Sunday, March 29, 2015

Desert Rainbows

Rainbows always fascinate me.  They are beautiful, ephemeral, and not something I see every day.  When I am lucky enough to see a rainbow,  I try to take time to enjoy it and appreciate it.  As a Christian, a rainbow always reminds me of God's promise to Noah that He would never destroy the earth by flood again. 

The science of rainbows are that it takes rain and sun to create a rainbow.  In the desert, rain events are few and far between, so a rainbow is even more special in the desert.  

In my last trip, I was at Big Bend during several rain events.  During the first one, the rain was in the middle of the afternoon when the sun was still high in the sky.  The location of a rainbow is related to the sun angle.  I was at the bottom of the valley when I saw the rain and sunshine.  I knew that I had to get up higher in order to see the rainbow.  I was with a photographer friend. When we got to the top and started looking for the rainbow, she saw it first. But it was against the hillside not high in the sky due to the sun angle - much as I had expected. I knew we would be looking down on the rainbow because of how high in the sky the sun was. I rushed to photograph it and thought that I had missed it.  

When I began working the photos from the trip, I realized that I had actually captured a double rainbow.  One is barely visible against the hillside and the other in the sky. 

As we drove back to where the bluebonnets were,  I saw another rainbow barely peaking over the canyon wall.

On a different day, the sun and rain again appeared together. This time the sun was lower in the sky and I knew we needed to get down lower to see it.  Sure enough, a rainbow next to Casa Grande.

As a photographer, I get a sense of urgency when I know a rainbow is possible. I can hardly wait to get the chance to photograph it, so when I see one is possible and I'm in the wrong place, you can imagine me bouncing in my seat in anticipation and hope that I will get there in time to capture it. 

Rainbow photography tips:

1.  Learn the sun angle - so you know whether or not you need a taller vantage point or a lower vantage point to see the rainbow.

2. Use a circular polarizer filter.  It will brighten the rainbow or make it totally disappear depending upon how it is turned.

3.  Bracket your exposure so you have a better chance to get the most vibrant colors. 

4.  When possible, try to find a location near you with an optimal composition.

5.  Take time to enjoy the rainbow in the short time it is visible. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Photographing the Sunrise

As a photographer, when I go on location I want to be up and in place for both sunrises and sunsets.  Even when you study the weather forecasts, and check the sky when you go to bed, you never know what you will see in the morning.  One of my photographic mantras is that you have to put yourself out there - whether you actually get what you visualized or not.  Some sunrises and sunsets are busts, but if you aren't out there, you are going to miss some spectacular shots.

The earliest glow begins at least 30 minutes before the sun actually clears the horizon.  It is best if you can pick out your sunrise location the day before, but sometimes it is hard to visualize exactly where the sun is going to appear and even harder to know which clouds are going to be lit with glorious color.  In addition when you are photographing in a mountainous region, the beautiful early glow may well be hidden behind the mountain.  

I was traveling with another photographer friend, and we strove to get up and be at a location in plenty of time.  We would debate as we went along about the merits of the various locations on the way. Often however, the beginning of the glow would determine where we stopped. 

This particular morning the glow began early with only a small slit at the horizon for the sun to light the sky with.  It began with more blue tones.  And our location was challenging.  The area backlit by the sun was narrow - so trying to get the big view left you with only a thin band of glow. So I chose to limit how much of the glow I was photographing in order to have a more interesting composition with the foreground topography. 

The first hint of yellows appeared.

You can see here how narrow that band of glow was . . .

 It looked much more beautiful when I zoomed in and captured only the smaller details in the foreground . . .

But it was also hard to resist catching that larger feature on the left.

Here was the view on the right side of my viewing area - less interesting details, but the lighting on these clouds called to be photographed.

As the sun got closer to the horizon, the angle of lighting changed and more of the underside of the clouds began to light up.

Now the compositions had more details . . .

I wanted some vertical shots. This one I used some of the features in Photoshop CC's Camera Raw to bring out details in the foreground as well as the beautiful glowing clouds.

It is getting closer . . .

 And . . . here it is . . .  the first glimpse of the sun . . .

We needed to have that low horizon line to capture the earliest glow,  but when the actual sun came up, it did not line up with the more interesting land features.  So I went more wide angle and yes, it is a centered composition.  

I bumped my f/stop to f/22 hoping to get the starburst effect. The small aperture bends (diffracts) the light and creates the starburst shape. Also, shooting with a wider focal length which I also did here) creates a larger size for the starburst.  You have to catch the sun while it is still partially obscured and a smaller point source.  

Some cautions about sunrise and sunset photography. You need to be very careful not to look through the camera lens into the sun to avoid damaging your eyes. And, once the sun is fully above the horizon, you don't want to damage your camera sensor. 

Shooting directly into the sun can also cause lens flare.  Sometimes it can add to the composition and sometimes it detracts. In this case, I think I like it - this image captures the sense of the bright beginnings of a new day . . .