Waimea Sunbreak

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The sun breaks through the rainclouds over the red dirt and green foilage of Waimea Canyon to reveal a rainbow across the valley. Kauai, Hawaii.

Story

Last March, my wife and I rented a resort apartment for a week in Princeville on Kauai, Hawaii. Princeville is on the north side of the island, next door to the famed Nāpali Coast. Unfortunately, I completely struck out in terms of seeing this coastline: not only was the road to Hāʻena State Park and Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park closed due to severe flooding the following year, but my boat trip was cancelled due to rough seas (which undoubtedly saved my from being violently seasick at the least). Hawaii is beautiful, but since almost everything there strikes me as a little bit on the run-down third-world side, a helicopter ride in questionable weather did not appeal. So, for grand scenery we drove all the way around the island to reach the entrance to Waimea Canyon, but it was so socked in with fog and clouds and rain that for most of the subsequent scenic drive we feared that we wouldn’t see that iconic location, either.

But the sun broke through.

When it did, I was trying to do the best I could, photographing in the rain with little to see. I was right in the middle of switching lenses or something when I saw the rainbow and frantically scrambled to get this picture and a few similar ones as the rainbow faded. Unfortunately, I wish I had a slightly wider view, but I had to work with the lens I had on the camera at the time. In retrospect, I should have taken four other pictures offset around this one so that I could stitch them together into a larger frame. But, I am happy with how it turned out anyway, and so is my wife. So much so that we ordered a truly massive 40 x 60 inch metal print for our family room wall.

We continued on from the Waimea Canyon Lookout all the way to the end of the road in what proved to be a vain attempt to see the Kalalau Valley on the Nāpali Coast from the inland side. We returned two days later, luckless again, so the Nāpali Coast remains unseen by this photographer!

Analysis

As is often the case in landscape photography, bad weather makes the photograph. The mist and cloud and fog give some atmosphere that simply wouldn’t be there on a clear sunny day. And, of course, the rainbow wouldn’t be there, either. Unfortunately, while there are plenty of directions to point your camera at this viewpoint, there is not a lot of flexibility in terms of vantage point; not being able to move around much does limit the compositional choices to essential a choice of framing. With this image, the strongest individual features are the curving rainbow across the top of the frame, obviously, and the area of red dirt in the lower left quadrant. But, I think these, together with all the other red areas around the frame, serve primarily to surround the deep lush green valley in the center, which is where the eye is drawn. Once there, the eye can wander around the red dirt and cliffs, the rainbow, and the bits of fog, cloud, and mist. There are plenty of interesting details for the viewer to explore. The triangular peak jutting into the frame from the bottom right serves to visually bottle up the image, so the viewer cannot follow the flow of the valley out of that corner; it also projects far enough into the image that it does not just serve as a distraction along the edge of the frame.

In the end, this image seems less about composition and more about atmosphere and contrasting colors, the latter being a lusher version of what one finds in southern Utah. But whereas in Utah one finds striking red earth accented by green foliage, in Waimea Canyon it is striking green foliage accented by red earth. Rainbows, of course, can be found in both.

Creation

The following sequence of images shows the basic processing progression through Adobe Lightroom Classic and Affinity Photo.

Step 0. All of the moisture in the air leaves the original raw file looking very muted and hazy.
Step 1. Some global adjustments in Adobe Lightroom, especially a strong application of dehaze, produces a much more colorful image.
Step 2. The dehaze filter in Lightroom generated a lot of blue up above the rainbow. A selective color adjustment in Affinity Photo tames the excess blue. (The rainbow itself was masked out of this operation to protect its blue.)
Step 3. A vibrance adjustment in Affinity Photo, masked to include just the rainbow, boosted the rainbow’s colors.
Step 4. Liberally dodging and burning in Affinity Photo, together with some contrast and other adjustments, produced the final image.

When viewing this scene live, with rain and mist around you, your eyes and brain see through the atmospherics to the real colors beyond, but your camera does not. This is a common problem, and is the main reason why some images need some serious editing to reflect what you saw and felt in real time. This final result is much better reflects the wonder of witnessing it in the rain and wind.

Technical Data

This image was captured using a Nikon D850 with an AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR lens at 70mm, f/5.0, 1/320, ISO 64. Processed using Adobe Lightroom Classic and Affinity Photo.

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