Soaring in a hot air balloon is a gentle, almost poetic experience. If you’re looking for new adventures and new things to photograph, give hot air ballooning a try.
Balloon festivals are a great way to see lots of balloons fly and offer the opportunity to create colorful, unique photos. There are several festivals each year in Colorado and New Mexico.
The largest balloon festival in the U.S. takes place the first week of October in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Colorado hosts balloon festivals in September in Colorado Springs and Snowmass, and in November in Rocky Ford, just to name a few.
Tips for photographing balloon events:
- Get to the site before dawn. Balloons begin inflating before the sun comes up and fly early to take advantage of calm morning winds.
- Arrive when the gates open and scout out where the balloons are and look for interesting backgrounds.
- Get close to the inflation for the inside shot. Most balloonists won’t mind if you ask to take a quick look inside the balloon as it inflates. Just watch out for the flames from the propane burners used for inflation. You don’t want to lose any eyebrows.
- Be ready to move from inflation to flight. Balloons go where the wind takes them. Check the wind direction and position yourself appropriately. If you want to capture balloons flying directly overhead, put yourself where the balloons will be.
- Look for the best background. Get those mountains in the picture. Look for lakes or rivers which will make for great reflection photos.
- Work with the light. Begin by making some images with the sun at your back to capture the warm sunrise light. Then move to try some backlit images, with a balloon moving across the sun and lighting up inside. Work all the lighting angles.
- Try a variety of lenses. You’ll probably start with your wide angle for inflation photos and the initial take offs. As the balloons fill the sky, get out your telephoto and work on isolating single balloons against your backdrop.
- Get the glow. Some festivals offer “balloon glow” events. Balloons inflate around dusk and remain tethered to the ground. The light from propane tanks fired to keep the balloons upright creates warm glows from inside the balloons. Bring a tripod.
Try these festivals
- Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Oct 1-9, 2011. Balloon glows, 5:45 p.m., Oct. 6—8.
- Arkansas Valley Balloon Festival, Rocky Ford, Colorado. Nov. 5-6, 2011
- Red Rock Balloon Rally, Gallup, New Mexico, Dec 2-4, 2011
- Colorado Classic Ballon Festival, Colorado Springs, Labor Day weekend, 2012.
- Snowmass Balloon Festival, Mid-September, 2012
Make your own adventure
If you can’t get to a balloon festival, you can hire your own ride. Soaring opens up a whole new world of aerial photo opportunities. Balloon flights are rather gentle experiences and it’s easy to make pictures from the air. To avoid motion blur in your photos, use a shutter speed of at least 1/500th preferably faster.
There are many hot air balloon companies in Colorado which offer balloon rides most of the year. In general, you need at least two people to hire a balloon and fees start around $225 per person. Many companies offer reduced rates in autumn. Book early and be flexible in case weather cancels your flight. Most companies do not fly in the winter.
Flights usually last about an hour. Customers should be able to climb into and out of the basket with little assistance. Pregnant women are generally not allowed to fly, for safety reasons. When flying, travel light. Do not bring your tripod. Stick to two cameras, each with zooms of different ranges.
Where to start?
Here are links to just a few of the balloon companies in Colorado. See their Websites for current pricing and discounts.
- Colorado Hot air Balloon Rides. Dillon and Boulder.
- Fair Winds Hot Air Balloon Flights, Boulder.
- Life Cycle Hot Air Balloon Adventures, Boulder.
- Colorado Hot Air Balloons, various locations.
- San Juan Balloon Adventures, Ridgway.
Let your photography soar.
The winds have welcomed you with softness,
The sun has greeted you with it’s warm hands,
You have flown so high and so well,
That God has joined you in laughter,
And set you back gently into
The loving arms of Mother Earth.
— The Balloonist’s Prayer, Anonymous
To see more of Randall’s photography, please visit his Website.