Hot air balloons are immensely photogenic almost regardless of the light and whether they are inflated or not, but one of the best photo opportunities is when the sun has set. At ballooning shows, a night glow is a regular and popular event and it is undoubtedly worth taking the camera and tripod
along. Often, night glows are actually timed to happen when there is still some colour and tone in the sky, and it is very important not to waste time here, so make sure your kit is prepared and decide your camera position early.
Your DSLR with wide, standard and telephoto zooms will be enough for most situations, but you will definitely need a tripod
and a remote release. You could use the camera's self-timer in lieu of the remote release but it does make timing shots tricky. But remote releases are available at a wide range of prices and there are cord and cordless options. Something else to take is a small head torch a wind-up one that you can pick up from camping and outdoor shops would be ideal. It would help you check your camera settings. Finally, taking a seat or blanket to sit on would be sensible too as the grass can get damp as night descends.
Of course, low light means slower shutter speeds hence the need for a tripod
, but you have to remember that the inflated balloons will move albeit slowly and gracefully so you should not drop too slow with shutter speeds. An ISO of 400 or 800 should be fast enough to give shutter speeds for sharp images of the balloons. Of course, the other option is to drop the ISO to the camera's lowest setting, close the lens to its smallest f/stop and use the longest shutter speeds you can for deliberate blur. This could give interesting, creative results.
If you increase the camera's ISO setting, you might be tempted to use the camera's on-board noise reduction system. Many DSLRs have the option of long exposure noise reduction as well as high ISO noise reduction. You could use both or you could use neither. It depends on how bad the noise levels are on your camera and how effective noise reduction systems are. It also depends on the type of noise because it can look very filmic or it can look horrible and blotchy. It would be best if you did a test before the shoot and you may find that the benefit is limited or none at all.
When To Shoot
The best shots occur when the burners are on. The bright light, though, can cause too much underexposure to the canopy so do check your exposures and either use exposure lock or compensation to make sure you keep some detail in the balloon. If in doubt, you could set autoexposure bracketing if your DSLR has it, to ensure a decent result.