-like.  I really enjoyed being back on my skis.

Though we had a colorful sunset and a misty moonrise, I think I like this shot from later in the evening, just before we left.  The moon had just crested the hill and was shining beautifully on the pristine snow.  Skiing down fast in the moonlight was a lot of fun.  Hope your weekend has been just as fun!

Moonlight on snow, Cascade Mtns, Oregon

Moonlight on snow, Cascade Mtns, Oregon

Friday Foto Talk: Photographing Rainbows   12 comments

A rare morning rainbow in the desert graces my campsite one morning on the Baja Peninsula, Mexico.  Click for purchase options.

A rare morning rainbow in the desert graces my campsite one morning on the Baja Peninsula, Mexico. Click for purchase options.

With springtime right around the corner, the weather in many areas, including here in the Pacific Northwest, will be ‘unsettled’, prime conditions for one of my favorite things: rainbows!  Throughout the world’s temperate regions in fact, the change of seasons that is about to happen results in clashes of warm & cool air masses.  That means frequent showery weather and a sky that’s often broken into clear and cloudy parts.  When the sun is relatively low in the sky, whether morning or late afternoon, and there is precipitation in the area, you’ve got the perfect setup for rainbows.

By the way, all these images are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  They are small versions anyway.  Click on the image you’re interested in to go to the main gallery part of my website, where full-size versions are available for purchase.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for, have any questions or special requests, don’t hesitate to contact me.  I’m happy to get your email!

Some photographers turn up their noses at rainbows.  I think I know why; they believe them to be ‘cliche’.  But I don’t at all understand how anyone, photogs. included, could be cynical about something as beautiful as a rainbow.  It’s true, I don’t like over-done subjects.  And when a certain look or technique catches on (courtesy the internet), it tends to start looking gimmicky to me.  But rainbows are one of nature’s wonders.  So they will never be cliche to me.  It is a small step from there to thinking that beautiful skies and light are cliche.  And then you are well on your way to becoming a photographer of the grim.  That’s not me!

Another morning rainbow, this one a very bright one over the Pacific from high up on a cliff on California's Big Sur.

Another morning rainbow, this a very bright one over the Pacific from high up on a cliff on California’s Big Sur.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us love rainbows.  They are a beautiful way to add color and interest to any landscape image.  And they are sufficiently rare as to always elicit a reaction whether viewing a picture or in person.  So if you want to go chasing them, don’t ever let anybody make you feel less the photographer because of it.  By the way, one of my followers requested this subject.  So thanks Annette, it was a great idea!

This post will focus on standard rainbows, the kind that are formed by slanting sunlight hitting moisture-laden cloudy skies.  I’ll leave oddball bows like moonbows, waterfall rainbows, etc. to another time.

A storm moves through Oregon's Alvord Desert, and leaves behind a rainbow!

A storm moves through Oregon’s Alvord Desert, and leaves behind a rainbow!

How Nature Creates Rainbows

Before we get to tips, it’s helpful to know exactly how a rainbow is created.  We aren’t going to get too sciency here, but optics are involved.  Sunlight is made up of all the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo and violet (Roy G. Biv is how so many students have memorized it).  When a beam of sunlight passes through a glass prism, as Isaac Newton first discovered, the light is split up and the colors hidden inside are visible to us.  Normally they are all smushed together (that’s a science word I swear!).  The colors appear because each one is bent at a slightly different angle as it passes from air to glass and back out again.

When big puffy storm clouds invade the sky, there are of course zillions of tiny water droplets inside the clouds.  But high up in the clouds and even outside of clouds there are also ice crystals.  Both water droplets and ice crystals can act like prisms, but as you might expect, the ice does a better job.  That’s why rainbows are more common when there is a cool, unstable air mass creating tall, puffy and energetic clouds with cold, ice-rich tops.  The reason why rainbows more often occur in afternoon than morning is because the atmosphere is more turbulent, with rapidly rising air forming ice crystals high in the clouds.

