How to Photograph a Rainbow

How to Photograph a Rainbow

How to Photograph a Rainbow

A Rainbow is something that has the power to stop you in your tracks when it unexpectedly appears when you’re least expecting to see one. They’re beautiful – but how do you photograph a rainbow?

Following are a few Rainbow Photography Tips that come to mind – feel free to add your own to comments below:

Find a Rainbow

This is the most obvious but also perhaps the hardest part of the process. Their appearance will depend upon the conditions and they are something that will often happen completely out of the blue. Having said this – you should especially be on the look out for rainbows when you have two elements present – falling/spraying water droplets and bright sunlight. As a result they’re common when a storm is approaching and around waterfalls/sprinklers/fountains.


As rainbows are not solid objects one of the keys to photographing them is to capture them in front of a background that allows them to stand out as much as possible. Ideally you’ll want to get a background that is uncluttered and if possible one that has darker colors (think dark clouds, mountains etc). While it’s not always possible to change the background – you might find that you’re able to change the angle that you’re shooting from or to focus just upon part of the rainbow that is in front of a good background.


While rainbows are a beautiful thing – it’s the surrounds that they appear in that make one rainbow photograph really stand out from others. As a result it’s important to carefully think about how you compose your shot when photographing them. Particularly pay attention to the following:

  • Positioning – how you position the rainbow (and the rest of the landscape) in your shot is important. Rules like the rule of thirds could be useful when thinking about focal points and leading the eye into your shot.
  • End Points of the Rainbow – the point where a rainbow hits the ground/horizon is an important point in any rainbow photograph. This is a natural point of interest so think about where you’ll put it in the frame. You might want to zoom in on this spot or even quickly change your own position so that it lines up with some other object in the scene.
  • Zoom/Wide Angle Perspectives – quickly experiment with different focal lengths (if you have different lenses or a zoom). A wide angle lens that captures a full rainbow can give you some wonderful wide vista shots – but don’t forget that zooming right in on a part of the rainbow can also lead to spectacular results. Particularly focus in on any point where the rainbow intersects with any object – or where it begins and ends.



Consider not only the background of your rainbow shots – but the foregrounds. These can add interest to the shot but also lead the eye towards focal points. Also scan the foreground for distractions that you could remove.

Multiple Rainbows

Keep in mind that where there is one rainbow there can often be a second one – or at least another layer of one that arches over the first. Including both can lead to an extra layer of interest in the shot

Polarizing Filter

If you have a polarizing filter experiment with rotating it to see what different effects it will have. You’ll find that in doing so you’ll get different saturations of colors, reflections and levels of contrast in your shot which can drastically impact the shot and help the rainbow to stand out more.



Choosing different apertures will have less impact upon the rainbow itself and more effect upon the overall shot. Choose a small aperture and you’ll get as much of the scene in focus as possible (ie it’ll have a large depth of field).


Keeping your camera as still as possible is important in all landscape shots – but it’s particularly important for rainbow shots as they often appear in darker conditions (like before a storm) and if you use a polarizing filter and a small aperture you’ll probably need to use a longer shutter speed. Of course rainbow shots are not something that you can always plan for – so you might need to find some alternative ways of securing your camera.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • spratt July 15, 2013 10:12 am

    Took this between showers on July 5 at Smith Mountain Lake, VA[eimg url='' title='IMG_0500.JPG']

  • Chris Flees July 13, 2013 03:48 pm

    Great tips for photographing rainbows. without exception the use of a tripod with any image will take your basic image and make it something spectacular.

  • Charley Williams December 16, 2012 10:23 am

    I've been trying to catch a rainbow for some time now. Just don't seem to be in the right place at the right time but finally on 12/12/12 I got the chance. It wasn't the setting I was hoping for but the rainbow was magnificent. Now I wish I could video it again as there are more things I would like to do with the camera. I'll just have to watch for another. Here is what I captured.

  • Misha October 17, 2012 11:18 am

    The centre of the rainbow arc is on a line from the sun through your eye (with the sun is behind you). The biggest rainbows are when the sun is near the horizon, either in the morning or evening. But that's the direction to look - away from the setting sun. Plus of course there must be water droplets in the air.

  • Robin October 17, 2012 04:43 am

  • Robin October 17, 2012 04:40 am

    Looked in my rear view mirror one evening while backing out of my driveway and this is what I saw. The clouds are more impressive than the rainbow, but it is none the less cool. [eimg url='' title='photostream']

  • Misha Low March 20, 2012 08:24 am

    Rainbows are relatively easy to find. The obvious requirement is having raindrops in the air. The second is to look away from the sun. The centre of the rainbow is "ALWAYS" on a line from the sun through your eye, with your back to the sun. That's why the most spectacular rainbows are when the sun is low in the sky, typically in the late afternoon.

