7 tips for photographing Balloon Fiesta

7 tips for photographing Balloon Fiesta

You’re all set to attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. You packed your camera gear and you’re ready to have fun! Now what?!? Enjoy these tips for photographing balloon fiesta.

First off, what is the International Balloon Fiesta?

For nine days in October the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta creates an enchanted world of special shape balloon rodeos, twilight balloon glows, and vibrant balloon filled skies. Brisk autumn mornings in the Rio Grande Valley create an otherworldly backdrop for the breathtaking majesty of the most popular event, Mass Ascension of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The experience of watching hundreds of gentle airy giants take flight is at once humbling and inspiring. It’s the allure of these magical moments and more that continue to bring ballooning fans worldwide together for over 45 years. If you plan on staying at balloon fiesta, I wrote up some tips for that here.

Photographing Balloon Fiesta

1. Take your time

Get there early to get a feeling for the park and festivities. There is a lot going on and the first time you might feel overwhelmed. Think out of the box and find a place outside the fiesta grounds to capture the balloons in the air. You might even get lucky and have a balloon land near you.

2. Bring back up!

Bring extra memory cards and batteries. You will fill your card(s) quickly, so make sure to have extra on hand that are easily accessible.

3. Be creative

Look at the small stuff going on around you. Is the crowd interesting? There are so many great reactions to seeing so many amazing balloons. Capture the filling of the balloon with air. The lift off. The basket. The landing. The pilot and the crew. It’s all part of the experience. Use the color of a close up balloon as a foreground while having other balloons up in the air behind it. 

4. Attend a glow

Balloon glows happen in the evening. Get up close and personal and photograph the flame with the colors of the balloon. If you attend a glow, bring a tripod. It will allow you to use longer shutter speeds to capture the beauty. Push your ISO higher to capture clear darker images.

5. Use a mid-range zoom lens

This can be anything from 24-70mm, 24-105mm or on a crop sensor 15-85mm or 18-135mm. I personally used my 17-70 while in the fiesta park and my Nikon 80-400mm while out of the park to capture individual or groupings of balloons in the sky. Try to isolate a balloon in the sky and use the light to create a stunning image.  Once the morning’s inflation comes to an end, I look for balloon arrangements in the sky. Even though the balloons move slowly, compositions are fleeting. Work quickly but deliberately to design magnificent compositions of the sky filled with color.

6. Edit your images the same day

After a fun morning with tons of images captured, one of the best ways to grow personally is by making a point of downloading and reviewing your images each day. This allows you to assess what you captured. You’ll discover what you like and what can be improved upon. By reviewing your images before the next event you’ll be able to see what is working or what new images you can create in order to complement your images.

7. Trust your photographer’s eye

Remember to capture what is interesting to you. Your enthusiasm will show in your images. Also, remember to have fun! That’s what it’s all about.


While it’s not the capital of New Mexico, it is the largest city. It is situated at 5,000 feet (1,539 meters) above sea level and a prime location for hot air ballooning because of the “Albuquerque Box.” Albuquerque is home to over 850,000 residents, and its vibrant culturally diversity can be seen in the many aspects of daily life. The area has a unique and varying landscape, including majestic Rocky Mountains, red rock mesas, high desert vegetation and the picturesque Rio Grande river valley. The area is also one of the nation’s most dynamic art communities.

Albuquerque Box Explained

You might hear the term “Albuquerque Box” in reference to the hot air balloons. What does this mean? Well, the cool Albuquerque morning temperatures in October create a set of very predictable wind patterns that can be used to navigate the balloons — at low elevations the winds tend to be southerly, but at higher elevations they tend to be northerly. Balloonists use these winds to navigate in a vertical box — this is beneficial to ballooning because then the balloon can take off and land in almost exactly the same spot. Balloon pilots do not have a way to steer their hot air balloons. While they can control where the balloon flies vertically (by heating the air in the balloon to go higher), they rely on the wind to determine their direction. Pretty neat, right?!?!