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The Story Behind: Full Circle Rainbow

It was an amazing day right from the beginning. Traveling across the Colorado Plateau on vacation, I was camping in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Most photographers will tell you that—aside from early morning and late evening— clear sunny days, with their harsh light, are not conducive to exceptional Landscape photography. We want clouds, we want storms; more specifically, we want storm light


This day started out with sprinkles at dawn and then cleared very quickly. As the day advanced, a series of small storm fronts passed over in succession, resulting in constantly changing light and fascinating cloud formations. The everchanging light shifted from bright to diffused to overcast, with massive shadows rolling across the landscape of Bryce Canyon. What we call storm light. I felt energized all day as potential images presented themselves in every direction.


As sunset neared, I found myself on the west rim of the canyon. The sun was getting ready to set behind me to the west and I was in a cloud of mist and light rain. Visibility was probably 100 feet. I approached the rim hoping to get one last shot but I was not optimistic because of the fog. As I stood there watching the pink mist roll along, I saw a little bit of sun out over the canyon. I stood there watching to see if it would open up and suddenly a rainbow appeared in the pink fog in front of me. But not an ordinary rainbow— it was round, a full 360° circle. I had never seen anything like it before. As I learned later, the conditions to actually see a 360° rainbow are difficult to achieve outside of an aircraft. Most rainbows end at the ground. In this case, because I was standing on the edge of the canyon with the ground falling away below my feet, the space in front of and below me allowed the rainbow to complete a circle. Because of the very low angle of the sun behind me and the mist in front of me, the rainbow was projected straight out into the water vapor. The shadow that you see is actually my tripod and ME projected into the middle. As I moved, the projected shadow and rainbow moved with me. I quickly found some branches and a tree that would give the image some kind of reference point and shot several frames before it disappeared. I spent the following 15 minutes have excited conversations with others at the scene. “Did you SEE that?!” “WOW!” Light, like life, can be fleeting. Embrace it while it lasts!

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