How To Photograph Rainbows

Rainbows are a breathtaking natural phenomenon that has captured the imagination of humans for centuries. As a photographer, capturing the vibrant colors of a rainbow in a stunning photograph can be a thrilling experience. 

How To Photograph Rainbows

However, photographing rainbows can be a challenging task, as the lighting conditions and the fleeting nature of the rainbow require a certain level of skill and technique.

This is especially true if you’re a beginner photographer or haven’t tried to photograph rainbows before.

In this article, we will explore the art of photographing rainbows and provide some practical tips and tricks to help you capture these magnificent wonders of nature.

Whether you’re a professional photographer or a beginner, this guide will help you master the art of photographing rainbows.

1. Find A Rainbow

The first step to photographing a rainbow is finding one! This isn’t an easy task as rainbows don’t have a set schedule and are relatively rare.

Instead, you’ll have to hope for a specific set of circumstances to occur and that you have the time and opportunity to photograph one (see also “Best Time To Photograph Mount Rushmore“).

The main factors that lead to the formation of rainbows are rain and bright sunlight. If photographing a rainbow is important to you, you should keep a close eye on the sky whenever a rainstorm is on its way or is beginning to rain itself out.

The sun needs to be at the right angle for a rainbow to occur and this is why they rarely occur during the middle of the day.

Rainbows often occur around natural formations such as waterfalls and you can sometimes spot them near fountains and sprinklers as well. The latter of these may not be as impressive as a rainbow you’ll see in the sky but they can be great practice.

2. Use A Narrow Aperture

To get the best photograph of a rainbow, you want everything in the photo to look sharp. The contrast of the rainbow with its surroundings is what makes it stand out and look as beautiful as it is so a sharp background and foreground are important.

This means that you should set your camera so that it has a great depth of field. We recommend using manual mode on your camera and selecting a narrow aperture.

This means apertures beginning at f/8 or f/11. This will give you the depth of field you need.

To make the most of the aperture settings, set your focus at a depth that is about a third into the scene before you. This will help you keep both the background and foreground in focus at the same time.

However, be aware that narrow apertures by nature let in less light. To compensate for this, you may need to adjust your ISO or shutter speed. We recommend focusing mainly on the shutter speed so set that a little lower so that you get the light you need.

3. Exposure Bracketing

How To Photograph Rainbows

Light can cause even more problems when it comes to photographing rainbows. When a rainbow appears, it is typically in a bright sky and this means that the background of your photo can be brighter than your foreground.

Many older cameras struggle with this combination of dark foreground and bright background which will give you clipped photos.

There are a couple of ways around this. The first is to use a graduated neutral density filter as this will darken the background for you. However, these can be expensive and don’t always get the job done.

The other option is to take three different photos that have different focuses. One should have a detailed foreground, the second a detailed background, and the final photo should be more general.

The three photos can then be combined so that you get a good photo with the details from all the photos. 

4. Tripods

The combination of a narrow aperture and slower shutter speed will help you get a better photo of a rainbow but it also means that you need to ensure that you keep the camera nice and steady for a longer period of time.

Even the slightest adjustment can increase the risk of a shaky hand ruining your photo and for this reason, we recommend using a tripod.

It doesn’t matter how slow your shutter speed is when your camera is kept firm and steady by a tripod.

There are many models of tripods available now that are compact and fold down too, so you can easily keep one in your car or even in a rucksack on days when the chances for a rainbow are high.

Tripods are also the best option if you want to try the exposure bracketing technique we mentioned in the last point.

5. Choose The Right Background

Rainbows have several different colors and to give your camera the best chance of capturing all of those colors, you should pick the right background wherever possible.

Rainbows photograph best against dark backgrounds so play around with your angles and zoom to try to find the best background you can.

It’s not always possible to choose your background, of course, but try out all of your options to see what makes the colors of the rainbow pop the most.

6. Composition

Framing the rainbow is of vital importance as well. For example, you may want to focus on one of the endpoints of the rainbow to the exclusion of the other. Getting the rainbow and the horizon line balanced in your shot is something else you consider.

Many of the composition considerations will depend on how much of the rainbow you can see and your own personal choice.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we gave six hints and tips on how to photograph rainbows. This can be tricky as rainbows are hard to predict but we hope this article will help next time you find a rainbow.

Laura McNeill
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