How I Photographed the “Most Photographed Event In The World”

Today’s Post by Barry Staver

The annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta boasts this claim and rightly so. Literally hundreds of hot air balloons are launched during the mass ascensions as thousands of spectators crowd around the balloons at the launch site.

I believe 90% of the spectators and participants were using picture taking devices of one kind or another. Everything from smart phones to tablets, point & shoot to prosumer to pro level cameras. Did I mention video? Most people had one phone or camera, while advanced shooters were weighed down with multiple cameras and lenses. I spotted several long, fast lenses (the 300-600mm variety) and heavy tripods.


With such a well-photographed event, finding new different or unusual angles and compositions is all but impossible. Balloon launches start pre-dawn and continue as the sun rises. Spectators are allowed anywhere on the launch site, mingling around the balloons. Crowds were often 6-8 deep around individual balloons and their baskets. Those in back were holding their devices overhead taking “Hail Mary” pictures. As balloons began to fill with air using their burners, it was clear that no “clean shots” of balloons and crew would be possible so I decided to include the crowds surrounding them in my photographs. It was a good decision because the silhouetted people give a sense of scale against the large balloons. Shot with Panasonic Lumix GH-4 with Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens and an exposure of 1/40 sec at f/1.8 and ISO 2500,


The only time it’s possible to get those clean balloon shots is when they are airborne. Of course you won’t get a tight shot of any single balloon in the sky either. The next unique image basically removed the color from these brilliant balloons as they were photographed in silhouette against the morning sky. This created a nice pattern effect. Shot with Panasonic Lumix GH-4 with Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens and an exposure of 1/4000 sec at f/3.5 and ISO 400. Exposure comp set to -1.3