Chasing Rainbows Overrated

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One of the most popular places for sunset photos of the Seattle skyline, the Jose Rizal bridge is at the north end of Beacon Hill, where 12th Avenue crosses over I-90. I go there often, and on a sunny summer evening it’s not unusual to find a dozen or more photographers lined up with their tripods, waiting for the sun to drop behind the Olympic Mountains to the west.

Two weeks ago, I went to the bridge on a Sunday evening (5/26) to snap a few pictures. It was a cloudy day with intermittent rain showers around the area, so I knew there was no chance of a colorful sunset, but I thought something interesting might appear. I’ve had outings to the bridge that resulted in not a single photo worth keeping, but it’s always fun to try.

I arrived about 40 minutes before sundown, and set up my tripod and starting snapping shots like this one every minute or two:

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As the sun approached the horizon, it shined through a gap below the clouds for a couple of minutes. It was sort of interesting to the human eye, but the contrast between bright sunlight and dark clouds and buildings was too much for the camera to do much with:

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I continued to wait for something better. Meanwhile, a faint rainbow appeared behind me to the east, and all of the other photographers on the bridge were taking pictures of it. One many even walked over to tell me “hey, there’s a rainbow behind you, just wanted to be sure you didn’t miss it.”

There are two things you need for a really great rainbow: sun low in the sky with clear skies in that direction, and dark skies in the opposite direction, so that the colors of the rainbow will really stand out against the dark background. In this case, only the first condition was met, and it was a lackluster little rainbow. I snapped a quick photo to make it clear I had seen it, then turned around to continue waiting for something interesting to happen as the sun went down. (I can’t show you the lackluster rainbow here, because that shot was one of the ones I deleted in my first editing pass when I processed my photos from this outing.)

A few minutes later, as the sun disappeared behind low clouds in the Poulsbo area, I got my favorite shot of the evening, which I cropped and posted on Facebook as my “cover” photo:

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The sun had started to be obscured by the clouds, which reduced its light enough to let some of the detail in the buildings come through, as well as the colors in the sky above. This combination lasted for just a few seconds before the color began fading as the sun dropped out of sight.

That photo seemed to resonate with others in Seattle – it was shared 283 times, with over 1,100 likes on King 5’s post of it and over 400 likes on KPLU’s post. Rainbows can be fun (this was my favorite one last year), but I’m glad I was facing away from the rainbow when the scene above briefly appeared.

Speaking of foul-weather photos that turned out well, I’m reminded of my favorite shot of the Eiffel Tower. I have many photos of the Eiffel Tower on beautiful sunny days, but my favorite is a shot I took before dawn on a cold and cloudy winter morning a few years ago:

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