    You can find them in dew covered spider's webs, in the early morning, which are really neat.

  • Savannah March 19, 2012 10:11 pm

    These are a dazzling photos of rainbows. Absolutely beautiful photography. Thanks for the share. By the way, i have also seen great rainbow photography at You may check that out too.

  • Colin Pernet November 28, 2011 03:27 pm

    I have taken a few shots of rainbows. One favourite is of one disappearing into a lake, but the one in the image was taken on my Lumix C55. It had four shots on the top and bottom rows clipped to gether by Elaments 8.
    Hope you like it xxxxx I am new to this and have no URL to use (unless there is something else you can suggest. Shot comes from my pictures in windows 7) No Website.
    Colin Pernet

  • Richard W. Symonds November 15, 2011 03:01 am

    How do you take a picture of a rainbow circle (eg in a cave, when the circle of light from a torch 'hits' the circle of light from the camera)?

  • Linus June 24, 2011 09:04 am

    Nice teut. Here is a sample from my side (little peculiar)

  • Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead June 16, 2011 04:31 am

    1. You mean the polarizer will be effective disregarding the sun's position?
    2. Time-allowing, is it possible to obtain the mountain in the histogram, for rainbow shots?

  • Noel June 14, 2011 10:44 am

  • Jay June 14, 2011 03:14 am

    Good stuff. I always wondered about using a polarizing filter. I assumed it would get rid of the rainbow sense it is reflected light, so I never tried it, but I might have to now, just to see what happens.

    Also try HDR rainbow shots, though they kind of tend to blow out the colors for me.

  • anupartha June 12, 2011 09:46 pm
    Here is the link

  • anupartha June 12, 2011 09:44 pm

    Texas Rainbow...
    Nice article. Well, here is one of mine, that I took some time ago without knowing much about shooting a rainbow. Shame I couldnt go out for the shot.

  • Rahela June 12, 2011 09:23 pm

    Great article!

    I'd appreciate a tip on how to photograph a fountain rainbow. I'm using a pro-zoomer camera, so feel a bit limited.

    Just a couple of days ago I was passing a fountain on our central square and saw the rainbow forming, and I thought it would be fun to photograph it - but was without my camera. And now this article appears, yay!

    So if you could give me some tips, they would be deeply appreciated!

    P.S. I really loved the photos the other members posted, especially Kerstenbeck's - fantastic work!

  • Alastair Seagroatt June 12, 2011 08:55 am

    Waterfalls can also allow for some surreal effects with rainbows:

    Yosemite Rainbow

  • P. Manivasagan June 11, 2011 01:37 pm

    I tried to capture a rainbow before one week. Since the options were limited, I can't catch it as I wanted. Let me try the tips next time. thanks..

  • Aparna E. June 11, 2011 06:55 am

    Awesome article. I've always had the hardest time taking photos of rainbows :( but these tips help! I've only been able to successfully take a picture of part of a rainbow with my camera. All the other time were with my super awful camera phone :(

    Any tips on how that could have turned out better? :\

  • Rachel Owens June 11, 2011 05:13 am

    Great examples and tips for photographing rainbows. I especially liked the reminder to shoot with a small aperture since I often forget to do this when photographing a landscape scene. Thanks!

  • Larry June 10, 2011 11:50 pm

    Just an added note. I heard years ago that ALL rainbows are double. If you'll search hard enough, you'll find a paler arc above the main arc.

    I'm excited to hear about triple rainbows. Must look for that phenomenon next time I see a rainbow.

  • JulieLinn June 10, 2011 12:35 pm

    I could've used this last week! I just scanned the steps and it seems that we shoukd treat a rainbow like night tine shots!

  • Darin House June 10, 2011 10:31 am

    A couple weeks ago a EF5 tornado ravaged a town 1 hour to my west. Just before I heard about the devestation I stepped outside and caught this beauty.
    Little did I know while I was looking at something beautiful others were suddenly placed in total destruction.

  • Bayar.B Mongolia June 10, 2011 08:26 am

    next my rainbow Thanks

    B.Bayar Mongolia

  • Bayar.B Mongolia June 10, 2011 08:23 am

    Thanks for your tips.

    PLS see my rainbow too.

  • Chandira June 10, 2011 07:32 am

    Thanks Darren! Great advice. They're tricky!!

