Reach for the skies
Jason Parnell-Brookes takes you up, up and away to capture beautiful shots of hot air balloons on the ground and in flight
Make the most of a balloon festival, both on the ground and in the air
Hot air balloons have a beauty that’s very different from other modes of flight. Shooting helicopters and planes can be exhilarating, but hot air balloons are much slower moving, as their movement is dictated largely by the wind.
We visited the Bristol Balloon Fiesta to get our images, but there are many balloon festivals worldwide. At the Bristol Balloon Fiesta over 100 hot air balloons take to the skies during the mass ascent, and with more than half a million people attending, getting a good vantage point is crucial.
Check the weather before you go – often, if the wind is over 10 miles per hour the balloons won’t take off. The wind will also affect the direction in which the balloons fly. Sometimes pilots can aim for certain directions using the burners in combination with thermals, but nothing is certain. Investigate the area around the take-off site, too, paying attention to the direction of the sun to see what will be lit up when you’re there.
Most flights are in the early mornings and late evenings, when the air is still. On a fine day, cumulus clouds can start to form, and they look striking when they’re side-lit by the low sun. Depending on your luck and location it may be possible to capture valley fog, a type of low-lying cloud. Tall buildings often breach this ‘cloud’, making for a cinematic atmosphere.
Get to your location early so that you an shoot the whole process from inflation to flight. The appearance of the balloon changes rapidly during inflation, so you’ll get a wide variety of images in minutes. Try standing behind the inflater and at the other end of the balloon, and shoot inside if you can; looking for abstracts is an easy way to vary your imagery.
If you’re taking flight, wear warm clothing. The air gets colder as you ascend and wind speed can pick up the higher you go. You’ll probably land in a field and have to walk to a road to get picked up, so solid footwear can help. You might be able to squeeze a small camera bag into the basket, but there won’t be room for a tripod – not that you’ll need one if you’re using a high ISO and fast shutter speed. Read on for more on settings, and what else you need to consider, to get balloon shots that soar.
Most flights are in the early mornings… Depending on your luck and location it may be possible to photograph valley fog, a type of low-lying cloud that can envelop entire villages