Posted by: kerryl29 | March 16, 2020

The Story Behind the Image: Serendipity

Sometimes, you just get lucky.

During an autumn trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in 2013, I paid a pre-dawn visit to Council Lake.  I’ve shot at Council Lake many, many times over the years I’ve visited the Upper Peninsula, experiencing a variety of conditions.  The principal shooting perspective at Council Lake is north-by-northwest–obviously not in the direction of sunrise–but the best time of day to shoot there, I’ve found, is first thing in the morning.  Despite the lack of a sunrise orientation, there’s still excellent light to be utilized early in the morning and this is the time–at this location anyway–when wind is typically the lightest, making for very good reflection opportunities.

It certainly didn’t look promising for anything particularly noteworthy that morning, but every once in awhile you get something special when you least expect it, and if you’re not in a position to take advantage of it, you’re sure to miss out.

So, about an hour before sunrise, I headed off to Council Lake, which is roughly a 20-minute drive from where I was staying.  On the drive, I noticed that it was almost entirely cloudy.  There was, however, a very thin band of light near the eastern horizon. I took note of it, and hoped that it would mean that something interesting might happen at sunrise.  My hopes were tempered by the occasional spurts of light rain that hit the windshield.

When I reached Council Lake, it was still dark, but there were two photographers already there.  These women had moved their vehicle in a position where the headlights lit up some trees on the far bank of the lake–a kind of a light-painting exercise, which was kind of interesting.  But as it began to become lighter, they turned off the headlights and we all began to engage in ambient light photography.

As the appointed time of sunrise approached, it was still socked in clouds and, every so often, some light rain fell.  Sunrise appeared to be a rumor this morning. After I’d been on site for perhaps 20 minutes, I heard another vehicle on the access road.  Someone got out and approached me; this gentleman asked me if this was Red Jack Lake.  I told him no; Red Jack Lake is accessed via a spur from Council Lake Road.  I told him that, to reach Red Jack, he needed to go back down the road in the direction he’d come from and take the first left–in perhaps 1/4 mile. After 1000 feet or so, he’d find himself at Red Jack.  He thanked me and openly pondered whether he should head over there or just stay at Council Lake.  The rest of us returned to shooting.

After a minute or so the newcomer said, “Hey, look at that rainbow!”  We’d all been so engrossed in what we were doing–mostly reflection shots or isolated telephoto images–that none of us had noticed that a full rainbow had appeared, arching over the trees on the north bank of the lake.  Everyone stopped and looked…and there it was.  And, not surprisingly, everyone rearranged what they were doing to take advantage of the newly discovered–and breathtaking–scene.

Council Lake Rainbow, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

I had my 24-70 mm lens mounted on my camera at the time and used it to compose a couple of shots, racking all the way back to 24mm.  This got me a nice image or two, but this was a full rainbow and I wanted to include all of it–and as much of the reflection as possible–in the frame, and 24mm simply wasn’t wide enough (see above).  Not even close, in fact.  If I backed up I could include more of the rainbow in my image, but it would also introduce a number of elements that I didn’t want in the frame.  There was still some light rain falling and time was a-wasting.  So now I faced a dilemma: should I scramble and try to change lenses, putting my ultra wide-angle 14-24 mm lens on?  Or should I try and shoot a series of frames with the 24-70 that I would later attempt to stitch together into a wider-looking single shot?

I decided to switch lenses.  Both approaches would take time–and there was the possibility that the rainbow, which had already been visible for a couple of minutes–would fade.  The problem with the stitching option was that I really wasn’t prepared for it.  The tripod would have to be leveled and I would face possible issues of parallax if I didn’t get things just right on set up, which could kill the stitch.  While switching lenses–with rain coming down–was far from ideal, I thought it gave me the best chance to get at least one image of this phenomenon, so I found my backpack (which was perched on a picnic table, about 50 feet away), grabbed the 14-24, a back lens cap and a body cap and made the switch as rapidly as I could.

I was lucky. Not only did the rainbow not fade, it had become more intense in the time that I had made up my mind to change lenses and the light, if anything, was even nicer. Having completed the lens swap, I recomposed the shot, made sure the camera was level, confirmed exposure, verified focus and fired away.  I got several shots in before the rainbow began fading.  Eventually it disappeared completely, but it was visible for 5-7 minutes all told.  As I mentioned, in addition to the full rainbow itself, the quality of light during a few minutes of its appearance was absolutely exquisite.

Morning Rainbow, Council Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

It was another lesson in simply being there.


  1. That is one gorgeous composition…well worth changing lenses. I would add to “simply being there” the element of being prepared. Not only did you have the ability to change lenses, but also your thought processes led you to a good decision.

  2. Each rainbow is a gift, and we are so fortunate when we can be at the right place at the right time to save them in more than memory. Beautiful.

    • Thanks very much!

  3. A great story, Kerry – I felt your dilemma – but the results were incredibly beautiful. It is hard to believe that the second photo is even real, it is so amazing. It is as if the sun itself was rising up out of the water.

    • Thanks, Lynn. It was a singular experience.

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