2013 Kiwanis Balloon Festival: Some Photos
Click on the Oliver Winery balloon to see more of the festival.
This past Saturday Sue and I joined about a thousand close friends for the Bloomington Kiwanis Club’s 2013 Hot Air Balloon Festival. We never had attended (or shot) such an event; it was a learning experience. I somewhat compare it to shooting a large car show … not especially easy but potentially quite rewarding.
I like some of the photos from Saturday. But, man, I shot a lot of images to get these ten (click on the balloon at the top of the post to see the rest or go up to Photo Collections and click on 2013 Balloon Festival). We started out in harsh sunlight in the early afternoon and ended up in real darkness for the glow portion. That called for some major adaptions to camera settings and technique … good practice. The balloons are really tall; it takes some creativity to find a shot that tells a story and captures everything you want to show. The crowds are large, active and ever-present, creating problems for framing and positioning. And the balloons don’t stand still; you have to work hard to get sharp images. But the scene offers color and form and line, if not much texture. We enjoyed ourselves and the chance to get out and shoot.
Hot air balloonists seem to be quite friendly, real people persons. There were no fences or barriers of any kind to keep spectators (and photographers) from getting close up and personal with the balloons. You could stand with your nose (or camera) literally pressed right up against the balloons and all the various accessories and equipment without anyone ever telling you to step back or stay out of the way. Kids were running and crawling around and even under the balloons as they were being unloaded, inflated and tethered. And there were lots of spectators and photographers. Every person there seemed to have a camera of some kind with them, especially the ubiquitous camera phones. And they had paid their entrance fee, just like the guys with the fancy DLSRs. So there was plenty of jockeying for shooting positions and very little courtesy or patience on display. Unless you shot the tops of the balloons there was little chance of getting a photo that didn’t have people in it. That was just the name of the game. If you try one of these events be prepared for that.
These balloons are big, very tall. If you want to capture the entire balloon you are going to have to put some distance between yourself and your subject. Take a wide angle lens for sure, and a good mid-range zoom (such as the 24-120 or the 24-105) with you. And if the balloons are taking off and landing (we only had a couple do that Saturday) a long zoom will let you capture them in flight. These balloons can get up and go pretty quickly; they will perhaps surprise you in how quickly they become quite small up in the sky. That long-range zoom will keep you in the game and allow you to capture the detail you want. And the balloon glow portion is when it gets dark and the balloonists throw flame up into their tethered charges, giving them a soft yet colorful glow (hence the name). So by then you are going to be wishing you had your tripod with you. I didn’t see all that many Saturday, and once it got dark there were a whole lot of people with a whole lot of blurry photos. You don’t want to load yourself down so much that you cannot move about freely … but if you don’t take a good selection of gear you are not going to get the photos you are after.
Shooting the festival (our race never materialized; we just had tethered balloons to shoot) is still like any other shoot or event when it comes to telling a story. Shoot wide to set the scene; get some shots of individual subjects; look for some close-ups and details to add interest. I probably should have spent more time in the brighter light (when not much was going on) shooting the people in the crowd. I saw some cute kids (these are family events) and some interesting personalities during the day. I’m not much of a street shooter, and now I regret a bit not concentrating on some portraits. Consider doing that doing slow periods when the balloons aren’t very active.
Use your feet … a lot. These balloons are spread out over a pretty big area. And once they stake out a spot they pretty much aren’t going anywhere. So you have to move to find the best angles, the best position for the shot you want. And with the sun moving around and the light changing, the spots you pick or think are just right are going to change, also. My friend RC Concepcion is fond of saying of a scene, “Shoot the snot out of it.” Don’t be afraid to shoot and move, shoot and move. If you stake out a position and never move from it, you are miss a whole lot of shots that are out there.
And in addition to practicing your technique and exercising your artistic eye, stop once in a while and smell the roses. These balloons really are works of art, colorful and impressive. The scene is a treat for the eyes much of the time; don’t neglect to stand back and enjoy it part of the time. Never forget the joy of being out there with a camera in your hand. Good photos or not, it is a privilege to be included in alll that we see and photograph.