    I haven't ever managed to get a great rainbow shot. I will keep trying, but for now here's one that was kind of incidental to the shot.. though not very vivid. I was more interested in the snow geese, and the rainbow happened to be there too. :)

  • Burkhard June 10, 2011 05:50 am

    I was lucky to have had my camera with me whilst on a drive with my brother-in-law in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

  • Yos Photo June 10, 2011 04:57 am

    Great tips, and beautiful images!

  • Matt A June 10, 2011 04:29 am

    Rainbow over Philly shot from Duck Boat tour:

    Adjusted saturation on this one to draw out color, since it was midday and the rainbow was faint:

    How do you tease out the color in lightroom?

  • Mridula June 10, 2011 02:18 am

    The most beautiful rainbow that I saw till date. Of course I could have taken a better picture.

  • Waddy Thompson June 10, 2011 01:40 am

    I have found that it also helps saturation in the colors of the rainbow to underexpose just a little, maybe 1/2 stop to 1 stop, or "bracket" exposures and pick the best one later.
    I agree, that a good polarizer can improve the images a lot too, by deepening any blue that is in the background sky as well as increasing saturation overall.
    If you have a full rainbow, it's a good time to experiment with a fisheye lens to get different curved effects in the horizon and the foreground.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer June 10, 2011 12:52 am

    I really like the airplane and sky rainbow shot. I would agree that the hardest part of photographing a rainbow is finding one!

    I got lucky that a distant approaching storm produced a rainbow when I was photographing this beach wedding in Florida:

  • Vickrim Naidoo June 9, 2011 10:51 pm

    Great advice ! im a novice photographer, im eager to try out these suggestions !
    Thanks !

    Regards Vickrim

  • Niels June 9, 2011 04:54 pm

    When I lived in Iceland for 4 months I saw uncountable many rainbows. The country is filled with waterfalls, and rainclouds come from the ocean all the time. And because the clouds only start at the beach (not above sea), the sun can shine underneath it. Perfect for rainbows.

    One time I even saw a full circle rainbow in the fog coming from the biggest waterfall Skógafoss. We tried to take a picture of it but then you need a very wide angle lens to get it all in one picture.

    Another way I have heard of to see a full circle rainbow is to stand on the edge of a cliff with fog/rain before you and the sun behind you.

  • HermanVonPetri June 9, 2011 01:05 pm

    Some more interesting things to keep in mind concerning rainbows...

    The lightness of the scene on the interior portion of a rainbow is almost always slightly brighter than the lightness of the scene on the outside of the rainbow.

    The arc of the rainbow will be much higher in the sky when the sun is lower to the horizon, and inversely, when the sun is high the rainbow will appear lower to the ground. This is good to keep in mind when you are planning to photograph a predictable rainbow such as those around waterfalls or those you create yourself.

    A rainbow will appear to track along with your movements. This is more noticeable if the water droplets that make the rainbow are physically close to you, but if you move then the rainbow will appear to move against the background as well (this doesn't include turning your head, but actually moving left or right.)

    Be on the lookout for other similar light phenomena such as sun dogs, halos, and the most rare Circumzenithal arcs which are like upside down rainbows that appear nearly directly overhead.

  • Zen June 9, 2011 12:24 pm

    double rainbow all the way across the sky!

  • Tori June 9, 2011 08:39 am

    Fantastic tips!! Thanks so much for sharing ; - )

  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 9, 2011 08:05 am

    The optical properties of air and pure water (like rain) are well understood, and raindrops are nearly always spherical in shape. With a little math (okay, I won’t cover it here), it can be shown that the angle between incoming white sunlight and the outgoing rainbow colors is about 42 degrees. To be more precise, the red light comes out at 42 degrees and blue light comes out at 40 degrees. This is true anywhere the sunlight hits raindrops, not just where we see the colorful arc.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck June 9, 2011 08:05 am

    The optical properties of air and pure water (like rain) are well understood, and raindrops are nearly always spherical in shape. With a little math (okay, I won’t cover it here), it can be shown that the angle between incoming white sunlight and the outgoing rainbow colors is about 42 degrees. To be more precise, the red light comes out at 42 degrees and blue light comes out at 40 degrees. This is true anywhere the sunlight hits raindrops, not just where we see the colorful arc.

  • Robert Heness June 9, 2011 07:15 am

    my rainbows
    taken at mount compass South Australia

  • John Grindle March 9, 2011 09:32 am

    I once photographed a rainbow from an airplane. It was magnificient.
    I think I have a photos on the site

  • Eric Mesa February 26, 2011 04:39 am

    I eventually got a MUCH better one at the Grand Canyon:

    There are some others in that set from different locations and a SECOND rainbow that appeared, but I didn't want to put too many links in the comments.

