Thursday, October 3, 2013

Some tips for photographing, and enjoying, Balloon Fiesta

I thought I would provide just a few tips that might help readers who are headed to Balloon Fiesta. Whether a professional, an amateur, a cell phone camera buff, or anything in between, the Fiesta is an amazing experience and an incredible playground for photographers. Many people dream of atttending this event for much of their lives. I know I did. Now, I get to live here and experience this event multiple times in addition to watching many balloons overhead while I enjoy the uncrowded comfort of my patio. But there is nothing like being there, although the experience can be a little overwhelming with so much going on, so many interesting people and balloons, and so much stimulation for the senses. So here are a few ideas to help you get the most from the experience. I will dispense with the usual "go early, dress in layers" even though that really is very good advice. It is quite chilly in the desert at 5 a.m. and the cool weather always makes an even stronger appearance during Fiesta. As for the photography, I hope you will find these tips helpful.

1. Spend a little time looking at balloon photos on the web. What catches your eye? What works and what doesn't in the photos you see? Make mental, or even written notes to help you make the most of your photo outing at Fiesta.

2.  Keep the whole experience in mind - people, pilots, balloons, vendors, food, "zebras" (the "officials" who help ensure safe launches). There is a lot happening, and while the Fiesta is about balloons (and balloonists), the people, how the gondolas are decorated, the process of preparing the balloons, etc., everything about the Fiesta is photo-worthy. When the day is over, you'll be glad you captured some of the sights other than just the balloons. Some of the people are every bit as exciting and colorful as the brightest balloon!

3.  Consider making a plan, especially if you are serious about photography. What do you want to have captured in your photos when you leave? This will help to keep a focus on all aspects of the Fiesta, the different shapes and types of balloons, preparations, etc. Been there before? What do you want to emphasize this time. Review your portfolio. What do you want more of? What is missing? What was so cool you just have to capture it again?

4.  Be prepared for anything.  In other words, be aware of what is happening around you and be ready to change your approach if you see something really interesting going on close by.  Two ways in which great photographs happen is by putting thought into each capture and by being in the right place at the right time and able to capture a fleeting image sharply and quickly. Sometimes we can plan for great images based on where the light will be, what we expect to be happening, time of year and time of day, etc. Sometimes that eagle or black bear or person with the jewel bedecked balloon and matching crew just happens to be lifting off right behind us and we didn't notice because we were looking at the cool Creamland cow being inflated in front of us.  Be ready to capture the sparkles and the spontaneity of the Fiesta. There will be lots of opportunity to take your time and be thoughtful about your photos, and also many fleeting moments that only someone quick on the camera draw will capture.  If you make a plan as suggested in #3, be prepared to deviate from it based on what is happening around you.

5.  Be patient and steady.  While the wonders of software can do a lot to correct photo mistakes made in the field, there is no cure for camera shake.  None. That blur will be there forever. So take your time, hold your camera steady, and S Q U E E Z E the shutter release.  It is so easy to get on the field and just start clicking off photos. But the launches go on for awhile, and there will be plenty of balloons, especially on mass ascension days. There is no need to rush. Take your time and you will create better photos.

6.  Pay attention to details.  Wait for the pilot or crew to turn to face you. The balloons are fabulous, but the whole scene is so much more alive if it doesn't involve just the backs of people's heads. Be careful what is in and what is left out of the image. Are there wires obstructing someone's face or a tower or light pole dissecting the image? Are you casting a shadow on the image? A little change of angle or a few seconds more of time can make a lot of difference in your photos.

7.  Mix it up. Take close ups, wide, zoom in, zoom out, people, balloons, zebras, etc. Get close to the balloons to avoid having people obstructing your photo and also for some cool closeup shots of the riggings, crew, etc. Get wide shots of a lot of balloons up in the air, balloons just lifting, many aloft already, whatever. Get multiple balloons in one frame to provide context and a sense of what the experience was like for you. Fiesta is a huge event for sight and sound and color. Experience it, and photograph it, in a variety of ways.

8. It bears repeating. Dress in layers. And dress warmly. Take lots of memory cards, be prepared for wide and zoom. Gloves that allow you to work the camera are critical. Cut the fingertips out of some old ones if needed. Charge the battery. And take an extra. Or two. This might be a once in a lifetime experience. You don't want to miss out on the photos because your battery ran out of juice. Be prepared to do a lot of walking if you want and are able. Fiesta park is over 200 acres. You don't have to walk it all, but you might want to if you can.

9.  Change perspective. Try different field locations for different angles of view, different balloons, balloons against different backgrounds. The Sandias to one side, the incredible New Mexico blue sky to the other. Don't get stuck in one location.

10.  Tech tips.  For the serious photographer who uses manual settings, be sure to know your camera so you can change settings quickly.  Manual is a good bet as some situations will require higher shutter speeds to deal with balloon movement and others might call for a shallow depth of field. Spot metering on your primary subject can be a good way to go as often you will be photographing balloons against bright blue open skies that can throw exposure settings off.  Higher shutter speeds will give you a little safety against the camera shake that can occur when the adrenalin starts going.

11. Put the camera down periodically. What? But this is a blog about photography. Whaddya mean put the camera down?  Especially if you are new to the Fiesta, take some time every now and then to just experience it all. Your photos will have a lot more meaning for you if you have personal experience that is brought to life again when you look at them. It will also give you a chance to look around, take in the many different things happening and different sights, and decide what to photograph next.

Photos can be so powerful in helping us re-live a situation or event. That re-living is so much stronger if you actually live it the first time. Take it in, seize the moment, and enjoy the heck out of your Fiesta experience!  If you've got any questions or want some tips, just post a comment and I'll get back to you.

Enjoy Fiesta and your time in Albuquerque!

1 comment:

  1. Well said Beth...
    And it's on my calendar for 2014....