The rainbow hunter

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One of Pacheco’s photos of the “Malibu Bowl,” formed by the walls of Corral Canyon, and fertile rainbow-spotting territory.

Some people believe rainbows are the stuff of magic, of leprechauns, pots ‘o gold and woven on the dreams of the young.

Others believe rainbows are strictly the beautiful outcome of a scientific phenomenon, of prisms and light rays and angles.

Malibu photographer Matthew “Mizzy” Pacheco believes the real answer is simple: it’s both.

For more than three years, Pacheco has captured some of the most stunning rainbow images ever taken in this area, one he says is perfect for “rainbow hunting.”

The combination of West Coast ocean winds and sunshine pitched against the Santa Monica Mountains during the stormy winter months makes the Malibu coastline and hillsides ideal places to “spot a ’bow.”

“In the beginning, it was just random,” said Pacheco, 40. “I didn’t know much about them, but every once in a while one would start up and I’d grab my cameras. It was hitand- miss, but I realized pretty quickly that I was in a great location to spot them.”

Pacheco discovered he was in a rainbow hot spot—what he calls the “Malibu Bowl”— at the base of the mountains along the walls of the Corral Canyon, where he lives with his girlfriend, two cats and two dogs.

“Nestled in the mountains, up the canyon and around the bowl,” he said, “the way the sun goes down there, it works out perfectly. When that marine layer comes in, it’s really wild, like an ocean wave coming in. Once the sun hits about forty-five degrees, you can get some gnarly ’bows—stunning rainbows right off.”

Pacheco was hooked. The search for the perfect rainbow shot became “an obsession, really,” he said. As a professional landscape photographer, Pacheco had taken hundreds of photos around the Malibu Pier. Caught in the fervor of his new obsession, it didn’t take the new “rainbow hunter” long to realize that the south side of the pier was Malibu’s ground zero for ’bow spotting.

As time went on, his methods grew more sophisticated.

“It was just a progression over the years,” he said, explaining his knack for tracking. “I was like a weatherman. I practiced with (checking) radar, changed locations, anything to make a better photo.

“At first, I got a lot of reaction to the rainbow pics, so I figured I needed to study it,” he added. “You don’t need to be Einstein to figure it out. But you do need to be ready at an instant and also ready to spend a few hours in soggy boots and missed chances.”

That’s where the science comes in. Pacheco said at first he got “real scientific about it. I figured the better information I had, the better chances I had. You can get cuckoo about it, but you can get really accurate. You just can’t predict it one hundred percent.”

Now, he relies on his experience and his instinct as much as the radar.

Predicting a rainbow involves time of year (usually the winter months), time of day, the angle of the sun and the location, among other factors.

“Then,” he said, “you wait for the luck.

“It’s not something you see very much and there’s a reason for that,” he said. “Everything has to be just right. I have the tools to help me out, but it’s still something I have to actively hunt for. I want to get images nobody else has.

“I guess the coolest thing about rainbows is no two people ever see the exact same bow. And that makes it magical.”

Pacheco, whose new gallery, Pacheco Fine Art Photography, opened March 3 in Malibu, appreciates the mystery and wonder of rainbows, even as he’s trying to master them.

“I think there’s something more (to them),” he said, “but I don’t know what it is. I do have an incredible sense of wonder and there is something unique and special about them.”

“After all,” he said, “who really knows for sure?”