  • Zahid January 31, 2011 08:04 am

  • Danny January 21, 2011 10:27 pm

    My first attempt at photographing a rainbow. Tips were very helpful.

  • Mistre SS. Mentee January 18, 2011 08:33 pm

    The best way to photograph a rainbow is to try to capture two lovers standing beneath it!

  • C Scott January 18, 2011 08:30 pm

    Nick, I love you.

  • kelly November 10, 2010 05:20 am

    looooooooooovveee it

  • Benn Gunn October 2, 2010 08:06 pm

    src="" width="500" height="375" alt="The Duomo di Pisa under a Rainbow - Italy" />[/img]

  • mike October 2, 2010 08:13 am

    This was just following a storm 2 days ago, the sun was lower in the sky. Also I took this with my cell phone.

  • mike October 2, 2010 08:09 am

    I took this one just 2 days ago. The sun was lower in the sky right after a storm so the bottom of it was just a bright light. This was taken from my cell phone.

  • Benn September 27, 2010 07:27 am

    One I took recently in Italy at the Leaning Tower of Pisa one of my personal favorites.

    Some great tips cheers.

  • Janice September 23, 2010 06:48 am

    How to photograph the moon? Please advise?

  • Azuan September 9, 2010 03:23 pm

    hi.. I benefit a lot from this article and this is the result.. pleaase comment your suggestion for this image..

  • Alex August 23, 2010 06:03 pm

    Omg what does this mean, double rainbow across the sky, omg

  • Christine August 5, 2010 03:09 pm

    I can see where a polarizer would come in handy, but often I find that I'm scrambling with too many accessories or fiddling with apertures and shutter speeds or exposure compensating - I can't move fast enough sometimes. However, with this shot, I knew I wanted a canola field in it and planned ahead of time when I saw a beautiful field, that I would get in my car and drive to it if a rainbow should appear, which it did. Finding the rusty car was just a happy coincidence!

  • Gbenga Loveeyes Images July 15, 2010 11:38 pm

    Nice. Really hard to see an end point here in Nigeria but I'll keep looking.

  • Arun Natarajan July 8, 2010 05:32 pm

    Can you please explain more on noise& grain in digital photography please???

  • Josh June 28, 2010 11:07 am

    Just thought you might like to know about this , dunno what you can really do about it though

  • AJ June 9, 2010 04:50 am

    Great article, but heres a tip for finding rainbows;

    You can make a rainbow -
    Go outside on a sunny day, around midday, with a hose.

    Set the hose on the "mist" setting. If your hose doesn't have a mist setting, then choose a setting that's light and wide.

    Set up your tripod, and set your camera on a timer

    keep a long shutter speed and a small aperture - that way the water from the hose won't be so visable.

    good luck ;)

  • Jasmine May 1, 2010 09:58 am

    Hi wondering if you could help me with to explain scientificaly in photography terms.
    How one could take a photo (using a 1960S Beauty camer using no flash and no working light meter) of an a rainbow (halo) a around the statue of a child angel in a North London cemetry. The rainbow is in the negiteve and when i blew up the photo on my computter, there appears a rainbow shadowed hand infront of the angels left leg There apears to be possibley metal on the ground to the right side of the photo. Would a good photographer have beeen abl to set up such a shot, when the rainbow was not seen to the naked eye. Its an incredible photo to say the least. Im very computer illeterate and dont know how to sent you the photo sorry.

  • Kyle Bailey March 20, 2010 02:06 am

    Wish I had read this article before I had a chance to shoot this pick. I maybe could have pulled together a few better compositions.

  • MyNameIsUmIForget February 15, 2010 11:31 am

    I like rainbows. One time I was with my aunt and cousin. And it rained. And after it rained. We saw a rainbow. It was cool.

  • Alan Nielsen September 25, 2009 03:19 am

    Rainbows are great to try and capture and make original. The only thing that the article didn't mention which I've read in the comments are the importance of Photoshop. Most rainbows don't just "pop" out of the sky by themselves so a little help from the adjustment brush in ACR helps do the trick.

  • nathan September 15, 2009 03:41 am

    thanks for the article, very interesting. Great shots too.

  • Don Charles Nebeker September 14, 2009 07:10 pm

    I have seen one triple rainbow, all full arcs, two very vivid and the third without dropout spots. I also have seen one circular from the ground. It was a complete ring, mostly vivid, with one area lighter than the rest. I was not allowed a camera in the area and so no pictures. But I have never seen a picture taken of either. Circle rainbows from the air, yes, but not from the ground. Has any body else seen either of the above or know of pics of them?

