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Photographing a Hot Air Balloon Fair

Updated on March 5, 2015
A hot air balloon with Mount Shasta in the background.
A hot air balloon with Mount Shasta in the background. | Source

A Photographer's Dream Come True

As a photographer I have long wanted to photograph a hot air balloon up close. They are huge and colorful and I find them fascinating but I have never been up close to one or in a position to take photographs. To my delight, my long standing wish became a reality a few weeks ago when I had occasion to visit the Montague Balloon Fair in northern California. Read on and I'll tell you what I learned about hot air balloons and show you what I saw as I stood in the midst of these ascending colorful giants.

All photographs are mine.

Up Early To Not Miss a Thing

I had long been aware that the small town of Montague in northern California had an annual balloon fair but I have never happened to be in the area during the event. This September when I was in the northern California I heard about the balloon fair on the radio and was directed to the Montague Balloon Fair website. I was delighted to find the fair would be taking place while I was still in the area. The website told me that the balloons would ascend at dawn and that coffee and donuts would be available starting at 5:30 A.M.. I wanted to be there to see it all so I got up at 4:30 A.M. to be in position with camera in hand when things started to happen. The availability of coffee at 5:30 A.M. was an encouragement but I don't do donuts. I was a cop for some 34 years so I apologize if I have shattered your "cops and donuts" stereotype.

When I got there it was pitch dark but the sky was filled with stars and I could even see the Milky Way. The lady directing parking turned out to be a friend of mine from my youth and she's even mentioned in my book, Life At The End Of A Dirt Road which you can read about here on Hub Pages. It was too dark to take pictures so we had a nice chat while waiting for the sun to appear.

My tip to photographers is to get there early to be able to capture the event from the start.

Get A Good Camera To Document Your Balloon Experience - Amazon has good cameras at great prices

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Action Begins At Dawn

The balloon is stretched out on a tarp in preparation for inflation
The balloon is stretched out on a tarp in preparation for inflation | Source

As dawn was breaking the balloonists began to appear and I was able to watch and photograph the entire process. In the image above you can see that a tarp was laid out on the ground and the deflated balloon was stretched out on top of the tarp.

Inflating The Balloon

A fan begins to fill the balloon with air
A fan begins to fill the balloon with air | Source

A powerful fan is used to begin inflating the balloon. The opening at the bottom of the balloon is held open and the fan blows air into the balloon to begin inflation. In the picture above you can see the fan beginning to inflate the balloon.

The balloon is partially inflated with a powerful fan
The balloon is partially inflated with a powerful fan | Source

Here you can see the balloon still on its side but filling with air blown by the fan.

Add Some Heat

The ballon begins to lift as the burner begins to fill it with hot air
The ballon begins to lift as the burner begins to fill it with hot air | Source

When the balloon is filled to a certain size by the fan, the fan is removed and the balloon's propane burner which is attached to the basket which is on its side, shoots a hot flame filling the balloon with hot air. With hot air going into the balloon it begins to rise from its side. Hot air rises because it is lighter than cool air. When a balloon is filled with air that is warmer than the surrounding air the balloon rises. When warm air is initially added, care is taken to not add too much. The objective is to get the balloon to stand upright but not to rise off the ground until all is ready and passengers are on board. In the image above you can see the burner filling the balloon with hot air as it begins to rise from its side.

Up Up And Away

The Star Spangled Banner is played as the American Flag is displayed
The Star Spangled Banner is played as the American Flag is displayed | Source

With passengers on board the burner is fired up to fill the balloon with hot air so it will rise into dawn's early light. This was the first balloon up and I thought it was a real touch of class when a United States flag was displayed and the Star Spangled Banner was played over the PA system. It was a beautiful thing on many levels.

Balloon events often take place in the early morning because the hot air in the balloon gets more lift in the surrounding cool air and the wind is usually still or mild. Going hot air ballooning on a windy day is not a good idea. Before the first balloon lifts off a small balloon filled with helium is released so balloonists can see what the air currents above are doing.

Balloons Everywhere

Ballons being inflated and rising into the morning sky
Ballons being inflated and rising into the morning sky | Source

Soon balloons are being inflated and rising all around me. It was almost a visual overload. As a photographer I felt like a coyote in the hen house, I didn't know where to start. It was beautiful and exciting and a challenge to find the best angles, lighting and compositions for photographs.

I was told that balloon pilots must first have a regular airplane pilot license then they must get a balloon pilot license in addition.

Ballons preparing to rise
Ballons preparing to rise | Source

The Sky Is Filled With Balloons

A sky full of balloons
A sky full of balloons | Source

As the sky above me fills with balloons I can hear the balloon burners turn on and off as pilots seek the height they want with the wind direction they want. It's an amazing thing to see and I can heartily recommend it to you. If you can make it to the Montague Balloon Fair you will love it but if you're far from northern California you can find a balloon fair near you by searching the internet.

