The Challenges and Joys of Photographing Hot Air Balloons

Balloons are Eye-Candy

One Colorful Hot Air Balloon on the ground, being filled with air, while others are nearby in the sky.

When making photos that tell a story, I think it’s important to show a sense of place. ©Kit Frost

This image shows a beautiful red striped hot air balloon and a background of spires and mesas in Valley of the Gods, red rocks of Utah

By showing a hot air balloon being filled for launch, as well as the spires of Valley of the Gods, we give the viewer a sense of place and story. ©Kit Frost

Two Patterns of color in Hot Air Balloons with blue sky,  Valley of the Gods, Utah Red Rocks

In this third image, the balloon is almost ready for lift-off, and we can see another balloon in the blue sky.

When I think of Hot Air Balloons, the first thing that comes to my mind is color.  The multi-colored balloons are fun to watch, the sound of the gas heating up the balloons is seductive and enjoyable. What comes to mind for you?

What to see and do at the Bluff Balloon Festival

A hot air balloon casts a heart shaped shadow on the cliff walls below.  Twin Buttes, Bluff, Utah

As a hot air balloon floats overhead I waited until the cast shadow fell on Twin Rocks in Bluff, Utah. Broken Heart? Love on the Rocks? “Right Place,Right Time” ©Kit Frost

This past weekend (January 17-19, 2014) marked the Annual Bluff, Utah, Balloon Festival.  The schedule was full of fun things to do, good eats, great chili, Navajo children’s music and dance performances, an arts & crafts bazaar, and, of course, balloons everywhere.

I taught a group of Photographers how to capture these subjects, and to learn a few simple techniques for photographing moving subjects. In addition, while the balloons were grounded (they fly early and late each day), we explored Anasazi Petroglyphs, Grand Landscape, Sunrise, and Sunset.

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At the campsite, Cadillac Ranch RV Park, watching the early “risers’ launch their hot air balloons. At the Bluff Balloon Festival, Bluff Utah.  that’s my rig on the far left.  The balloon festival is a sell-out in the small town of Bluff.

A Great place to camp: Cadillac Ranch RV Park, Bluff Utah.  Tim and Diana are wonderful hosts, and I served breakfast each morning to the photo workshop participants, at the dinette in my camper.  And later each day, coffee at Cafe Chase the Light:  my camper.

Right Place, Right Time, Right Moment to Click the Shutter

A favorite lesson for my students: learning to be at the right place, at the right time can be easy, but pressing the Shutter Release to make the photo can be challenging.

Here are a few examples of being precise, and anticipating your compositions when subjects are moving.

As a Hot Air Balloon approaches Red Rock in Utah, the sun casts a shadow on the cliff walls.

As this balloon was floating closer and closer to the Twin Rocks, I anticipated a cool photograph with the basket at the right moment. ©Kit FrostBy being prepared for anything, it’s possible to anticipate, and cheer as your subject falls into place.

A hot air balloon looks like it's going to land on the Twin Rocks in Bluff. Learn to anticipate and be open for surprises too.

A hot air balloon looks like it’s going to land on the Twin Rocks in Bluff. Learn to anticipate and be open for surprises too.

But the real gem, was when the balloon cast a shadow on the Twin Rocks, is this heartbreak or love?

A hot air balloon casts its shadow on Red Rock Buttes in Utah, creating a broken heart or love on the rocks.

Heartbreak or Love on the Rocks? What do you think? Only two balloons cast their fast-moving shadows. ©Kit Frost

Photograph Hot Air Balloons – January 2014

The 16th Annual Bluff Hot Air Balloon Festival is just around the corner; the four corners to be exact.

Kit will be teaching a special weekend workshop, January 17th – 19th, 2014.  Space is limited, as are accommodations in and around Bluff.  We’ve held a few rooms, so register for this workshop as soon as you can!

Reserve your space now.  A perfect holiday gift too.

$650. Personal Instruction and Accommodations in Bluff, Utah
To register, email kit@kitfrost.com or call Kit at 970-946-9727 before December 5th.

