Hunting rainbows is an exciting way to add color to a landscape photo. Discover tips from these six experienced photographers on capturing the ethereal beauty of rainbows.

Rainbows are unreliable, fleeting, and difficult to capture on camera. Take, for example, the case of the quadruple rainbow. While scientists had discussed the mystifying phenomenon for centuries, it wasn’t until 2011 that someone actually managed to photograph it.

For most photographers, however, the chase for the perfect rainbow is worth all the challenges. There’s nothing quite like realizing you’ve finally stumbled upon the shot of your dreams, even if you get soaked by rain in the process.

We asked six outstanding photographers to tell us about their experiences hunting rainbows. Below, they share their best tips. Learn how to predict when and where rainbows will appear and how to pick the right gear when the time comes.

1. “Rainbows usually appear during a summer rain or shortly after a summer rain.”

Gheorghe Popa

6 Pro Tips for Photographing Amazing Images of Rainbows — Know the Local Weather

Image by Gheorghe Popa. Gear: Fuji XT1 camera, Samyang 8mm f/2.8 UMC Fisheye II lens. Settings: Exposure 1/80 sec; f8.0; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Usually, after a summer rain, I go to the forest near my town to launch the drone. This time, however, I was surprised to see the perfect rainbow because it was still raining quite heavily. I played around with the raindrops and the abstract shapes created by the water droplets on the car windows, and a few minutes later, I photographed the rainbow with the camera I had on me.

6 Pro Tips for Photographing Amazing Images of Rainbows — Embrace Surprises

Image by Gheorghe Popa.

Pro Tip

It is not every day that we are lucky enough to see a rainbow, but if you are familiar with your surroundings, you can make your own luck. You only need to be creative. Rainbows usually appear during a summer rain or shortly after a summer rain.

To photograph a rainbow, we must have a wide lens, which will allow us to capture as much of the rainbow as possible, or a telephoto lens, which will allow us to capture details or isolate a particular subject in the distance (e.g. a lone tree, a bird flying, a few horses). However, any lens that helps you capture the image in your head is a good lens. If you have time to spare, a tripod would be ideal, but if you have enough light, you can also shoot handheld.

A polarization filter can cause a rainbow to disappear from your shot, but it can also enhance the colors of a rainbow when used correctly. You only need to rotate the filter until you get the most intense colors. I would suggest using an ND filter for a long exposure.

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2. “A fisheye lens will work well as long as there is very little distortion in the horizon line.”

Marcus Paladino

6 Pro Tips for Photographing Amazing Images of Rainbows — Try Fisheye Lenses

Image by Marcus Paladino. Gear: 5D Mark IV camera, 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens. Settings: Focal length 227mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f.4.50; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

My friend and I went on a quick hike to check out the sunset from atop a small mountain adjacent to a beach. When we got to the top, we discovered the most vibrant rainbow I’ve ever seen looming on the other side of the hill. I shot every angle possible until it slowly faded away as the sun began to set. It ended up being one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve witnessed in real life. Maybe the two were interconnected; either way, I’ll never forget that feeling of awe.

Marcus Paladino
Marcus Paladino
Marcus Paladino

Pictured: [1] Marcus Paladino [2] Marcus Paladino [3] Marcus Paladino

Pro Tip

Zoom in or zoom out—nothing in between. I’d recommend either a really tight focal length on the rainbow to help compress the scene or a really wide angle to capture the entire landscape (especially if the rainbow is connecting on both ends). A fisheye lens will work well as long as there is very little distortion in the horizon line.

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3. “The most important conditions are broken clouds and a sun that is close to the horizon.”

Anton Petrus

6 Pro Tips for Photographing Amazing Images of Rainbows — Consider the Whole Composition

Image by Anton Petrus. Gear: Canon 5D Mark II camera, Tokina 17-35 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/400 sec; f11; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I shot this rainbow in September during the sunset. There is a small river—more of a creek, really—near my house. Once I saw that the sun had appeared from the clouds, I ran towards the river. And I got lucky with a double rainbow! To make the shot more dramatic, I went waist-deep into the water. In the end, I got the rainbow and its reflection.

