Putting together material for the Grand Canyon Monsoon workshop that Don Smith and I do each August, I came across this image from the first shoot of our first workshop. With so many pictures in the two weeks we were there (for two workshops), and given the incredible events that followed, it’s amazing to me how well I remember the specifics of this early shoot (especially given how poorly I remember so many other things).
When Don and I pulled the group into Lipan Point that afternoon, a handful of puffy clouds floated overhead. But, as if on cue, within minutes of our arrival the clouds organized into a seething, dark gray tower; five minutes after that, a few drops fell—marble-size projectiles that landed with an audible splat at one- or two-second intervals. We ignored the rain and kept shooting, but when a lightning bolt struck a quarter mile away, we couldn’t get out of there quickly enough, retreating to the cars just as all hell broke loose. For the next we were assaulted with a pounding rain that obliterated the view and required shouting to be heard. As suddenly as it started, the rain stopped and the Canyon reappeared, bathed in sunlight. And with the sunlight came a full double rainbow. I mean, what could be more perfect, the Grand Canyon plus a rainbow? Unfortunately, from our vantage point on the rim, the rainbow beautifully framed nothing but sagebrush south of the canyon.
Understanding the physics of rainbows, I knew that there’s nothing random about their position—to get the rainbow above the canyon, I simply had to be on the other rim. With a choice between A: A four hour drive, and B: A twenty mile hike, I chose C: Get as far out into the canyon as the nearby terrain allows and hope for the best.
The “Point” part of Lipan Point refers to a rock protuberance that juts into the canyon. Scrambling onto the rock, I was able to change my angle of view enough to put the north-most end of the rainbow in the canyon before I ran out of point. Not the complete, rim-to-rim view I’d have liked, but at least something to work with. With the Grand Canyon as my background, a rainbow for the middle-ground, all I lacked was a foreground.
Scanning my surroundings, my eyes fell immediately on a group of shrubs side-lit by pristine, warm, late afternoon light. A horizontal composition would have given me too much foreground and too little rainbow, so I went vertical. At a focal length of 32mm, my depth of field app told me I could achieve the 8-foot hyperfocal distance I needed at f14. Spot metering on the brightest shrub, I dialed my shutter speed until the shrub was +2, and clicked.