The great thing about hot air balloon festivals is that there are no “back stage passes”. Unless you happen to have a seat in a basket – everyone has the same vantage point. And – I really don’t think it matters if you’re using a Holga, point and shoot, SLR, or imaging satellite – there are great images to be had. But – shooting a launch is work. It’s busy – it’s furious – and the whole gig can be done in 60 minutes or less.
On the other hand, it can be tough to even know where to point your lens – as there’s simply so much stuff happening all around. Now that I’ve shot a few of these – I’ve gathered a few tips that work for me. So – in no particular order:
- Again – it’s busy if you’re standing among 40 (or more) hot air balloons. There’s color, noise, and a heck of a lot of photographers. Try to take all of that mayhem – and simply pick 3 or 4 balloons that you’d like to focus on during the morning. If there’s a little break in the action – you can shoot the ones right next door, too. Of course – you don’t need to have this list in hand when you arrive. Simply pick a colorful one when you arrive. When that one has launched – or you have the photos you’re looking for – just go pick the next one.
- While you’re looking at your 3 or 4 balloons throughout the morning – look around at the horizon. There’s a lot going on – and during a break in the action – those are the times to get your “big scene” shots.
- If you can only pick one lens – go wide. Your wide glass (zoom or fixed) will be more versatile while you’re there shooting. Of course, there’s a place for long lenses, too.
- The event is so short – try to limit your lens changes (in fact – I might recommend not changing lenses at all). And the fewer lenses you have – the lighter your camera bag – and the easier it will be walking around.
- Try to minimize the visual clutter. There’s a lot going on at a hot air balloon launch. Try to leave some of it out of the frame.
- Unless you’re looking for something creative (e.g. long exposures or graduated ND filters) – try to leave the tripod at home. With everything happening so fast – you’ll want to be more agile.
- A polarizer will help (though – I admit – I often leave mine in the bag).
- Shoot from the hip. Many of my photos are shot from about knee or ankle height.
- Shoot on burst mode – sometimes in that moment between shots – there can be a subtle change that will simply make the photo better.
- Know where the sun is at. Will you be backlighting your balloons – or will you have that beautiful morning light fall on the face of each aerostat?
- Be polite, smile – and have fun! There are a lot of other photographers out there, too. Share that great spot.
- It can clean up the foreground clutter by making much of it near black.
- More of the morning color can be highlighted.
- I happen to like the architectural elements that silhouettes can add to an image.
Hope that helps. And if you have more tips – please don’t hesitate to leave them below.