Chasing a rainbow, in reverse

I think that I am, in many ways, different from lots of folks. And I’m OK with that. When our kids were small they had t-shirts which showed a group of identically marked fish, all schooling in the same direction, and one very little fish, differently colored, swimming in the opposite direction. The shirt proclaimed, It’s OK to be different. I should have such a shirt. And, so it was, that I was washing the dishes after dinner this evening when I happened to look out the picture window to the north-west and saw that the setting sun was casting an eerie yellow light which illuminated the remaining clouds of a weather system which was moving quickly to the north. Joanna said, That’s pretty, why don’t you get your camera? I replied, What’s so pretty about a jaundiced, yellow, sky? I don’t know why, but I made my way back through the kitchen and on to the living room for a view in the other direction, to the south-east. I turned the corner and took in the view for perhaps less than a second, and ran upstairs to grab my camera. I was down the stairs, negotiated the hall, through the kitchen, and out the back door having switched on my camera and put on my shoes. I stopped, cranked my 24-70 all the way out, and took a look … damn … not wide enough. So I began to run down the driveway. After putting myself 100 yards further away from the beautiful, double, rainbow I brought the camera to my eye again … damn … the increased distance didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I turned and ran the remaining 900 yards to the very bottom of the drive, and brought the camera to my eye. Damn and blast … the view looked just as it had the first time I had checked, just outside my back door. Without attempting to figure out the physics of the situation, I dialed in the appropriate exposure, composed as well as I could and squeezed off four shots before the sun fell below the horizon behind me, putting an end to the show. I walked, dejected, and swearing, back to the house. My shoes were full of water and my pants were wet to the knee. Joanna greeted me at the back door and asked, Wad-ya get? I said, in as sarcastic a tone as I could muster, A nice fractional view of a rainbow. I learned two lessons this evening. 1) You should never, ever, try to photograph a rainbow without first grabbing the widest piece of glass you own. I have a 14-24 which would have been perfect for this shot, but I didn’t take the time to grab it out of my pack. Big, big, mistake. And, 2) One should never, ever, under any circumstance try to run away from a rainbow to gain a wider field of view, for it doesn’t seem to be possible. There are at least two followers out there who I know of who I hope will enlighten me as to why this may be so. Thanks in advance. POSTSCRIPT: If you are interested to know why the rainbow did not recede as I ran away from it, click the title to this post. Scroll down to read the superb explanation provided by Elke from Theory and Practice of Trying to Combine Just Anything. She has provided proof of what Joanna has always known to be true, and that is You can’t ever catch a rainbow.


31 thoughts on “Chasing a rainbow, in reverse

  1. I still think the image is amazing. It captures perfectly what I like best about the fall – the fall colours, muted brightness in the sky and such. Besides, the image of you hopping along with the camera, peering through the viewfinder and then saying <> was just too funny. Now as for the fish I must say that I am thankful that we do have a few of them out there, else, from where would come the innovation? The critical reflection? The voices that say, “NO, far enough!” when the time comes?

  2. I enjoyed this very much and chuckled a bit. It triggered a memory from a road trip long ago in central Louisiana. Seeing a dark, very low, and possible tornadic cloud in front of me, I detoured my car first west then south and finally east to try to drive around the storm. I was driving through an s-curve and driving into a rainbow. I slowed way way down, and the right side of the rainbow came through the passenger window. As I made the turn to the left, the rainbow also came through my driver’s window … I had no camera, no witness, the effect seemed impossible, yet I saw it and all but shouted, ‘Thank you Thank you Thank you!’ … rolling forward, I drove out of the rainbow and into a very bad storm.


    • Wow. Wonderful (perhaps once in a lifetime) story which I do not, for a moment, doubt. I wonder how far you drove along the road between the time the right piece and the left piece visited you? Several hundred yards, or were the visits quickly one-after-the-other in immediate sequence? D

  3. First, just looking at the image I think it was worth the hassle 🙂 As for running away from the rainbow – I’ll see if I can rise to the challenge. Sun light is reflected from the inner surface of droplets of water, and the angle of reflection is determined by the refractive index of water. This is a fixed angle, about 40° (slightly different for different wavelengths, therefore the colors). So there have to be 40° between the incoming rays of sun and the outgoing “colored” light. The outgoing ray has to hit the observer’s eye – otherwise you don’t see it. If you now move further away from the rainbow the rays reflected from the droplets “originally involved” (when you stood at the original position) would not meet the condition of 40° between incoming and outgoing rays anymore. You still see the rainbow, but actually you don’t see exactly the same rainbow but reflections from other droplets in the cloud … and those adhere to the 40° between in and out and thus at the same apparent distance. Since the sun is so far away in comparison the angle of the incoming ray does not change.

