Picture a valley in the early hours of the morning. One by one, colourful hot air balloons start dotting the blue sky.
Balloon festivals can look stunning in a photograph. But great hot air balloon pictures are not easy to take.
Here are 10 tips to help you capture amazing hot air balloon photos.
1. Arrive Early to Find the Best Photography Spot
Whatever type of photography you practice, it’s always a good idea to arrive early. This is especially true for a balloon fiesta, yearly hot air balloon festivals organised throughout the world.
One famous event is held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Arriving early to the event will allow you to take your time and scout the location before photographing. But it will also mean you can secure a good spot for you and your camera bag when the crowds arrive.
The good thing about balloon photography is that it is usually done in an open space. So you should find you have plenty of room.
When you get to a location, start by looking around for potential vantage points that you can photograph from.
It’s also worth having a chat with some of the crew members or volunteers and even the pilots. They might have knowledge of places that will give you a good view.
2. Photograph the Preparation for More Variety
Anyone who has arrived early at a hot air balloon launch will tell you how much preparation goes into getting things ready.
Unrolling the balloon off the truck. Attaching the basket. Checking the burners. Slowly filling the balloon up before finally filliping it so it is upright.
Whilst a blown up hot air balloon is the focus for most photographers, it’s also worth photographing the preparation.
This will give your hot air balloon photos variety and help tell more of a story.
3. Get Close-Up Hot Air Balloon Pics
One of the most photogenic elements of hot air balloons is the colorful balloon material.
Think about it, how many times have you seen a boring grey balloon? Never, right? So, any hot air balloon photography should also include some close-ups.
Get close enough to fill the entire frame with the colourful balloon material. Use a zoom lens for this. These abstract photos will look great but also add variety to your portfolio.
But getting closer also applies to other elements of balloon photography. For example, if you are photographing the crew, don’t stand far away and zoom in using a telephoto lens. Instead, get close to your subject.
Interact with them and you are far more likely to capture a candid photo than being far away.
4. Look for Your “Wow” Shot
Whenever I run photo tours or workshops, I always set a task for my students which involves capturing 3 photos. A close-up, something which shows context (like an environmental portrait) and the big, impressive wide angle shot.
This is a great way to think about any scenario you are photographing.
You’ve captured the early morning preparation. Then you walked amongst the balloons and got some close-up images. Now you need that big “wow” shot that could appear as a double page spread or front cover.
Hopefully, you already know the spot to capture this from when you were scouting earlier in the day. Now it’s time to execute it.
5. Frame Your Shot Before the Balloon Is in Position
One of the good things about hot air balloon photography is that you will have plenty of time to photograph things. Hot air balloons don’t move very fast so you can set up your frame and wait for the perfect moment.
Once you have found your perfect location and framed your shot, simply wait until that hot air balloon moves into the position that you want.
6. Add a Point of Interest to Highlight the Hot Air Balloon
Just because you are photographing hot air balloons doesn’t mean that it should be the only thing in your photos. You will find that the best pictures of hot air balloons incorporate them into a scene.
Look for points of interest and frame your shot around that to add context. This could be buildings, old temples, people or even interesting landscapes like mountains or water.
7. Try Different Perspectives to Stand Out From the Crowd
Whenever you are going to photograph anything, you should spend some time doing research and planning your shoot. The ultimate aim is to try and capture something unique and different to what already exists.
Capturing images of hot air balloons is no different. By doing some research you can see the type of photos that exist and what you can do to create something unique.
8. Photograph Hot Air Balloons From the Air
As fantastic as capturing hot air balloon photos from the ground is, nothing beats doing it from the sky. It will give you a completely different perspective and allow you to capture wonderful hot air balloon pictures.
Preparation is vital though. The baskets will be small with not much room to manoeuvre. It’s important to get a good spot, otherwise you may find that your view is blocked by other people in the basket.
Speak to the balloon operator or even the pilot beforehand to see if they will allow you to get the best spot in the basket. This is another reason why arriving early is always useful!
9. Camera Settings for Hot Air Balloon Photography
There is no magic setting that works in every scenario. Balloon photography is like any other genres of photography. It will offer different challenges based on the conditions to overcome.
Everything from the light available to weather conditions will have an impact on your photo.
Here are some simple tips to help you get your best camera settings correct:
Photographing a Hot Air Balloon at Night
Whether it’s night or early morning, your big challenge will be the lack of available light. The settings that you choose will depend on whether you are using a tripod or not.
If you are using a tripod then you can get away with slower shutter speeds (such as 1/60 sec or slower). But keep in mind that if you are photographing something that is moving like balloons or people, a too slow shutter speed will make them blurry.
If you are not using a tripod, then your only option will be to raise your ISO level. This will allow you to have a shutter speed fast enough for handheld photography. Depending on how dark it is, you may have to go to ISO 2000 or even higher.
Only raise your ISO as high as it needs to go. The higher it is, the more noise will be in your photos.
Hot Air Balloon Photos During the Day
Daytime makes things much easier. You won’t need a tripod. There should be enough light to allow you to photograph handheld.
Your main considerations are what you are photographing and your creative vision.
If you are photographing a landscape scene of the launch field, you’ll want a greater depth of field. This, in turn, will determine your shutter speed and your ISO.
But if you are photographing the balloon in the sky during the air show only, then your main concern will be your shutter speed if you want to freeze the action.
So that will determine the other settings on the exposure triangle.
10. How to Stay Safe When Taking Hot Air Balloon Photos
Besides always being polite and courteous to pilots, crew and other passengers, you also need to make sure you stay safe. And that you do not endanger other people.
Be extra careful not to damage the balloon fabric or the ropes when around them. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t go inside of the balloon or look at the burners without permission from the pilot or the crew.
Once you are on-board, keep your valuables and camera equipment secure so they do not fall out.
Hot air balloon photography is a wonderful subject matter to photograph. It can give extraordinary images and is lots of fun. But often to capture the best hot air balloon photos it will need planning, some luck and a lot of persistence.
The more hot air balloon pics you take and the more events you attend, the better your chances of capturing great photos. In the meantime, these 10 tips should help you capture great hot air balloon photos.