Hot air balloon rides are wonderful way to get some very interesting landscape shots from a different perspective than you would normally when both feet are planted firmly on the ground. I always believe that to get the shots we would like, it is best to prepare as much as possible. If you have never been in a balloon before, it may be hard to pre-visualize the shots, but you can definitely break down the categories of shots you may look for and be prepared for those. Here are just a few examples.
This post is graciously co-authored by Colin Michaelis, who shot the beautiful the image below.
“Rising” by Colin Michaelis.
“…In My Beautiful, My Beautiful,” by Michael Slezak
“Sunrise in Cappadocia” by Istvan Kadar.
The pre-launch phase of the excursion provides some fascinating opportunities for color-filled photographs. Most balloon rides are done in the early morning. So be prepared for some low light shots with bright flames pouring into colorful balloons. A high ISO will likely help here.
“Hot Air Light Bulb” by Rubén Chase.
Think also about people shots – both catching the feelings of anticipation while on the ground and of course when in the balloon’s basket. Think about how you can get a good depth of field to have your subjects in the basket, just a few feet away in focus, and the environmental context behind clear too.
“Sunrise Balloon Ride, Cappadocia, Turkey” by Sean Bagshaw.
Maybe the most obvious shots from the ride will be the broad landscape shots from high in the sky. Make sure you get an outside position on the basket and of course have a wide angle lens available. For the series of shots that this image comes from, I was alternating between single frame exposures and bracketed shots for HDR processing, depending on the contrast level in the scene. The balloon is almost constantly slowly rotating and so at times you may be pointing almost directly into the sun with very high contrasts.
“Loon on the Lake” by Jackson Carson. Jackson had these words of advice:
I may be a somewhat unique photographer in that I like to look with a more narrow view than usual. I’m not particularly interested in landscapes or portraits, for example. I tend to focus in on small details or odd forms. This, I think, keeps me in a pretty creative space because I’m always seeing something unique in the details. To me, how grass meets the edge of a building is more interesting than the building itself. I enjoy looking at the transition points. So it’s less about the whole scene, and more about something small or the composition or juxtaposition of textures or colors or forms.While most photographers would see the hot air balloon in the sky, I initially saw the distortions of the balloon in the water, then the reeds, the shapes, the colors, the forms. I quickly realized that’s where my shot would be focused for this image.
“Lets spend the afternoon in a cold hot air balloon” by Holly Henry.
Photo by Martin Sojka.
“Balloons and Corn” by Phil Roeder
A good balloon operator will alternate between high altitude (6,000’ or more) and low altitude (skimming the trees) phases of the ride so think about the different views that this will present. Remember, just as with any other photography, don’t get stuck on one point of view. Don’t just look out for the horizontal shot. Look down and think wide as well as zoomed in. Look up too and into the balloon, especially when the flame is roaring. Whichever direction you are looking, think carefully about the position of objects of interest, for example another balloon. Where does the object best fit in your composition?
One final tip – don’t forget to take the camera away from your eye and just enjoy the awesome fact of floating across the countryside in the early dawn hours. It is magical and some of the time you need to just look around and experience it!
Colin Michaelis is a hobbyist photographer living near Chicago, Illinois. Colin is originally from Southern Africa where he developed a passion for wildlife and landscape photography.