    • Perfectly done. And, better yet, I understand your explanation. As you run away from the rainbow you see, effectively, a differently created rainbow (one created by a different series of drops) – but one with the exact physical parameters as the first – so it appears at the same distance as the first. As you run toward the rainbow you see, effectively, a differently created rainbow (one created by a different series of drops) – bit one with the exact physical parameters as the first – so it appears at the same distance as the first. So … Joanna knew it all the time when she said … you can’t catch a rainbow. Thanks Elke … now I can sleep! D

    • Great explanation, elkement. I had a feeling the answer would be something related to the relationship of angle and position, but no real comprehension of how it would work until your comment. So does that also mean that the pot of gold is on wheels? 🙂

    • I came across this video this morning and figured I’d add it to the conversation. Funny – I’ve been a student of physics now for over four decades and am still learning of the many, many inconsistencies that still exist in my concept of the physical world. That “purply” colour we often put on rainbows was one of them until today. Of course, I should have figured it out from colour theory long ago, but better late than never I guess. Here’s the video:

    • Absolutely. I routinely recognize that she is always right … and that makes me look pretty silly, pretty often. She is a wise woman to whom I’ve been married for more than 30 years … you’d think I would have learned to listen by now! She says, ‘Guys are just not that bright.’ I’ll have to agree! D

  4. Thank goodness for being different! Even though it may not have turned out as you would have liked, it’s still a lovely shot!

      • Ha! Maybe you should view it as a pure moment of innocence (which is a really special thing in us jaded adults), rather than a failure. Coming from someone who spends all her time around a three year old, that earnestness of effort/faith is something to be valued 🙂

        • You mean I was supposed to appreciate the innocence of not knowing? Heck no … I couldn’t rest until I knew why it was I couldn’t run from that rainbow. The materialist, the rationalist, the scientist, the mechanist, the obsession was to know why. If you check the comments section to this post you will see a response of a follower from in Austria who was able to explain the physics of what was going on. I display in faith in other things … my wife, especially. D

  5. But isn’t that the point of rainbows- that they remain forever elusive? You can’t run towards one either, to find that crock of gold which is supposed to lie at its end. I’d be that little fish too. Perhaps we could start our own T shirt 😊

    • It’s interesting that see yourself as ‘little fish’ as well. I like to think that several of my most dedicated followers would agree that they were ‘little fish’ as well. Hmm … have we hit upon an interesting psychological/sociological phenomenon here Jenny? Perhaps, though I am not enough of a social-psychologist to know. Anyway … upward and onward, little fish, that we are! D

  6. LOL! Lesson learned! You’ll get your shot some day. Something to look forward to! This shot is still lovely. I like the “glowing” quality of the tree tops and of course, any portion of a rainbow makes you happy! We are getting your wet weather tomorrow afternoon. Joanna is lucky that you do the dishes!

    • I have always done the dishes. It is our division of labor. Joanna does the cooking and I do all of the cleanup. We’ve always viewed this as being fair. And, in any case, it’s my way of getting my hands really clean … once each day! I am guilty of using too much paper towel and too much dish soap but I do a fantastic job … even professional I would say. D

  7. Ah, but how rarely we ever get a full view of anything in life? I did start to have a bit of a chuckle, though, as your post today began as my post today ended … on being different. I knew you (and Joanna) are part of “my tribe” when I was writing it. 😉

    But I do love this phrase, “One should never, ever, under any circumstance try to run away from a rainbow” as it seems good advice in any situation.

    • I hadn’t thought of the phrase in its larger, and figurative, sense M … but, now that I think of it, you are right. So too you are correct in pointing out that we never do get to see anything from all sides, do we? For how may we locate them? Anyway, our weather seems to be clearing and tomorrow, at least, promises to be a sunny day! D

    • Yeah … maybe, but I really would have liked to have been able to capture the entire thing in one go. Anyway, thanks for checking in … it seems your ability to do so is back on track. D

  8. I am sure that Jim will have the explanation, but I am guessing that it will be similar to why we can’t get more of the sunrise in the frame by running backwards a few hundred feet.

    Different is good! But nothing in this post seems all that different to me. I think the light is great and a half a rainbow is better than none. Actually, I think this works.

    • Ha! The ‘different’ I was alluding to was that I was running AWAY from the rainbow while most normal folks would run TOWARD it. You know, to find that pot-o-gold! Boy, yesterday was such a frustration. I should have known to pull the 14-24 but didn’t know how much time I had before the darn thin was going to disappear! Joanna says I should simply have grabbed the entire pack … why is she always right? D

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