Photo Essay

Chasing Rainbows

Oh Teddy

Driving down the road many years ago in the pouring rain, I entered through a veil awash with brilliant colors. It was as if I was driving through rainbows. A magical reverence washed over me. As I lowered my sunglasses, the magic dissipated.

What I was seeing was cross-polarization. It was a weak rendition but enough to excite my interest.

Cross-polarization is the effect that occurs when objects are seen through two polarized light sources; in this case, the light coming through my polarized windshield and the light coming through my polarized sunglasses. Yes, it was pure magic.

Can I make colors appear that aren't there? More important, can I fool my camera (at that time, a Nikon F3) into seeing (and recording to film) colors that aren't there? If I could capture this on film, I could prove that magic existed in the mere fact that many viewing the photos would not be able to understand the effect. There was no filter out there that could produce this effect on its own.

I knew that polarized light sources were available through polarizing gels and I could use a circular polarizer on my lens; thus, creating a cross-polarization. But, when I tried this, I failed miserably.

The key was in finding material that light could pass through and was capable of distorting the light enough (such as water drops) to where the spectrum could be observed. Clear glass didn't do it (my first attempts proved this) but certain plastics proved to be my revelation.

When that first set of color proofs came back, I had many people asking how I had obtained those colors. Not only were the colors fantastic but my backgrounds were perfect! I had clean solid black and every shade of gray to pure white.

I persevered and captured the rainbow.

Note: iPods (not the iPhone or iPod Touch) have polarized screens. To see this in action, turn your iPod on and don your polarized sunglasses. Voila!

7 responses

  • Melanie Ryan

    Melanie Ryan said (3 Oct 2008):

    That's awesome! I want to try this now!

  • Megan Noble

    Megan Noble gave props (31 Dec 2008):

    That's really cool!

  • Jason Canavaggio

    Jason Canavaggio (Deleted) said (30 Mar 2009):

    i'm not sure if you've come across this, but is there some sort of film or screen that can go over something like a gps monitor that will filter out the cross polarization effect caused by wearing polarized sunglasses?

  • Elisha Christian

    Elisha Christian (Deleted) gave props (14 Sep 2009):

    Excellent story. I've notice that in the car wash too, and I'm impressed that you were able to figure this out.

  • marshall

    marshall gave props (8 Jan 2010):

    great story, great photos!

  • Lynda Jeffers

    Lynda Jeffers (Deleted) gave props (19 Mar 2010):

    Brilliant discovery...your pics are amazing!!

  • Epin Hervin

    Epin Hervin gave props (25 Aug 2011):

    You're genius experimentalist. Thanks for writing this

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