Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Oct. 2-10, 2021
You can watch the Albuquerque Int’l Balloon Fiesta 2021 Live on Facebook:
A Brief History of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
From humble beginnings in 1972 with 13 balloons launched from a shopping mall parking lot, the Balloon Fiesta has grown into Albuquerque’s signature event, with more than 600 hot-air balloons featured in the dedicated 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park. This is the largest ballooning event on earth, the most photographed event on earth, and the largest annual international event held in the United States.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a candy store for the eyes. Its visual cornucopia of oversized shapes and colors, mingled with baby blue sunrises is simply unforgettable. Dragging yourself out of bed at 4 AM to endure the Balloon Fiesta traffic and cool pre-dawn temperatures can seem like a bother. However, the moment the first rays of the rising sun hits hundreds of colorful orbs taking shape for morning ascent, all such minor discomforts are quickly forgotten. A childish glee takes over, and you begin to run, spin, and stare, hoping to catch the sight of each colorful sphere taking flight. My latest Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photography Tips can be seen here.
Photographing the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
I have attended seven Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta events in the past, capturing a record of each with a succession of cameras. New Mexico sunrises make for crisp, powder blue skies that offer the perfect backdrop for colorful hot-air balloon panoramas and close-ups.
This Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta photo (above) was captured at about 8 AM during the first Sunday Mass Ascension. Usually, the balloons are ascending during the hours of 7-9 AM, just after sunrise. As the sunlight becomes stronger, the balloon colors become more vivid and ‘pop’ against bright blue sky backgrounds. Colors tend to look a bit more muted if the day is overcast.
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Photography Tips
One of the amazing features of this spectacle is that it is truly a city-wide event. The ascension of hot-air balloons starts at Balloon Fiesta Park, typically at around 7:15 AM each morning of the event. However, depending on how the winds are blowing, the balloons can descend anywhere in the city. It is not uncommon for local residents to see balloons descending in their parking lot or backyards as they eat breakfast or commute to work. So, while your Balloon Fiesta photography may start at Balloon Fiesta Park, you will find yourself seeking out photogenic locations all across the city to capture the descent of these colorful orbs. Drive safely!
Here are a few photography tips you may find helpful if you are visiting the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta for the first time:
1. Travel light. A lightweight DSLR or mirrorless digital camera with a moderate zoom lens of 18-150mm or so will be suitable for high-quality photos of the Balloon Fiesta. Ideally, you want to be light on your feet as you move around Balloon Fiesta Park to capture all of your favorite balloons. You will be moving around constantly on a balloon launching area the size of 54 football fields! The less you have to carry and worry about the better. Not worrying about changing lenses and keeping things compact and light allows you to focus on what is before you.
The balloons ascend quickly on a tightly orchestrated schedule. You will enjoy the event more and get better photos if you are not changing lenses and fussing with camera settings. One camera, one lens, a good battery (with a fresh backup) and one memory card with plenty of storage for your photos will do. You will be walking on the damp grass among thousands of other spectators. Keep it simple and light to be in position for your best photos. You can eat a light breakfast at the Balloon Fiesta. Many of Albuquerque’s best restaurants usually have booths offering breakfast burritos and other specialties. Since the Mass Ascension usually ends just after 9 AM, its a great time to sample one of Albuquerque’s restaurants for a more leisurely breakfast or brunch.
I prefer to carry a lightweight entry-level DSLR camera (the plastic bodies entry-level cameras are lighter than pro-level DSLR’s and the image quality is fundamentally the same) camera with a single lens. Usually, this kit includes a standard zoom lens with stabilization or anti-shake built-in. The weight is negligible, and the stabilized kit lens keeps things sharp. Heavy equipment will tire you. The more equipment you carry, the less likely you will be to stay on the move to get the best photos possible. Keep it simple!
I stay on the move at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta to capture the balloons in the best possible light. For example, this Tweety Bird balloon was photographed just as the sun was shining directly on it. Because it was partially cloudy, the colors would not have been as bright if I photographed it while it was in the shade. Move around and choose angles that show the balloons in the best light!
2. Pick your Favorite Balloon Fiesta Events. Mass Ascension and Special Shapes Rodeo are my favorites. They offer the greatest variety of colorful, unusual balloon shapes, and the most memorable photos. I usually attend my two favorite days of the events (weather permitting) and then scout out scenic locations around Albuquerque that offer colorful backdrops for descending balloons during the rest of the week. You may also enjoy photographing an early morning, pre-dawn Fiesta Balloon Glow. Fiesta Glow “all burns,” when all the balloons fire their burners and light up in coordination is the most spectacular single after-dark moment in all of Balloon Fiesta. The Balloon Fiesta usually adds a fireworks shows to the Fiesta Glow event that is camera-worthy as well. Using a higher ISO for faster shutter speeds is preferable to carrying a tripod on damp grass in semi-dark conditions. The bright light created by the balloon burners is all that is needed to capture very dramatic photos. Time your photos to coincide with the bursts of light created by balloon burners for sharp, dramatic photos.
3. Film Photography Tips. Disposable cameras and even your old film camera can do a great job of recording the Balloon Fiesta. 400 to 800 ISO 35mm film is best for early morning pre-dawn photography. Typically, disposable cameras contain 800 ISO film. Once the sun rises, there will be plenty of light to shoot slower, finer-grained film. You can have your 35mm negative film and one-use camera film processed at Picture Perfect, the only full-service film processors left in Albuquerque. They are located at 2400-A Juan Tabo, NE 87112. There are a couple of Walgreens pharmacies that also do film processing in Albuquerque. Just be sure to call to find which branches still do so (there are only a couple).
4. Have fun! By keeping things simple, you will maximize your enjoyment of the 2017 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta and capture great images. I will be adding my images from the 2017 Balloon Fiesta to this website as the event progresses (the photos shown on this page are from prior year events). So please return to my website. Hope to see you at the Fiesta!
5. Dress in layers. If you plan to be in Balloon Fiesta Park for the start of the days’ events, be sure to dress warmly. It will be chilly until the sun makes it appearance. Once it warms up you will want to peel off a layer or two. Warm but lightweight items are best as you will be carrying them with you for the duration of the morning events. Chances are you will be parked too far away to make a trip back to the car to drop off a coat or two. You will miss something nice if you do!
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Video
This is one of the coolest videos I have seen from the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Enjoy!
All photos by [email protected]