Hot-Air Balloon Photography

On July 25-27, 2008, I attended the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning at Solberg Airport in Readington, NJ. This event has been held annually at this location since 1983. If the weather conditions are ideal as far as wind and storms are concerned, photographers have the opportunity to shoot as many as 150 balloons in the air at one time.

Photographing hot air balloons is more difficult than one might imagine. In order to produce high quality images of hot air balloons, photographers need more than a basic understanding of composition, exposure, camera settings and lens focal lengths.

If you are a beginner, make sure you are familiar with your camera so you can operate it quickly without hesitation when action is happening fast. Based on my experience, the ideal lens for balloon photography is a zoom in the range of 18-200 mm (on a cropped sensor DSLR) with vibration reduction or image stabilization capabilities. In addition, make sure you have extra batteries and a high capacity memory card (s).

Hot air Balloon Photography Tips:

  • Shoot creative and unique compositions using your artistic design skills. Try to avoid the typical tourist or record shot.
  • Tell a story with your photos by shooting a variety of images including flight crews at work, balloon inflation, balloons in flight, balloons landings, balloon glow (inflation of balloons in the late evening or in the dark) as well as the many spectators present (especially kids).
  • Zoom in tight and fill the frame with the balloons to empahise their color, detailed patterns and shapes.
  • In addition to tight close-ups, use a wide angle lens to capture the dozens of balloons that will be in flight at one time.
  • Make as many photographs as possible at the beginning or start of a launch before the balloons get too high in the sky.
  • If possible, try to obtain access to the launch area to get shots of the flight crew setting up and inflating their balloons.
  • I prefer to compose my images with many balloons instead of one singe balloon. This leads to more interesting compositions.
  • Attempt to capture the local scenery along with the balloons. Look for reflections in bodies of water if possible.
  • Action happens very fast. Get in position early and be thourghly familiar with your camera’s features, settings and controls.
  • Shoot as many images as possible when action is happening. This isn’t the type of photography to be conservative as far as saving memory card space or using film.
  • Don’t waste time reviewing your images on your camera’s LCD. Wait until later and do this on your computer
  • Include people in your photographs to provide a sense of scale
  • Balloons launch early and late in the day so the light is usually ideal. Work with front, side and back light
  • Shoot in RAW if your camera has this setting. Since you will be working quickly, exposure and white balance errors can be fixed later in post proccessing.
  • Be sure to shoot in both the vertical and horizontal formats. Many of my most successful images are shot vertically.
  • You may need to shoot at a higher IS0 (depending on the intensity of the light) to keep your shutter speeds high and allow for greater depth of field.

The next balloon festival I will be attending is the Pocono Balloon Festival at Shawnee Mountain, PA on October 17, 18, and 19. Hope to see you there.


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One Response to “Hot-Air Balloon Photography”

  1. Randy Keenan Says:

    Thanks for a great “basic” class last night AND for your advice on purchasing equipment. I hope to “build” on my photography knowledge with your classes at Unique. See ya soon! Randy

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