Pollen swirls around a duck July 13 as it paddles upstream in the Kennebec River near the Two Cent Bridge in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

When a brilliant rainbow lights up the sky over your town, you grab your camera, hit the street, race to the perfect spot and shoot the photo. The colored bands of red, orange, yellow, cyan, blue and violet won’t last long. It’s time to dash over to the Two Cent Bridge along RiverWalk at Head of Falls. There’s no time to waste.

The pursuit of beauty is elusive when chasing rainbows through Waterville’s well-traveled streets. The roadways are lined with mature trees that fill up the sky. My head tips back while trying to keep sight of the rainbow through my rain splattered windshield.

It appeared brilliant, then slipped behind the tree line as I gripped the steering wheel and tried to avoid a rear-end collision. The rainbow formed after a thunderstorm soaked Waterville earlier this month. The storm flooded streets in Winslow before a colorful rainbow put on a show over Waterville.

When you’re a photographer for the local newspaper, you might get a great shot of a rainbow on the cover of the paper. The photo will be shown over the World Wide Web or even clipped from the newspaper and stuck to someone’s refrigerator.

It’s a victorious feeling, a sweet taste that doesn’t come often or easily. In my pursuit of rainbow photos, there’s more failure than success. There are more stories about the ones that got away than trophies on my wall.

Photography is a humbling thing.

The key is to get the shot fast. Conditions change quickly. The essence of nature’s soft light slips away before our eyes while a print deadline encroaches on an otherwise joyful moment.

Then it’s quick to the car to download photos, edit for the most amazing photographs, write captions and upload to the newspaper. I savor that moment a second time when the picture runs in the paper.

In the photo I imagined a person walking below the rainbow along the RiverWalk at Head of Falls. People are good for scale. The iconic Two Cent Bridge over the Kennebec River is good for a sense of place. The wide angle photo would show the arcing rainbow looping over the bridge that joins Waterville with Winslow. I’d show the majestic Kennebec River flowing below the deep blue sky.

The challenge for critical and cynical photographers is to try something different. Over time situations become repetitive. We look for new ways to show the same things while making it look interesting through the camera. Like rainbows, hot air balloon launches, fireworks displays and kids running through lawn sprinklers, certain photos become cliché.

To succeed I needed to coast safely into the parking lot at Head of Falls, slip the car into park, grab the camera, run across the grass, frame the walking path with Two Cent Bridge in the foreground, then shoot the frame horizontal with the rainbow and the bridge. But it was painfully obvious I was a minute too late.

Photography is a humbling thing.

People smiled and held their camera phones. It was painful to see their glee as they flipped through their pictures. Some forwarded photos to friends, uploaded to Facebook and Snap Chatted about what they’d seen. They talked fast while laughing with their friends. Some just pointed at the sky.

I’ve had this sick feeling in my stomach while covering breaking news. You know you’re too late to a fire when the embers are cold and the firefighters are rolling up hose line.

I felt myself blush as I passed by with my camera. Separating myself from the small group of dog walkers, photographers and others, I walked to the center of the bridge to scan the sky and take a couple of deep breaths. Indeed, I was too late.

A young man with a smartphone asked, “Did you get any captures?”

“No, not this time,” was my response as I forced a smile. He showed me his photos and a video clip that showed how the rainbow’s colors shifted and grew in contrast before disappearing in the sky above the bridge.

“Looks like you got all the money shots tonight,” I said as the man walked away with his girlfriend.

There was nothing left for me to do but find a quick replacement photo, a consolation prize to show for my effort. Over the side of the bridge ducks swam against the current of the Kennebec River. The light was soft and set the mood for the photo. A duck obliged and I was grateful for the photo and the experience.

Photography is a humbling thing.

A rainbow covers Carnival Americana’s midway during setup for the Larimer County Fair and Rodeo at The Ranch Aug. 3, 2011, in Loveland, Colo. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Once a rainbow tapped me on the shoulder. It happened after taking shelter with carnival workers setting up the Larimer County Fair carnival in Colorado. A thunder boomer pounded the midway as we ducked under the canopy of the bumper car ride. The scramble for cover left me and the cameras soaked.

The rain washed down the rides, settled the dust and made a muddy mess in the field where cars were to be parked. My notes were soggy wads of paper. The carnival workers were also soaked and together searched for a dry cigarette.

It was time to hike back to the car, kick the mud off my shoes and move on. I stopped to adjust my camera bag, then glanced over my shoulder to see a complete rainbow framing the gleaming carnival midway.

Without hesitation, I stopped, set my pack gently in the mud and grabbed the only dry camera and lens I had left. I shot the photo with a wide angle lens, checked the photo for sharpness, laughed, picked up my bag and turned toward the car.

Still smiling, I reached the car and turned for another look, but the rainbow was gone, and the sky had returned to a dull gray.

Having a nice camera and the ability to use it skillfully doesn’t make someone a great photographer. Trial and error is part of the journey. Being able to align coincidence with luck and preparation is sometimes all it takes to succeed. You just can’t give up.

Photography is a humbling thing.


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