Photographing a Hot Air Balloon Fair
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
Have You Ever Gone Up In A Hot Air Balloon?
Action Begins At Dawn
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 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.
Here you can see the balloon still on its side but filling with air blown by the fan.
Add Some Heat
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
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.
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.
The Sky Is Filled With Balloons
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.