Today’s Post by John Larsen
After the initial awe of witnessing crews assemble, inflate and launch their balloons wears off you will begin to notice smaller details, instead of their magnitude and bright colors. That’s when you will uncover interesting subjects at any ballooning event. They could be people, shadows, patterns or even a unique chase vehicle.
To make these shots my favorite lens is an 18-135mm zoom as it allows me to take wider views of numerous balloons together and will still allow me to zoom into the pilot as he or she prepares the balloon during the inflation process or maybe focus on a specific part of a balloon. The use of a polarizing filter, as referenced in part 1, is critical.
Most balloon festivals hold a “night glow” or “balloon illume” one evening after the sun has set. This allows spectators, and us photographers, to see them at night while they are tied or “tethered” to their chase vehicles. The balloons do not fly but may leave the ground given enough slack in their respective tether ropes. When possible, organizers will ask the pilots to fire their burners at the same time resulting in a spectacular display of massive glowing lanterns. Of course, wind speed and the photographer’s shutter speed selection will impact the image’s sharpness. Using a tripod is imperative. A cable or remote shutter release is useful but most digital cameras have a timer that can be used instead. The ability to view the image immediately and make the necessary adjustments is a huge advantage over the days when I was shooting 35mm slide film.
If you have an opportunity to take photos at a ballooning event there are a number of safety issues to be aware of:
- No smoking at a launch site. Each of these balloons carries a significant amount of propane. The balloon teams also use portable gas powered fans to start the inflation process and gasoline is present.
- Always ask permission to get closer when you are near to the base or “mouth” of a balloon while it’s being inflated. A gust of wind will shift the entire balloon and the cables connecting the envelope to the basket will also move and could rip your camera out of your hand and scrape your hand and arm. Kilopapa and I had a scary inflation once when a sudden wind gust was strong enough to move both the balloon itself and the vehicle it was tied to completely sideways!
- Pay attention to your surroundings. Once a balloon has launched, the crew is usually in a bit of a hurry to get off the launch site and begin their chase. After all, part of the excitement of the sport of ballooning is that you never know when and where you are going to land. Allow the crew to do their job safely and move out of the way when possible-particularly if you are not taking photos.
Senior International Travel Correspondent, John Larsen is located in the Greater Toronto Area. His PhotoGraffics website contains samples of motorsports and hot air balloon photography from Canadian balloon festivals. He recently set up a site through Zenfolio to sell his motorsports photos.