  • kerry wetzel September 14, 2009 04:01 pm

    hey darren, I am a working professional in portland Oregon, I am just finishing my last week at the Art Institute in portand, I am studing web design, my 3 person team is / have created the improvemyphotography site and are looking to expand our presence, thus checking into other sites and blogging or commenting to say hello to as many folks as we can to attract people to our site, the premise is ... (you) post to our site and we/I give comments to your pics, just as you are doing, trying to help out with crating better pics for the amature, trying to bring the less informed up to speed and helping them make better pics, so i really like your 'blog/ideas' of shooting a rainbow, your techniques and real time experience is right on track, if you want to chat, i would love to and learn about your experiences in your part of the globe and i can will share with YOU... my personal site is, i primarily shoot catalog and advertising, but my origional love was is landscapes, in the NW part of the US, we have amazing scenery and weather, ya just have to follow it and ... well you know the rest,,... it doesn't change much, no matter where you live.... say la vie... say hello and if you get a chance, visit our site often, and we welcome your comments or ideas, my partners are Mike and Valarie, mike is the tech person, val is the marketing one, and i am the photo dude.... happy trails...
    later for now Kerry

  • Daniel*1977 September 11, 2009 11:28 pm

    Once i got a rainbow, this was with polarizing filter, if it is well set then the colors are juicy and give an amazing effect, which probably can be seen in the second picture:

  • Zmurfu September 11, 2009 09:59 pm

    ah silly me and the photo:

  • Zmurfu September 11, 2009 09:59 pm

    I like rainbows a lot but rarely seem to find them and just as rare photograph them in their entire beauty. For example for this one I have that ugly bottom corner that is so bright...
    I wish I have a polarizing filter but I didn't so that's that.
    Thanks for the tips :)

  • Van Jyrwa September 11, 2009 05:20 pm

    Beautiful tips,
    I love to take photos of nature and rainbow.I am from Shillong,Northeast India very close to Cherrapunjee(Sohra) famous for its rainfall and its waterfalls.Your tips will really help me take good rainbow photographs.
    I have taken many rainbow photographs but never successful.This time my next trip to Sohra will not be a waste.Thanks to your tips

  • Robbie September 11, 2009 05:07 pm

    A bit of rainbow trivia:
    -The colours in a secondary rainbow are reversed (due to the double reflection of light inside water droplet)
    -A rainbow will always appear when you have the sun at your back

    And for a slightly different (and spooky) phenomenon - here's a picture of a 'Spectre of the Brocken' I took in NZ

  • Cattleya September 11, 2009 01:53 pm

    i love rainbows! it always makes me smile every time i see one and it's like reminding me that there really is always a rainbow after a rain (you know...figuratively...there may not be always one literally!)...anyway, every time i see one i always try to take a picture of it but it always doesn't look as good as i want it to look.

    i've been to niagara falls twice. the first time, i didn't see that famous niagara falls rainbow they always have in their post cards. the second time, i was lucky enough to have seen it from our hotel. it would appear, fade and re-appear. we just stared at it for as long as we wanted to. well of course i took lots of pictures and kept trying until i finally got a couple of good shots:

  • z?ug September 11, 2009 09:25 am

    Nice Tips, thanks.
    It is interesting to me that the rainbow is being projected on whatever is in the atmosphere opposite the sun.
    This can make a great deal of difference as to how "sharp" the rainbow looks.

    I will share this one:

  • Tibian September 11, 2009 06:58 am

    Darren, thank you for sharing this helpful advice and for making it readily available.
    I'm looking forward to being "at the ready" when the next rainbow appears!

    With Best Wishes,
    Tibian, Adelaide.

  • Gary September 10, 2009 10:28 pm

    Interesting article. I echo what Eric said! The vibrancy control in photoshop is your friend too :)

    My most recent attempt.

  • Eric Mesa September 10, 2009 09:24 pm

    Here's mine.

    I see where I could have benefited greatly from having read this article first. Although I don't think my photo sucks, I certainly don't have a very interesting background or foreground. It would have been nice to change my angle (this might have been hard because I was on a diner on the side of the road) But I think it would definitely have been interesting to zoom in. I was relatively new to photography as an artform (started only the summer before that) so I didn't have enough techniques under my belt. I was just trying to get as much of a rainbow as possible.

  • Mei Teng September 10, 2009 03:58 pm

    Great tips. I have not given a serious thought to photographing rainbow yet. Will keep this in mind though.