Photographic Considerations at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Written by photographer and instructor Alex Kent.
Visual overload is one way to describe the world famous Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. With over 600 registered balloons each year and 10s of thousands of people visiting each day, you can feel slightly overwhelmed on what to photograph and where to start. Here are a few photographic considerations to take some pressure off and make your visit more enjoyable.
1.Seek out the balloons that interest you most. There are WAY too many balloons to try photographing them all, so don’t get caught up racing around just to check each one off your “list”. Think about what shapes, colors, characters, and/or sponsors you care about most. Start by taking a walk from one end of the park and back. If you see something that interests you along the way take some photos of course, but try not to end up in one place for too long. If you’re not feeling jazzed, move along. You could also prepare before the event and go to balloonfiesta.com to check out the layout of the land and some of the past events to see which balloons you like most. Maybe even bring a favorites list and go on your own personal scavenger hunt once you’re at the Fiesta. Here are a few that grabbed my attention.
2. Look for visual relationships. When composing your shot, notice how objects can “fit” in just the right places. As opposed to thinking about what the actual objects themselves are, think about them as shapes, lines, textures, colors, etc. Once you have broadened your mind to that idea, you can use design techniques such as framing, leading lines, repetition, rule of thirds, and others to create visually structured and interesting images. Sometimes this means having patience and waiting until the balloon or person moves into the right placement, or it may mean that you must move your position or use a different focal length of lens to line everything up.
3.Talk to the pilots and crew. Most of the people at the event are happy to be there and are eager to share their passion with spectators. Once you have developed a rapport with a balloon crew member or pilot, it’s much easier to ask for permission to get very close to the balloon for those extra special shots. Just remember these people are working hard and concentrating on their tasks at hand! Be aware of the situation, know when to back off, and let them work without hindrance.
4. Shoot some wide, some medium, and some tele. Considering there is such a variety of potential shots, experiment with a variety of focal lengths. If you’re only carrying one lens, say a 24-105mm, then remember to shoot some at 24mm, some around 50-70mm, and some near 105mm. Try shooting the same subject with these different focal lengths and you’ll start to learn how these effect the overall look and style of your images. You’ll also start to discover what focal length you like best. If you’re carrying more than one lens, remember to switch lenses every now and again. It’s a challenge, that’s part of being a photographer!
5. Don’t forget the peeps! People watching at the AIBF is top notch! Keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready because the opportunities for great people shots are abundant.
A quick thought on Photo Basics. You can always use Auto and hope for the best, but that won’t ensure you get the shot you intended. Knowing what shutter speed, aperture and ISO are, how they effect your image, their relationship to each other, and how to adjust them on your camera are all essential skills if you want to be a photographer. This isn’t the place for a lengthy explanation, but all I’ll say for shooting balloons is that there is a lot of movement going on, so make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to ensure sharp photos. Hint hint, going with photo guides will help!
I’m leading a fun and educational photo tour for Bedford Camera & Video to the Balloon Fiesta and surrounding area again this year (Oct 2019)! If you’d like to join, check out more info here.