By using the Nikon 55-300 lens I was able to create frames that compressed the background buttes and spires.  The balloons, then appear closer to the mesa. ©Kit Frost

By using the Nikon 55-300 lens I was able to create frames that compressed the background buttes and spires. The balloons, then appear closer to the mesa. ©Kit Frost

Full compression of the 55-300 lens.  The background sure appears closer and the composition is fun too. ©Kit Frost

Full compression of the 55-300 lens. The background sure appears closer and the composition is fun too. ©Kit Frost

You can see the wind blowing the balloon to the left.  Shortly after making this photo, all the balloons were tethered to wait own the wind.  ©Kit Frost

You can see the wind blowing the balloon to the left. Shortly after making this photo, all the balloons were tethered to wait out the wind. ©Kit Frost

Balloon Festival Photography Lessons, Bluff Utah

A last minute adventure this past weekend to the Bluff Balloon Festival proved easy.  The Desert Rose Inn in Bluff had a few cancellations and I grabbed a room.  Very nice accommodations.  I usually stay at the Recapture Lodge in Bluff, but Jim and Luanne took the month of January off this year and closed the Lodge.  The Desert Rose was new (about 15 years old) and although I had to air out my linens from the strong scent of cleaner, I was comfortable. In the past, Zazi, my lab, would travel with me. Since she died I have explored some places where dogs are not allowed.  National Park trails, motels with NO PETs, etc.

Arizona Strip Workshop-11

I left Durango around 11am and arrived in Bluff for some late afternoon photography near Twin Rocks and spent a few hours along Comb Ridge, photographing sunset light hitting the walls of the Ridge.  The Bluff Balloon Festival’s after dark GLOW was scheduled for later so I  left the Comb in time to enjoy Saturday night in downtown Bluff. .  And I wasn’t disappointed in the glow.  Although difficult to photograph, the light glowing from the balloons was fun.  The pilots took turns lighting up their tethered balloons with the help of a count down.  So photography, although limited was enjoyable.  I did occasionally run and warm up in the car, as the temps were tipping 5 degrees. I planned to be up at sunrise to drive out to Valley of the Gods for the early launch so I hit the Desert Rose shortly after a few grab shots of the balloons.  The Bluff festival is small and there were about 10 balloons at the glow.  A big change for those of you who have witnessed the nearby Albuquerque Balloon Festival.

The morning launch was after sunrise in the Valley of the Gods, about 20 miles west of Bluff.  I love the Valley of the Gods, often camp there and the drive through the Comb Ridge is always a treat.  For photographing the balloons against the red rock formations in Valley of the Gods, I thought the wide angle lens would be the ticket.  My favorite lens is my Nikon 16-85 mounted on either a D300 or D5100 body.  But I found that in order to really accentuate the balloons it was best to photograph with the Nikon 55-300 lens.  The compression that long telephotos achieve was just the ticket for adding impact to the photos.

While waiting for the balloons to launch, I picked a location that would have a sweet rock formation too. ©Kit Frost

While waiting for the balloons to launch, I picked a location that would have a sweet rock formation too. I enjoy the sound of the fans filling up the balloons with air, followed by the sound of the bursts of gas heating up the interior, then the passengers load up and we have liftoff. ©Kit Frost

Photographing the balloons without a sense of place doesn't really work for me. ©Kit Frost

Photographing the balloons without a sense of place doesn’t really work for me. ©Kit Frost

Full compression of the 55-300 lens.  The background sure appears closer and the composition is fun too. ©Kit Frost

Full compression of the 55-300 lens. The background appears closer and by isolating the subjects against a shady part of the far wall, the basket stands out.  Compare this to a balloon and basket against blue sky. ©Kit Frost

Valley of Gods Balloons-5

You can see the wind blowing the balloon to the left.  Shortly after making this photo, all the balloons were tethered to wait own the wind.  ©Kit Frost

You can see the wind blowing the balloon to the left. Shortly after making this photo, all the balloons were tethered to wait out the wind. And many pilots landed and packed up to leave. The color of the basket is close to the color of the red rock, so not much separation of tones in the image.  But I waited for just the moment when the balloon on the right was between two buttes to press the shutter. ©Kit Frost

By using the Nikon 55-300 lens I was able to create frames that compressed the background buttes and spires.  The balloons, then appear closer to the mesa. ©Kit Frost

By using the Nikon 55-300 lens I was able to create frames that compressed the background buttes and spires. The balloons, then appear closer to the mesa. When working with pairs of balloons I had to photograph quickly.  It was a windy morning so they flew high above the spires in a few moments.