If there is a better place on Earth to see incredible rainbows, take me there! I was fortunate to see and photograph more than one rainbow each day on Kauai during my recent week there, and I’d like to share with you two favorites. While most photographs are nearly impossible to duplicate, you can count on photographing a rainbow on the south coast of Kauai just before sunset — when the sun is not blocked by clouds. This special location is Spouting Horn, a hole in the lava shelf that shoots the surf into the air when waves come crashing into shore. Rainbows are most often seen late in the day, because you see them when you are located directly between the water that refracts the light and the sun. To be specific, rainbows make a circle at 42 degrees around the anti-solar point (directly opposite the vector toward the sun). Usually you see the top half or a fraction of the circle. This particular evening was unique, because we not only saw a brilliant rainbow in the spouting sea water, we also saw one on the horizon that was formed by a distant rain shower. You can see both rainbows seeming to merge in this photograph.
This photograph of two rainbows at Spouting Horn is a great example of how some of the best photography gives partial credit to opportunism. You, the photographer, happen to be lucky to be at the right place at the right time. There is another expression that luck comes most often to the well prepared. The best photographers are out there in the field, aided with the knowledge of past experience and looking for the best light, ready to capture it and prepared with the best equipment and techniques. (Hello, there is more to it than luck alone.) It means you are also “out there” often when conditions don’t cooperate. The late great landscape photographer Galen Rowell pointed out that photography is not an art that you can create independently as a sculptor or painter can: the success of your craft is also dependent on your servant — the outside world.
On the last day of my photographic journey to Kauai, I was especially lucky (and prepared) to fly “over the rainbow.” On an afternoon helicopter ride with Blue Hawaiian over Hanalei Bay, we witnessed a vivid rainbow north of Hanalei Bay — the beautiful crescent bay on the north side. At one moment, we saw a double rainbow, where the second rainbow shows the spectrum in opposite order, but that photo contained a distracting window reflections. Here is my best shot: ISO 200, 38 mm, f 5, 1/500 second, a circular polarizer.
This magical moment recalls the dreamy song sung by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz.
Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.