Tuesday, September 6, 2016


We just had our 25th Annual Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic and as usual I had a blast photographing this very challenging event.  My approach as a professional photographer is very different than most amateurs (or other pros) from the results I see posted on the web.  It seems that most photographers either try to cram as many balloons, into each frame they expose, as they can or they do a solitary balloon dead center in a frame. In either case there is no composition; the former is chaos and the latter is static and boring.

When I photograph hot-air balloons my goal is to filter out the chaos with composition—I narrow my view looking for alignments of these colorful subjects into compositional layers.  One of the compositional rules I employ is the classic foreground, mid-ground, and background. Using this technique with hot-air balloons is very challenging especially when some 40+ balloons are launching all at once, all around you! So, what I do is narrow my view to include fewer balloons and create layers of balloons by changing my position constantly as the balloons change their positions…such as this:

 f6.3 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 800
This image has Four Layers: A foreground balloon, a mid-ground balloon, a background balloon and a cloud filled sky. 

In addition there’s beautiful directional lighting because of the balloons I choose and where I choose to stand. You see in addition to all this compositional stuff I also want the best lighting I can get as well!  Whenever I can I want the sunrise light to skim across the surfaces of my balloons—creating shadows and three-dimensionality. If I see a balloon scene coming together that’s got all front light (flat light) I’ll quickly move 90 degrees to get the side light I’m talking about; no easy feat with the size of my subjects and all the other spectators and photographers on the field at the same time!

When I do photography of a single balloon I usually don’t show the whole balloon to avoid a static composition.  In the example below I zoomed  in…

f6.3 @ 1/500 sec., ISO 800
By cropping the balloon in camera I cut out the darker, top portion, of the balloon to showcase what caught my eye—that great directional light skimming across the bottom of the balloon and the backlight creating a nice glow above the basket. In addition by off-setting the balloon I created some compositional negative space in the bottom of the frame.

One of my favorite aspects of hot-air balloons is the fire!  Again, I’m looking for some layers in these images as well.  Even in a vertical composition such as this next image I managed to get multiple balloons in the frame with my main subject…

f6.3 @ 1/320 sec., ISO 800
Another image I like to create is a close in portrait of the people in the balloon’s basket—making it appear that the image was shot in the air (balloon to balloon). This requires a telephoto (at least 200mm), which puts distance between you and the balloon so that the angle of view does not appear to be shooting UP at the balloon.  Like this…

 f5.0 @ 1/640 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 200mm
When I do this I want the basket of my subject balloon to be layered against another balloon to create an interesting background. It’s not easy since all these balloons are in motion it may only take 15 or 20 seconds for the front balloon to make it’s transit across the back balloon.  

I can’t wait ’till next year’s Boise Balloon Classic!

Don’t hesitate to ask questions…’Til next week…

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman, Certified
Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

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