Albuquerque Balloon Festival
The Albuquerque Balloon Festival is an astonishing event of color that stuns the eyes. The festival is the largest of its kind in the world, and once you arrive there, you can easily see why.
This annual festival started in 1972 and featured only 13 balloons. Since then, the event has included as many as 1,019 balloons (the festival's peak in 2000), and now limits participation to 600 due to a lack of space and landing zones.
There are a couple different times when the balloons cast off, and each launch time serves a different purpose.
Dawn patrol is the first launch of the day, when a few balloons cast off prior to the mass ascension to check wind speed and direction. In order to shoot here, you absolutely need a tripod. The sun still hasn't risen (or has barely risen), which means that there isn't enough light to hand-hold a camera.
This is the second launch of the day, and it's by far the most mind-blowing part of the morning as 600 balloons take off into the sky all at once.
During evening glow, many of the balloons will be inflated and still landlocked, which will yield some pleasant evening shots. The balloons do not take off, but rather do a "burn." This causes them to light up, which creates another perspective for you. Keep in mind that the balloons will not take off here and that you will need a tripod!
After the evening glow, the festival displays a firework show that is worth sticking around for! If you bring your tripod to this, you can set your shutter speed to 2-6 seconds and capture some pretty fun abstract light shots.
Photographing the Albuquerque Balloon Festival
This is one of the most photographed festivals in the world. Professionals and amateurs gather here each year to take millions of photos, and your goal (albeit a difficult one) is to capture a unique perspective at this event. Something that conveys the particular emotion of what the balloon festival means to you.
For me, this meant boarding a hot air balloon to get aerial views of the event. I knew that this view hadn't been depicted by many other photographers, and with a little luck, I was able to capture images that perfectly conveyed what the Albuquerque Balloon Festival meant to me.
- Bring warm clothes. The area is extremely cold before the sun comes up, usually around 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit
- If you are there opening weekend, start heading towards the festival between 2:30 to 3 am. The park doesn't open until 6am but the traffic is outrageous. If you leave any later than 3, it will take you 3-5 hours to get into the park, making it difficult to catch the Mass Ascension
- There is a lot of food at the festival, but I would suggest bringing water because it can be expensive
- You will likely have to work with a company in order to get a ride in one of the balloons. I used Rainbow Ryders.
- Look for your unique shot. This is the most photographed festival in the world, but you can certainly put your mark on it if you think outside the box
- Your tripod is essential
- Having dual DSLR's here is a life saver. You are shooting at an incredible rate of speed and having the option to go from 24-70 to 70-200 without changing out lenses helps so much
- Canon EF 24-70mm ƒ2.8 L II USM Lens
- Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ2.8L IS II USM Lens
- Canon EOS 6D DSLR Camera
- Canon EOS 5DS R DSLR Camera
- Canon EF 24mm ƒ1.4L II USM Lens
- Mefoto Tripod
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