Rainbows are not an uncommon sight across Africa's vast savanna plains – short, tropical downpours preceded and followed by blue skies are the typical rainfall pattern during the rainy season, creating the perfect opportunity to add some color and uniqueness to your safari photos.
Early and Late in the Day
The physics behind a rainbow is quite technical, but suffice to say that rainbows don't appear unless the sun's angle above the horizon is less than 42 degrees, and they are particularly brilliant when the angle is less than 20 degrees – in other words, your best chance for great rainbows is during the first and last two hours of daylight. Which is good news because this is when you are most likely to be out on activity enjoying great game-viewing.
Less is More
As tempting as it might be to get out your wide angle lens and capture the full majestic arc of a rainbow, this is rarely the best shot – the rainbow itself is just 2 degrees wide, and the result will be a very narrow band of color surrounded by a lot of dull sky and no discernable subject matter. Instead, use a telephoto lens to capture a wildlife and/or landscape subject with a portion of the rainbow as backdrop or frame. Ideally the rainbow will draw or guide the viewers eye towards the subject.
Polarizing filters can be used to enhance a portion of a rainbow, but not the full arc (due to differing angles of polarization across the rainbow) – observe a full rainbow through your viewfinder and, as you rotate your polarizing filter, you will notice that some portions of the rainbow "pop" while others disappear altogether. Having selected which portion of the rainbow you will include in your image, it is important to make sure that your polarizer is positioned to enhance that section.
The constant mist enshrouding "The Falls" sets the scene for one of Africa's most iconic rainbows. Rainbows can only be seen on sunny days, and are most spectacular in early morning and late afternoon, with the sun at your back - i.e. in the morning, you want to be at lookout points on or towards the Zambian side, looking towards Zimbabwe; and vice versa in the afternoon.
Sometimes a ray of sunlight is reflected twice within rain drops and a double rainbow results. The secondary rainbow is typically less vibrant and the color spectrum is inverted (blue on the outside and red on the inside). The same principles of composition, polarization, etc. apply to the secondary rainbow.
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