I would love to go up in a hot air balloon at a balloon fair. I'm a bit of a white knuckle flyer but as a photographer I would love to shoot a balloon fair from the sky. Can you imagine the angles and perspectives I could get? I'll put that on my bucket list.

The Dark Side Of Ballooning

I should add that I learned from a local rancher that some local ranchers don't appreciate the balloons. When they come low over a pasture with cattle, the cattle can spook and stampede right through a fence and cut themselves up badly. I was told one balloonist on another occasion landed in a field of standing alfalfa (for city folks, alfalfa is baled into hay to feed livestock) and when the recovery team came to collect the balloon and passengers they drove into the field of alfalfa ruining much of the crop. Balloonists need more than a pilot's license to be a good balloonist.

My Other Websites

I have a fine art photography website where you can view my diverse photographic interests. I have a gallery dedicated to vintage vehicles and buildings, galleries for landscapes, waterfalls, birds, wildlife, painterly photography and a variety of other specialized subjects. Mount Shasta and various northern California scenes are prominent in many of my galleries.

You can see all my hot air balloon images on my fine art website and, if you play the gallery as a slide show, you will see the images at full screen with music in the background...check it out here.

I have applied many of my photographs and digital art to a wide variety of products such as mugs, mouse pads, T-shirts, cards, etc. If you are looking for a one-stop location for unique gifts, be sure to visit my Zazzle website. You will find a link from the homepage of my fine art photography site.

I'd Love To Hear From You

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    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 4 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Awesome photos and excellent timing on the topic! We're planning on attending a balloonfest this weekend in our area. Yep, I'll take the camera! Thanks for the tips!

    • CNelson01 profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nelson 4 years ago from California

      @SusanDeppner: Thank you....it's a visual feast...have fun.

    • Mary Stephenson profile image

      Mary Stephenson 4 years ago from California

      I watch the balloons on TV but have never gone to one of the events. It must be quite a sight in person.

    • CNelson01 profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nelson 4 years ago from California

      @Mary Stephenson: It's amazing....I recommend you attend a balloon fair if the opportunity arises

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 4 years ago from UK

      Seem like fun but I prefer to keep my feet on the ground, great images

    • CNelson01 profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nelson 4 years ago from California

      @John Dyhouse: I can understand that

    • MillBucks profile image

      MillBucks 4 years ago

      Love the photos you have featured on this lens, I have been fortunate enough in attending a few hot air balloon shows but I never gone up in one. Sounds like it would be fun! Thanks for sharing.

    • CNelson01 profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nelson 4 years ago from California

      @MillBucks: Thank you and I would only have the nerve to go up if I had my camera with me.

    • swopegeorge lm profile image

      swopegeorge lm 4 years ago

      man that's awesome

    • CNelson01 profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nelson 4 years ago from California

      @swopegeorge lm: I thought so too.

    • profile image

      Spikey64 4 years ago

      Great photo's and a very well constructed lens. I would love to go up in a hot air balloon and take some pictures from the opposite angle. Thanks for sharing.

    • CNelson01 profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nelson 4 years ago from California

      @Spikey64: Thanks and ME TOO!

    • profile image

      crstnblue 4 years ago

      Very nice lens & images! Thanks for sharing!

    • CNelson01 profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nelson 4 years ago from California

      @crstnblue: Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I sure hope you manage to fill that bucket list order to photograph a hot air balloon fair up in the air and that it doesn't become a white knuckle affair. I love how you share your experience here along with hot air ballooning procedures and even a little lesson on good manners in farmers and ranchers fields. I can feel you joy here!

    • CNelson01 profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nelson 4 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Thank you Tipi...if I ever get the opportunity to photograph a balloon fair from the air it will be a white knuckle event but I would do it for sure.

    • AstroGremlin profile image

      AstroGremlin 4 years ago

      Some great shots, and I've seen quite a few hot air balloon photos.

    • CNelson01 profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nelson 4 years ago from California

      @AstroGremlin: Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @CNelson01: I would love to go up in a hot air balloon.

      Being a land lover, that is saying a lot for me.

    • gamecheathub profile image

      gamecheathub 4 years ago

      I love the designs on these balloons. The patterns are really cool!

    • CNelson01 profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nelson 4 years ago from California

      @gamecheathub: Me too! A very exciting and colorful event to photograph.

    • CNelson01 profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nelson 4 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Only my desire to take photographs from that perspective can get me up in a hot air balloon...but I would do it in a hot second if the opportunity were presented.

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