This article was originally published on August 24, 2015 and has been updated to include current product information.
As a photographer, the Balloon Glow will surely rank as one of your favorite moments after coming to the Canon Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, or other similar festivals.
The Balloon Glow is an exciting and colorful event where many of the pilots inflate their balloons at sunset, keeping them tethered to the ground, and use a special burner that creates a bright, warm light within the envelope, giving the balloons a light bulb like appearance.
The best vantage point for the glow would be facing west, photographing directly into the sunset or twilight sky. The light inside of the inflated balloons will soon balance with the rich blue sky – this is a great way to add depth and dimension in my photographs, helping my viewer’s eye wander all around the image and see detail in the foreground, middle ground and background.
I’d like to share with you a few camera tips before the glow begins:
- As the sun begins to get low in the sky, you will find the inside of the balloon envelope alive with beautiful warm light and shadows from the people walking close by. It would be a great time to look inside the balloon with a medium wide-angle lens, like a 24-105mm (for full-frame cameras) or the EF-S 15-85mm IS lens (for Canon APS-C sensor cameras) to capture the last light of day bathing the fabric.
- As the pilots “stand up” the balloons, this is a great opportunity to photograph the task of “going hot” against the sunset sky. Very often, in the morning inflation, this procedure is done before the sun comes up over the horizon. Now in the evening, you will have plenty of light and less people crowding around the balloons.
Mid-range zooms like a 24-70mm or 24-105mm (equivalents for APS-C sensor cameras would be lenses like a 15-85mm or 18-135mm) allow me the versatility of a wide-angle lens and a short telephoto for compression of the balloons. Lens compression is an effect created by using a longer focal length lens to capture a scene where you will visually bring the background closer to your subject. You can create the impression that there is more distance from your subject to the background by using a wide-angle lens.
To ensure sharp, shake-free images in this dusky environment, a tripod is a wise investment you will not regret! Be sure to bring along your cable release or intervalometer to trip your shutter without having to touch the camera itself. Here are a few additional tips for minimizing camera shake during longer exposure, for tack-sharp images even in low-light:
- Enable the "mirror up" function on your camera. This will allow the mirror to rise on the first depression of your cable release. The second time that you depress the cable will now allow the shutter to fire with minimum vibration when you're tripod-mounted.
- Canon generally recommends that stabilization on Image Stabilization (IS) lenses be turned off when you know you'll be on a solid tripod. This will prevent the IS from actually vibrating your camera when it is mounted on your tripod.
- Lastly, make use of Live View when focusing at the balloon glow. It will be dark and challenging to see through your viewfinder to find focus visually and the use of auto focus may also be a challenge. Using Live View provides you with the ability to "zoom" in on your subject either 5x or 10x to focus precisely where you would like to.