Hot-air balloons are big, colourful and slow-moving – and absolutely superb subjects for photography. This is the time of year when balloon festivals start to take place, when in theory at least, it is warm and the air relatively still early and late in the day.
A standard zoom will cope with most opportunities when you are shooting ground-based subjects while a telezoom is perfect for ground-to-air pictures. A telezoom is also good for pulling in details and will take up less room in your camera backpack than a variety of different lenses would. Have your fingers crossed for a nice blue sky, just remember to fit a polariser to maximise colour saturation of the balloon as well as the sky.
For safety reasons very close access to the balloons is restricted but that's not a real issue because it is not as if they are small and you have to get close to fill the frame. In fact, for a decent perspective it helps to be further back anyway so that you do not have to aim the lens upwards too much.
Time Of Day
Flying takes place early or late in the day. The rest of the time, you can shoot tethered balloons as well as other entertainments that you get at festivals. You will find that the hot air balloons is just one of many attractions that might also include classic cars, fun fairs and the opportunity to shop, eat and drink.
Some of the best shots of the day can come during set-up and initial inflation so if you can, get there early enough to shoot these pictures. The balloon team using a big fan and the burner to get hot air in is very photogenic.
As with every subject, the composition is something that must be considered carefully, especially with regard to the sky. A vibrant blue sky with some fluffy clouds is perfect but more often than not, it is grey and flat – even in summer. Flat grey skies should be excluded from your images as much as possible and that is challenging given a balloon's round shape. But don't think that you must include the whole balloon as cropping the top off a balloon can help the overall composition.
Having some nice light and colour is ideal so make the most of it if you get good conditions, especially when balloons are being inflated. Do remember that their shape changes during this process so shoot quickly.
A good time to shoot with your telephoto is when the balloons are still tethered to the ground. Compose carefully avoiding any ground-based elements and you can give the impression that it is in the air.
If you intend to shoot balloons taking off and are making a long journey, it is very important that you check the weather forecast. If the forecast is for winds of over 10mph, you might as well as stay at home because there will be no balloon take-offs.
ISO And Shutter Speeds
If you get lucky and the light's good, you may still want to increase your ISO from your usual speed. Just keep an eye on the shutter speeds you are getting especially for images of the ground crew getting things ready. When the sun is up, sufficiently fast shutter speeds are rarely a problem.
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