When I was a kid my dad took me to the top of Yosemite's Sentinel Dome during an electrical storm. (Sentinel Dome is a granite dome that rises high above the surrounding terrain, pretty much the last place you'd want to be when there's lightning around.) But the story gets worse: Cameras in those days were fully manual, requiring a separate meter and two coordinated hands to manage efficiently. And weather sealing hadn't even achieved fantasy status. So what does a determined photographer do to keep his equipment dry in the rain? Simple--he asks his young son to hold the umbrella, to hold it high above his head.
Dad was not a stupid man, far from it; rather, he was a serious amateur photographer who really wanted to add a picture of lightning striking Half Dome to his Kodak carousel. And, as I'm sure most serious photographers will verify, this need to get the shot sometimes trumps common sense.
So anyway, my brief career as a human lightning rod was a failure and Dad didn't get his lightning shot (nor, more significantly, did it get us). We left Sentinel Dome with wet clothes but dry equipment, heading next to Glacier Point a couple of miles down the road, where we wandered the various vista points in a light rain. By then dad had suppressed his disappointment and shifted to tourist mode, content with souvenirs and family snapshots. But when the clouds suddenly parted to paint a vivid, arcing rainbow across the face of Half Dome, he snapped to action with an enthusiasm a child rarely sees in a parent. I'll never forget how my father came alive when that rainbow appeared, and then later when the slides came back from the lab and he saw what he'd captured, and later still when he hung a large, framed print of the rainbow on the living room wall. He never tired of telling people the story of its capture. (To see the picture, read "My Father's Rainbow".)
While I have vague memories of my father and his camera that pre-date that rainy afternoon, I think that's the first association I make to photography as an emotional catalyst rather then merely something to record events. I understand now the disappointment he must have felt when he missed his lightning opportunity, and the euphoria when the rainbow appeared.
That afternoon is probably the genesis of my affinity for rainbows and my lifelong quest to capture my own Yosemite rainbow. A year ago I achieved the Holy Grail of Yosemite rainbows, a full double rainbow arcing across the entire width of Yosemite Valley. While that one will be difficult to beat, today's rainbow image from a year-and-a-half earlier will always hold a special place in my heart, partly because it's my first Yosemite rainbow image, and partly because it was such an unexpected treat.
A thunderstorm had drenched Yosemite Valley and rattled the walls for most of the afternoon; I shot for awhile then decided to wait out the heavy stuff at Tunnel View. Not wanting to push my luck, I'd sat in my car as the downpour completely obliterated the view, periodically wiping the fog from my windows to monitor the view. The rain was falling so hard that it felt like it would fall for a week when without warning the clouds opened and gifted me with this small but perfectly placed splash of color. I scrambled from the car and set up in seconds, but the break lasted just long enough for me to grab a few frames before the rain resumed.
My father passed away in 2004, but when a rainbow bursts out or the sky turns crimson, I still feel connected. I've been extremely fortunate in my years as a photographer, sometimes wondering if I witness more than my share of nature's magic. My brother, also a serious photographer, joins me on many of my trips and we like to imagine that maybe Dad has something to do with this good fortune.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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