Rainbows are potentially visible to you when the angle between light source (sun), rainbow and you the observer is close to 40 degrees.  This is because the light is bent (refracted) at a shallow angle when it enters the drop or ice crystal.  It’s bent again once or twice more as it curves around and is concentrated on its way back to you.  On it’s way through it is split into the colors of the rainbow.  With ice crystals there is also reflection involved, which increases brightness and intensity.  To check this out for yourself, play around on a sunny day with a water hose set on spray.  Point it at varying angles with the sun to find the one that produces the best rainbows.

Green Heaven

What does this tell us about chasing Rainbows?

I have caught plenty of morning rainbows,  But combine the fact that the weather most often is suitable in late afternoon with the angle of 40 degrees and you can see that starting a couple hours before sunset is a great time to look for them.

When the sun is still fairly high, the triangle forming the 40-degree angle between the sun, rainbow and you is nearly vertical.  As the sun gets lower, that triangle starts to lay down on its side.  Then rainbows will not appear directly away from the sun but at an angle to it.  And you are more likely to see partial and nearly vertical rainbows.

When you’re looking directly away from the sun, when that triangle is standing straight up, that’s when the classic rainbow with a full, tall arc will most often appear.  When the sun is nearly set, you can still get full rainbows looking directly away from the sun.  They’re just going to be very flat and shallow

A rare place to spot a rainbow, the desert of Namibia.

A rare place to spot a rainbow, the desert of Namibia.

The Green River flows through Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, under a rainbow!

The Green River flows through Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, under a rainbow!

So here are some tips for catching that rainbow!

      • Be Prepared:  When the weather is unsettled, when the weather-guessers are calling for thunderstorms, have your camera gear handy early and late in the day, with an eye to the sky at all times.  Or just set aside time to go out and try your luck.  Pay particular attention to the half of the sky away from the sun.  Don’t forget raingear for both you and your camera; they don’t call them rainbows for nothing!  Keeping your camera relatively dry and yet being ready for rainbows is a delicate, sometimes frustrating balancing act.  But it’s worth it!
      • Remember the Angle:  Remember you get rainbows most often in the afternoon when the light makes an angle of about 40 degrees or less with the earth’s surface.   So if you go out two or three hours before sunset, start by looking directly away from the sun.  As the sun approaches the horizon, keep an eye out for partial rainbows at oblique angles away from the sun.  For full rainbows that have a big arc, look an hour or so before sunset.
      • Use a Polarizing Filter:  To make the colors of a rainbow really come out, similar to what you observe with your eyes, use a circular polarizing filter.  This will make a huge difference.  In almost all cases, you want to rotate the filter so that the rainbow is at its most colorful.  If you are very close to an especially large and colorful rainbow, you may want to minimize the color, either by leaving the filter off or rotating it only partway to max color.
One of Portland, Oregon's many parks, on a weathery spring day.  Click on image for purchase options.

One of Portland, Oregon’s many parks, on a weathery spring day. Click on image for the full-size version & purchase options.

      • Composition is still Important:  Sure a rainbow is a great subject on its own, but your composition will still make or break the image.  Your foreground and background, how the rainbow cuts through the frame, how the other elements are situated in the frame, all of these things matter more than the fact you’re shooting a rainbow.
      • Exposure is a Breeze (usually):  Since the sun is over your shoulder shining front-light onto your rainbow and landscape, exposure is easy.  You can even shoot in auto and get great results.  Most modern DSLRs do a great job with the metering mode called Evaluative (Canon), Matrix (Nikon), or similar names.  Even other metering modes work most of the time, but sometimes the rainbow is very bright and dark clouds are in the background, so there’s a chance of messing up your exposure.  You could get underexposure if you point the center of your frame right at the brightest part of the rainbow or overexposure if you point at the darkest clouds.
      • End of the Rainbow:  Speaking of composition, you will do well to find an interesting element for the rainbow to come down to.  This is particularly dramatic with partial rainbows, where there is a spotlight effect on something interesting, with the rainbow hitting ground very nearby and beautifully lighted (or dark and dramatic) sky and landscape beyond.
A small barn in rural Oregon, at day's end on a typical showery spring day.

A small barn in rural Oregon, at day’s end on a typical showery spring day.

