Full of Hot Air: Exposure to Hot Air Ballooning

Today’s Post by John Larsen

There’s a saying in the hot air ballooning world that, “Your first flight is the cheapest,” and this is precisely what happened to my brother and I! He had been voluntarily crewing for a local balloonist and, in return, was awarded a flight for four people at the end of the season. To my surprise, he invited his wife as well as my wife (at the time) and I for an experience we would not forget.

Mass Launch

We were immediately hooked. The following spring saw us purchasing a balloon and equipment to pursue our new interest. My brother, call sign “Kilopapa”, trained and qualified as a licensed hot air balloon pilot while I oversaw the ground crew and chasing of the balloon. We ran this as a part-time business for a number of years. During this time I was fortunate enough to join Kilopapa on a number of flights, sometimes for fun and occasionally for passenger safety.

launchBallooning is a “fair-weather” sport and conditions must be ideal before a pilot commences a flight. When Kilopapa and I had our balloon we had a few occasions where the balloon was inflated, passengers boarded and he made the decision not to fly. This brings up another popular ballooning phrase: “I would rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air than in the air wishing I was on the ground!” Having crewed for more than 150 flights and been a passenger more than 30 times, I’ve had significant experience in and around hot air balloons, some not so pleasant but most were spectacular.

When I moved to another part of our province, I spent many summer weekends at balloon festivals taking photos and writing articles for a US ballooning magazine. I accumulated an inventory of photos and contacted a calendar company who purchased twelve photos for publication.

Photographers need two critical pieces of equipment to get the results they want:

  • A wide-angle zoom lens: While there are various sizes of balloons, hot air balloons are much larger than you expect. Most people who are near one for the first time are surprised at the incredible size and mass. For this reason using a wide-angle lens allows the photographer to include the entire balloon in the frame.
  • A polarizing filter: Ideal flying conditions are usually associated with blue sky and sunshine and a polarizing filter greatly enhances the colors of both the background as well as the patterns of the balloon fabric, known as “the envelope.” Make sure your filter won’t vignette the corners of your image. That’s why thin mount polarizing filters are useful, when using a wide angle lens.

In part 2 I’ll introduce you to other photo gear to help you capture a ballooning event.

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.

Author: Joe Farace

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