After a week in Ireland, I have seen some incredible sights. This is a beautiful country, and the people are incredibly warm and welcoming. Although most days here have been rainy, I’ve tried to make the most of foggy landscapes and simply enjoy my time in such a unique place. However, the weather has made it difficult to take colorful sunrise and sunset photos, which is a bit unfortunate — it is no secret that golden hour is a wonderful time to take pictures. Still, there has been one incredible morning for photography so far. In just a few minutes, the sky turned from a dull sheet of gray into a magnificent show of color, and a rainbow appeared during the best light. In this article, I’ll cover the entire story and thought process behind my favorite photo from this beautiful sunrise.
To start, everything begins with scouting. I had been in this area, the town of Doolin, Ireland, for a few days, and I had seen a few good landscapes already. Two were particularly interesting: a rocky beach and a distant waterfall that fell directly into the ocean. The waterfall was visible from only a couple vantage points, and I hadn’t found a foreground that was very interesting. Still, I scouted a possible photograph one night, which helped cement the location in my mind:
I had taken some pictures of the beach, too, but I still hoped to get a better shot; that’s why I set my alarm for sunrise in the first place. Because of the time of year, as well as Ireland’s northern latitude, I had to get out of bed around 4:45 in the morning to reach the location in time. The weather was dreary when I got out of bed — a light rain and a boring sky. Still, I was awake already, and the clouds were starting to thin along the horizon. I decided that it was worth going outside.
The seashore, though, was about a thirty minute walk away, and I was running a bit late — mornings are tough. I wasn’t going to make it to the beach, so I decided to take some landscape photos at a nearby farm instead. At this point, it had stopped raining, and the sky had begun to clear. The conditions were changing rapidly for the better:
The sun peeked over the horizon, and the landscape begin lighting up in a soft, gold-yellow color. I was facing the sun, which meant that the scene’s dynamic range had grown too large to photograph without blending exposures. I looked around for other landscapes to shoot, and I saw a rainbow forming in the opposite direction. The foreground, though, was not particularly good — a golf course without any interesting features. I took one photo of this golf course, but it didn’t turn out very well:
At this point, I was still at least fifteen minutes from the beach, so there was no hope of getting such a photo with the rainbow. The waterfall I scouted earlier, though, was only a couple minutes down the road. Leaving my backpack on the ground, I ran towards the location with my tripod and camera. In the sky, the rainbow grew brighter, and then it began to dim.
Once I saw the waterfall in the distance, I set up my tripod and framed a quick composition. The foreground was much better than what I had found a couple days prior, with an interesting fence stretching across the bottom of the frame. Even better, the rainbow was still visible in the sky, although it wasn’t quite as strong as before. I managed to take three photographs before it faded completely. The first image — with the brightest rainbow — ultimately worked out the best:
Why did I choose this composition? Since the rainbow faded so quickly, this was the first arrangement that came to mind. I cropped to a 4×3 aspect ratio, since the most important parts of the photo — the waterfall and the rainbow — are near the center. The edges were just distractions, and they added very little to the final photo. For every photo, I also think about the overall balance of the scene. In this particular image, of a peaceful landscape, I wanted the left and right sides of the composition to be of equal interest. The balance is not perfect, but any differences are slight enough that they don’t bother me.
My equipment was nothing particularly unusual. I used my 70-200mm telephoto, since the waterfall would have been invisible with a wide-angle lens. I also used a polarizing filter, which darkened the water and — far more importantly — saturated the colors of the rainbow. I shot at f/16 for depth of field, since the foreground was significantly closer than the waterfall. At a wider aperture, the background would have been a bit blurry. (In fact, even as it is, the background is a slight bit less sharp than the foreground. I would have stacked focus or used hyperfocal distance, ideally, but I didn’t have enough time for any more shots before the rainbow faded.)
Finally, in terms of post-production, I did not make any particularly drastic changes. Mostly, I added global contrast and brightness. The colors are almost entirely unchanged from the original RAW file, since any edits caused the rainbow to look blotchy and discontinuous. I did a bit of local brightness adjustments to the waterfall itself, and I darkened some of the houses on the hill. Aside from the crop and a bit of sharpening, those are the only noticeable edits that I made — it was a relatively simple photo to process.
If nothing else, my main takeaway was simple: every morning can result in beautiful photos, even if the sky looks dull and dreary. It certainly helped to have a good location in mind, but the most important part of this photo is that I was outside in the first place. The more that you look for photographic opportunities, the more that you will see unexpected, incredible sights.