      • Use the Rainbow as a Frame:  With a full rainbow especially, using it to frame your entire image is a great idea.  If it’s a partial, you can still frame your main subject, as I did with the image above and at bottom.
      •  Light Matters:  Usually your light will by definition be good when it’s a rainbow day.  But there are cases when the light is especially great and those when light is so so.  Rainbow-making weather should make you think about going out and photographing no matter the time of day, but try to get to that great spot with the special composition very early or very late in the day.  That way the light has a chance of being that much sweeter for the stronger composition.
      • Chase that Rainbow!  What mostly happens of course, is that a rainbow appears while driving or otherwise engaged.  Then you find yourself trying to pull over and shoot it before it’s gone.  This is a fine idea, but be safe!!  My personal approach is to (as quick as is safe) drive, walk, run, somehow get to a spot where I have a decent composition, where the end of the rainbow comes down near something interesting.  I don’t just stop and shoot it.  I need to tell myself I don’t care about missing the rainbow, that the overall shot is the most important thing.  So I miss a lot, but those I do get are better for it.

I’m wishing every one of you the best of luck catching all the rainbows that come your way.  To return home from a shooting foray with a shot of a rainbow gives you a special little feeling, like you were given a sort of bonus or gift.  Not quite as great as coming away with a pot of gold, but special nonetheless.  Have a great weekend!

A rainbow works with a tall tree to frame Vista House in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A rainbow works with a tall tree to frame Vista House in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

Wildflower Wednesday: Bring ’em on!   10 comments

Wildflowers and insects are inseparable!

Wildflowers and insects are inseparable.

Pink rhododendron bloom in the forests of Mount Hood in Oregon.

Pink rhododendron bloom in the forests of Mount Hood in Oregon.

Pink monkeyflower and a yellow aster bloom in a meadow fed by a spring in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.

Pink monkeyflower and yellow aster bloom in a meadow fed by a spring in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.

One of my favorite flowers of the subalpine zone in the Cascades is blue gentian, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

One of my favorite flowers of the subalpine zone in the Cascades is blue gentian, here at Mount Rainier, Washington.

My favorite flower of the dry steppe region of the Pacific Northwest is the always solo mariposa lily.

My favorite flower of the dry steppe region of the Pacific Northwest is the always solo and always beautiful mariposa lily.

Let's  not forget tropical flowers.  This one attended by red ants I found in a forest in Thailand.

Let’s not forget tropical flowers. This one I found attended by red ants in a Thailand forest.

Wonderful lupine and balsamroot decorate this hillside in the eastern Columbia Gorge of Oregon.  Note the moon peaking through.

Wonderful lupine and balsamroot decorate this hillside in the eastern Columbia Gorge of Oregon. Note the moon peaking through.

Speaking of the eastern Gorge, this is its most famous flower, the arrowleaf balsamroot.

Speaking of the eastern Gorge, this is its most famous flower, the arrowleaf balsamroot.

Not all flowers are colorful.  This one is the pasqueflower, which blooms then immediately goes to a "wild hair" seed head.

Not all flowers are colorful. This one is the pasqueflower, which immediately goes to a “wild hair” seed head after blooming.

The deep forest of the Pacific Northwest hides wonders like these fairy bells, lit by a shaft of sunlight.

The deep forest of the Pacific Northwest hides wonders like these fairy bells, lit by a shaft of sunlight.

The glorious indian paintbrush is a common wildflower of mountains in the American West.

The glorious indian paintbrush is a common wildflower of mountains in the American West.

Flowers bloom in profusion in the aptly named Paradise meadows of Mount Rainier.

Flowers bloom in profusion in the aptly named Paradise meadows of Mount Rainier.

A summer flower around these parts that is particularly eye-catching, the tiger lily.

A summer flower around these parts that is particularly eye-catching, the tiger lily.

 

A welcome export to Oregon, the California poppy, likes roadsides.

A welcome import to Oregon, the California poppy, likes roadsides.

I hope you like these wildflower images.  Please click on an image to go to the main gallery part of my website, where some of the full-size versions are available for purchase.  If you can’t find one, or have any questions or special requests, please contact me.  They are protected by copyright and not available for free download, sorry.  Thanks for your interest, and happy Wildflower Wednesday!

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