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

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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

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