Quest for a Rainbow at Rainbow Falls (at night)

Rainbow Falls under the light of day

I’ve been on a quest to figure out the light of the moon at our local waterfall. It doesn’t have a wide open view like Yosemite Falls, but it definitely has potential for a rainbow by moonlight. Research of other photographers attempting rainbows by moonlight wasn’t very helpful because they were clearly composite images with impossible skies (like the southern part of the Milky Way appearing in the northern sky). Who knows where those rainbows came from… In total I’ve taken five midnight hikes at various stages of the moon to see what I could find. One of the first attempts resulted in Lunar Falls which I was very happy with. The flow of water over the falls was high in mid-June and has merit on its own, but the moon was at about 60% illumination and didn’t produce a rainbow.

The project took a backseat to other work around the full moon of July, but August rolled around and a full moon arrived with potential. Normally I would be using Photo Pills with Night Augmented Reality to track the moon’s movement, but making it into Devils Postpile during the day requires a paid shuttle which makes scouting difficult. When I arrived, the moon was in a low arc across the sky, and the trees that surround the falls were blocking the moonlight. It looked like the moon might make it’s way into a window in the trees, so I decided to wait for a couple of hours and hope (waking up at 1am and making a 3 mile hike at night left me with sunk costs). Meanwhile I looked into the moon’s position for the next couple of days, and decided that the moon would have a high enough path in the sky two days before and after the full moon with greater than 90% luminance of the full moon. The window wasn’t large enough, and the falls remained stubbornly in shadow.

Two days later I hiked in again, but with the moon rising an hour later each day, the moon would light up the falls perilously close to the end of nightfall. The coming dawn had a possibility of wiping out the moonbow before I could see it, and the flow of water of the falls further diminished the impact of the rainbow. I arrived at 4:30 am ready to go, and the rainbow appeared at 5:10 am as I thought it would. However, this was twilight, approaching dawn, so it was weak. I’ll have to wait until next June or July to attempt it again.

For sunrise I was able to pick out two diverging paths of water that I thought told an interesting story. I also headed over to take some intimate close ups of Devils Postpile itself and a frosty meadow, so consolation prizes abound! Some sleep was lost, my hands were cold, and I didn’t come away with the image I wanted, but the planning and learning that went into attempting this future image scratches my brain in just the right place. I’d do it all over again. 

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