rainbow sky
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
July 20, 2020 ·  3 min read

Photographer Snaps Once-in-a-Lifetime Shot of a Rainbow Sky

Rainbows are one of nature’s most beautiful and beloved phenomena. No matter how many times you’ve seen one, you’re always captured by their beauty and mesmerized by the layers of color arching across the sky.

Imagine then, if the entire sky was a rainbow. That is exactly what one photographer witnessed, and captured on camera so all of us could witness the magical event.

A Rainbow Sky

Photographer Cessna Kutz captured the magnificent scene over Lake Sammamish in Washington State. Often referred to as “fire rainbows”, this phenomenon is not an actual rainbow, nor does it have anything to do with fire [1].

Formally known as circumhorizontal arcs, these beautiful events occur only in specific places at a specific time. They occur only when the sun is higher than 58 degrees above the horizon, when light passes through high-altitude cirrus clouds that are made up of hexagonal plate ice crystals.


When these ice crystals are lined up in just the right way, they act as a prism that refracts light and results in the rainbow-like display of colors in the sky [2].

This differs from rainbows, which forms when sunlight is scattered from raindrops to the eyes of an observer. In order for a rainbow to form, the three following conditions must be present:

  1. The sun must be behind you.
  2. The sun needs to be less than 42 degrees above the horizon- the lower the sun, the more of the rainbow’s arc you will see.
  3. Rain, fog, or some other source of water droplets must be in front of you [3].

Fire Rainbows are More Common than you Think

You may think that this beautiful phenomenon is rare, but you would be mistaken. Their frequency simply depends on where you are located. It is actually fairly common to see them several times throughout the summer in the United States, because of the country’s higher latitude. 

In northern Europe, however, they are much more rare because that part of the continent’s mid-latitude. For example, you are five to ten times more likely to see a fire rainbow in Los Angeles than you are in London [1].

Capturing the Awe-Inspiring Moment

Kutz captured the moment near the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns in the United States, and shared it as a symbol of hope during the uncertain and turbulent times.

“Witnessed a pretty cool phenomenon out on lake Sammamish today,” she captioned the shot. “A horizontal rainbow! To me, it was a little reminder to hold onto hope and love instead of fear and panic in these unknown times. Stay safe out there, friends.” [1]

Her photos went viral almost as soon as she posted them, much to Kutz’s complete shock.

“I honestly had no idea these photos would make the news,” Cessna shared with one news outlet. “I was just wanting to share a beautiful moment I got to witness” [1].

The photographer said that she is incredibly passionate about photography and she is grateful that her photos have touched not just people in the United States, but around the world.

“It’s boosted my photography business as well as make an impact on people so it feels pretty amazing.” [1]

Keep Reading: Photographer Captures Amazing Photos of a Rare White Rainbow