Balloon Fiesta is known as “the most photographed event in the world” and every year thousands of professional and hobbyist photographers come to Albuquerque to capture one-of-a-kind images. Two of our official photographers, Paul DeBerjeois and Raymond Watt provide some great insight on how to obtain award-winning photos.
Travel light - Balloon Fiesta Park is a large area to cover and you will do a lot of walking. Ditch the heavy camera bag, if you are a serious photographer use a photographer’s vest with multiple pockets instead. It’s wise to use a monopod opposed to a tripod while shooting at Balloon Fiesta, which is much easier to use in large crowds.
Equipment Check - While you should be mindful of bringing too much, make sure to pack all that you need the night before. Bring extra batteries, memory cards (or film). It’s also smart to include backups of flash units and camera bodies; it can be nice to have one mounted with a zoom and the other with a wide angle.
Arrive Early – It’s not a bad idea to arrive between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m. for morning events and around 4:30 p.m. for evening events. Arriving at the Park before Dawn Patrol to scout locations can give you a good sense of where the balloons will be going. Look into shooting locations just off the Launch Field like the higher elevations to the south and the east.
Changing ISO Settings - When shooting digital in the early morning hours as crews are preparing balloons you will want to set your camera to a high ISO setting such as 800, 1000 or more. As the sun comes up over the Sandia Mountains, you will want to dial that back to 400 or less. During the evening events like the glows, you will again move to a higher ISO to get sharper photos.
Unique Angles - Try looking for nice low-angle shot or hold your camera high for above-the-crowd pictures. The pilots and crews are very accessible and will often let you shoot inside the balloon envelope as it inflates. I have even asked to stand in the back of the pickup truck for higher angles on the field. There are elevated areas just south and to the east of the field that few photographers really take advantage of.
Look for Patterns - With hundreds of balloons in the sky and changing conditions, you never know what is in store for the day’s shooting. Be on the lookout for balloons forming interesting patterns in the sky or for the often humorous shots that come when special shapes balloons fill the sky and appear to be looking at each other or kissing. By watching the wind patterns and speed of the balloons, you can often anticipate certain balloons coming together for a great picture.
Working with Shadows - No matter how much money you spend on your camera, it will never catch a scene containing both bright light and dark shadows with as much detail as your eye sees. The trick to any good outdoor photo is to compose so that your subjects are either fully illuminated by the sun, or are fully shaded from the sun. Do your best to avoid a mix of sunlit subjects and shaded subjects to obtain the best overall detail in your photo.
Mobile Cameras - Low light settings present a special challenge to the stock cameras in mobile devices. If you’re able to download camera apps, you might benefit from an app specifically designed to shoot in low light or at longer shutter speeds. Whether iOS, Android or Windows, there are lots of free or low-cost ($1-$2) camera apps that offer longer shutter speeds or HDR (high-dynamic range) features. HDR apps can help in low light settings.
Sunny Shots - When pointing your lens towards the sun, you may see flare or reflections in your photo, even though the sun may not be in the picture. (Protect your eyes! Never look at the sun through an optical viewfinder.) Lens hoods specifically designed for your camera or lens will block sunlight from entering the lens from the side but still not interfere with the image.