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Camera Settings for Capturing Decisive Moments: An Airplane Flying Past a Rainbow

A beautiful rainbow appears in the sky for only a fleeting moment. While you may be able to predict its appearance to a certain extent, photographing it is a race against time. This article presents some points that you should take note of when photographing a rainbow. (Reported by: Minefuyu Yamashita)

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 21mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/11, 1/640 sec, EV+0.3)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto
I wanted to capture a scene full of hope with a double rainbow arcing through the sky in the background as an airplane was flying across. The density of the rainbow and position of the airplane were constantly changing, and I had to pre-empt those changes while determining the exposure and composition.


Predict the appearance of the rainbow and the movement of the airplane before releasing the shutter

A rainbow forms when the sunlight from behind you strikes a curtain of water droplets in the air ahead of you. By keeping this in mind, you will be able to predict the occurrence of rainbows to a certain extent, and prepare for the shot beforehand. The photo above was taken on an evening with conditions that were perfect for a rainbow to form, as I waited for the rainbow to appear in a location with the rain clouds before me and the setting sun to my back.

In this shot, I paid attention to 3 points—the aperture, white balance, and shutter speed. Once you have determined the composition, wait for the airplane to fly into the screen before releasing the shutter. The location of the airplane within the image influences the feel of the image. Here, I captured it slightly off centre, towards its direction of travel, so as to impart a sense of space and suggest the idea of freedom. 


Point 1: Present the sea and rainbow sharply – f/11

In order to capture a landscape shot with the rainbow as the main subject, a good idea is to fully depict the details of the subjects from the surface of the ocean, to the beach, all the way up to the rainbow. Therefore, first set the f-number to f/11. It's easier to determine the other camera setting values once you have decided on the f-number, and this helps cut time spent fiddling around with the settings later on. You need to be able to be ready to press the shutter as soon as possible when it comes to capturing fleeting moments!


Point 2: WB that brings out the natural colours of the rainbow in the evening – Auto

Auto WB is convenient for capturing the beach and ocean surface in the evening when they start to be tinged with slightly warm colours. You can also set it to “Daylight” if you want to make the mood a little more refreshing with a tinge of blue. Instead of looking for the right way to depict a rainbow, a better idea would be to focus on conveying your impressions of the landscape.


Point 3: Ensure that the right shutter speed is used – ISO 400, 1/640 sec.

Once you have decided on an f-number of f/11 or higher, adjust the ISO speed so as to obtain a shutter speed at which the aircraft will not appear blurred. Since the shutter opportunity is limited, an ISO speed of ISO 400 is acceptable without you having to worry too much about it being too low. I would have felt more secure increasing the shutter speed to 1/1,000 sec or higher, but here, my priority lay in depicting the rainbow, and so I chose not to go for a higher ISO speed.


Tip: Look for a spot where you can capture both a rainbow and aircraft

If you can find a spot near the airport in the mornings or evenings, from which you can face the rain clouds and have the sun to your back, you will have a higher chance of capturing both a rainbow and airplane at the same time. Furthermore, as an airplane in its descent will fly at a certain height, there will probably be a few chances for you to capture the shot. However, when you’re shooting, do note that the landing direction will change depending on the wind direction.


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EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

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Minefuyu Yamashita


Born in 1979 in Aichi. After gaining experience in jobs such as interior and graphic designing, Yamashita became an independent photographer in 2011. His works have been used in many calendars.



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