Anton Petrus
Anton Petrus

Pictured: [1] Anton Petrus [2] Anton Petrus

Pro Tip

Shooting rainbows is mostly about persistence and a great deal of luck. It is important to follow the weather report to be able to predict the exact moment when a rainbow could appear. In most cases, you will find spectacular rainbows before sunset, but sometimes you’ll have the chance to catch one in the morning. The most important conditions are broken clouds and a sun that is close to the horizon.

It is important to be completely ready beforehand. Check your batteries and your memory card, and do not forget that polarizing filters can remove rainbows completely from the final picture.

Do not stick to one type of lens. Use a wide-angle lens for a few shots, then use a zoom lens for another few. You will get different kinds of images. Please remember that rainbows are just one part of any picture. They will play an important role in the composition, but they are still just a part of the whole story.

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4. “I’ll sometimes use rainbows to add some “oomph” to a landscape shot.”

Mike Pellinni

6 Pro Tips for Photographing Amazing Images of Rainbows — Integrate the Rainbow Into the Scene

Image by Mike Pellinni. Gear: Nikon D7100 camera, Nikkor 18-140 lens. Settings: Focal length 27mm; exposure 1/80 sec; f11; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This was an absolutely random coincidence. My fellow photographers and I were chasing the fog in the valley of Synevyr National Park (Ukraine) and did not plan to shoot the lake. But the weather changed, and the sun began to melt the fog. The landscape became hazy and boring. We didn’t want to leave the area and decided to try to find some shots in the shade of the forest, overlooking the water’s surface. And there it was: the rainbow. I need to mention it was exaggerated in post-processing.

6 Pro Tips for Photographing Amazing Images of Rainbows — Use Post-Processing for Clarity

Image by Mike Pellinni.

Pro Tip

I’ll sometimes use rainbows to add some “oomph” to a landscape shot. The trick is to ensure that it’s visible but doesn’t overwhelm the whole scene. I find it works best when the landscape is a bit side-lit (i.e. the sun is behind your shoulder at about 15-30 degrees). Remember that a rainbow can be killed by a polarizing filter, and it could potentially trick your camera’s metering system, so it is necessary to overexpose by +1/3 or +2/3 stop, depending on the rainbow’s size in the frame. That said, I think it’s pretty easy to reproduce rainbows in Photoshop, and that’s what I do most of the time.

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5. “Rainbows can show up anywhere, and being well-positioned is already half of the work.”

chrisontour84

6 Pro Tips for Photographing Amazing Images of Rainbows — Good Positioning Pays Off

Image by chrisontour84. Gear: Sony a3000 camera, kit lens. Settings: Focal length 18mm; exposure 1/200 sec; f13; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is the Iguazu Falls waterfall as seen from the Brazilian Side. It’s just a beautiful location and my favorite waterfall in the world. On a sunny day, a rainbow is basically guaranteed!

6 Pro Tips for Photographing Amazing Images of Rainbows — Get Creative with Location

Image by chrisontour84.

Pro Tip

The most important thing is to make sure to position yourself so that you can get a great shot. If it’s been a sunny day, but, all of a sudden, dark clouds appear, there is a high chance of rainbows. In these cases, you should already be on your way to a spot with good views. Rainbows can show up anywhere, and being well-positioned is already half of the work.

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6. “When chasing storms, follow the dark sky with the sun to your back.”

Pictureguy

6 Pro Tips for Photographing Amazing Images of Rainbows — Work with Natural Light

Image by Pictureguy. Gear: Canon 1DS Mark III camera, Canon l series 17-40 lens. Settings: Focal length 17mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f8; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Rainbow pictures are often part of my storm-chasing adventures. It is all about finding the right light and some kind of anchor or foreground element to line up the shot. It doesn’t always happen, but when all or most of the variables work out, it is magical. In this case, the storm was getting more and more intense as I was lining up this shot of the Buffalo Pound Anglican Country Church in Saskatchewan, Canada. After I got my shot, the storm started to break up, and it was time for me to check the radar data to see what might be next.

Pictureguy
Pictureguy

Pictured: [1] Pictureguy [2] Pictureguy

Pro Tip

When chasing storms, follow the dark sky with the sun to your back. Also, stay close to the back edge of the storm. When it rains, the colors will light up against the sky.

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Top Image by chrisontour84.