In the picture above I was at Matapauri Bay in New Zealand, walking along a short trail that cut through two small hills near the beach. A sudden down pour forced me to stow my camera (a.k.a. cellphone) in a plastic bag I had brought with me in case of such an eventuality. Drenched, my companion and I were walking the short trail, when I saw a break in the clouds and the beginning of a rainbow. It was coming out of the hill next to us, and did not make a very good photograph. Most of it wasn’t even visible, because the hill was too close. I turned on the afterburners and ran for the beach.
As I ran, the view opened up, water and sand became visible, and the rainbow? Well it followed me right along, just like a faithful dog. Rainbows are pretty magical that way. There were a few houses visible on the far shore, so I moved far enough so that most of them were hidden by the large rock on the left or behind the hillside on the right. I placed myself so that the rainbow was coming out of the rock, and took two photos before the rainbow faded away too much to photograph anymore.
One of the fabulous things about rainbows is that if you move, they move, and so to a certain degree you can push them around (or pull them around) to work with your photographs composition. If you see a rainbow, and it’s not in a very photogenic location, you at least have a chance of placing it somewhere better. It’s a risky proposition, as rainbows can be a little finicky, and can disappear just as quickly as they show up, but it is at least worth the effort.
Rainbows are an optical effect, and is dependent upon the viewer for its existence. If I am standing next to someone, and we are both admiring a rainbow in the distance, we are actually admiring two different rainbows… They just appear the same. Rainbows are created by the sunlight reflecting off of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of water droplets (how many depends on the scale of your rainbow, whether it is from the water hose, a waterfall, or a rain storm). Your rainbow will always be in a straight line from the sun, through your optic center (a.k.a. your eyes) and out the other side, at a spread of 56 degrees from the centerline… In other words, with the sun at your back the rainbow will always be straight in front of you. (For more on this read my post Where to find your best light and rainbows.)