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5 Tips for Shooting Photos from a Hot Air Balloon

Marianne Stenger
11th July 2017

If you’re finally getting the chance to go up in a hot air balloon and get a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the scenery below, taking a few good photos to remember the experience by is an absolute must.

So what should you keep in mind if you’re hoping to get some memorable photos while also enjoying that blissful sensation of gliding hundreds of metres above the ground in a giant balloon? Here are a few tips for shooting photos from a hot air balloon.

1. Safety should come first

Before takeoff, the pilot will go over some rules and guidelines that are necessary for everyone’s safety, so be sure pay attention and don’t fiddle with your camera during this time.

Once in the balloon, don’t take any risks like leaning over the side rail to get a better shot of something or find a different angle, and of course, try to be respectful of your fellow passengers. Before landing, it’s best to stow your camera gear safely in its camera bag, both to prevent any damage to your expensive equipment and because you’ll need to hold on with both hands.

2. Bring both a wide angle and telephoto lens

While you’re on the ground, a wide angle lens is nice for taking photos of the balloon, the basket and the other passengers. Once you’re up in the air, a telephoto lens will enable you to zoom in on the details closer to the ground or in the distance, as well as any other hot air balloons around you.

If you have one, an all-in-one zoom lens that covers a range of 18-200mm could also be a great choice, because you’ll be able to get both landscape photos and more detailed shots of your fellow passengers and things on the ground.  

3. Be prepared for rapidly changing light conditions

Most hot air balloon rides begin either around sunrise or towards sunset, because the wind conditions tend to be more stable at these times. So keep in mind that the light will change quite dramatically from the start of your hot air balloon ride to the end of it.

You’ll have the early morning blue hues and that gorgeous “golden hour” just before the sun rises or sets, as well as full on daylight once the sun has risen. The balloon may also be rotated, so at times the light will be coming from behind while at other times it will be directly in front of you.

To prepare for this, get comfortable with your camera’s manual mode and practice adjusting the white balance, ISO, aperture and shutter speed. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out our essential photography tips for beginners.

4. Use a faster shutter speed

There’s no point bringing a tripod when you’re in a moving hot air balloon with limited space. Instead, if your camera has manual mode, set the shutter speed to at least 1/250sec or faster.

When using faster shutter speeds, you may also need to increase your camera’s ISO setting or aperture to let more light in, so read up on the exposure triangle and learn how these settings can work together to improve your images. Holding your camera correctly and using the right autofocus mode will also help you avoid unnecessarily blurry images.  

5. Pay attention to the composition

It’s easy to get so excited about finally being up in the air that you forget everything you’ve learned about composition, such as the rule of thirds, leading lines and framing. So give yourself some time to take it all in and enjoy the scenery before you start snapping.

Once you feel ready to start taking photos, focus on keeping your horizons straight and finding an interesting focal point for each photo. If you’re flying in a convoy, you can also try getting some shots of the other hot air balloons or even the shadows they cast on the ground below.

Most of all, though, try to have fun with it and enjoy the whole experience. Some photos will inevitably turn out a bit blurry or overexposed, but by following the above tips, you’re bound to get some stunning images as well.