This article was originally published on September 18, 2015 and has been updated to include current product information.
One of the most remarkable experiences that you can have at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) is to see the largest gathering of hot air balloons from above. Reaching altitude in a hot air balloon gives no sensation of movement whatsoever. The balloon is moving with the air, so you will not feel wind on this gentle ride. As a photographer, you will be thrilled with this aerial platform. The perspective from above gives you an entirely different sense of the Fiesta. With good weather conditions, the light can be amazing.
Photo opportunities are everywhere. Watch the sun come up over the horizon. See the warm light bathe the landscape below you. Look down on all of the other balloons inflating. Witness those long shadows created by the rising sun. Capture images of other balloons as they take to the sky. View the magnificent, winding Rio Grande River. Experience a "splash and dash." Take in 360 degrees around you.
There is no better place to capture a sunrise than flying in a balloon during the Mass Ascension at the AIBF on a crisp October morning. While drifting along with the gentle breezes, you will be surrounded by over 800 other balloons.
If you are planning on photographing the excitement that is Fiesta, I'd suggest you first arrange a flight in one of the hot air balloons. Contact the ride concession to purchase your ticket for one of the Mass Ascension days. You will be a part of the beauty with balloons in front of you, behind you, to the left, right, above and below you. Many of the balloon envelopes have turning vents so your pilot can rotate the balloon, providing all of the passengers a new perspective of the surroundings.
When I am flying as a photographer, I usually have two camera bodies on my shoulder — the first is an EOS 5D series camera with a wide angle zoom such as the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L and the other my EOS-1D X series with the versatile EF 70-200mm 2.8L IS or EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS lens — this way, I am covered for virtually any situation that I encounter. There is limited room in the basket so you will not be able to bring along a camera bag, but I suggest using a photo vest to hold your digital media, spare batteries and anything else that you may want while you are in the air. I make it a practice not to change lenses in the confined basket, as your attention will be on the calliope of color gently moving in front of you. And some baskets may be tight with space because of other passengers.
When I find myself rising into a pod of balloons, I like to look for:
- Balloons at various distances from mine, creating depth in the sky.
- The light from the sun at a 90 degree angle to the balloons, creating dimension.
- A foreground balloon to give balance to the balloons in the background.
- Clouds that create lighter and darker balloons.