Top Tips for Hot Air Balloon Photography

20th June 2014    News

We’re launching our photo competition again, so it’s time to dig out your cameras and get snapping! But how best can you take a great photo of a hot air balloon that’s miles away from you soaring through the air? What is the best way to take a shot from the basket of a balloon? Last year we had over 600 entries, so competition is steep! Here are some top tips on getting a fantastic photograph of a balloon for our contest…

Hot Air Balloon Photogrophy

Picking a day and time

All of our balloons fly on days where the weather is suitable, so if you’re shooting from the sky you should be able to get nice clear pictures. When you’re up in a balloon flight, make the most of the time you have. Our flights take place in early morning and early evening, so you should be able to get some nice sunrise or sunsets in the skies. The light is likely to change throughout your flight, so take as many pictures as you can to see what works, and if you’re using a DSLR, keep an eye on your settings to ensure your photos are exposed correctly.

When photographing balloons from the ground, choose days with interesting weather. Clear sunrises and sunsets are, again, brilliant for that summery feel, but you can also get fantastic images with a bit of atmospheric morning mist rolling in the distance, and bright colourful shots against midday blue skies.


Anyone can get a brilliant picture of a hot air balloon regardless of how advances your equipment is. However, it’s good to make the best of what you’ve got.

If you have a point-and-shoot camera, use any manual settings available, such as white balance correction, to alter your shot. If it’s a cloudy day, use the cloudy white balance, for instance, and turn on image stabilisation if possible. You camera may have a landscape setting which would be great if you’re entering the ‘From the Sky’ category for panoramic views of the countryside from the air. These days, point-and-shoot cameras allow quite a lot of functionality, so just go into the menu and see what you can do!

However, if you’re a bit of an amateur photographer, and own a DSLR, you can get a bit more technical. On an air balloon ride you won’t have much space for bulky equipment or time for changes, so just take your camera and one lens – but choose carefully! Our ‘From the sky’ category would perfectly suit a landscape photograph, so a wide angle lens would be a great choice as it would get everything in. If you’re thinking of capturing other balloons in flight from the air, or focusing on details, you could use a telephoto lens for up-close images from a distance – but they are expensive! Always make sure you use a neck strap in the balloon, dropping your camera could be a pricey accident! For ‘From the ground’ shots, you could use a tripod for extra stability, but this is by no means essential as balloons fly steadily. Again, a wide angle lens would be ideal for a shot of a balloon framed against the horizon.

Always remember to bring as many empty memory cards and charged batteries you can – ballooners and observers always take at least twice as many photos as they think they will!

Getting the shot

One of the most important things in balloon photography is composition – or framing, and this is something you can do beautifully no matter what camera you have! The safest thing to do is often to keep it simple. Minimise clutter, and have a focal point in all of your photos that the eye is drawn to without distraction.

From the ground this will probably be the balloon, and from the sky this might be the sky or horizon.

You might have heard photographers talk about the rule of thirds. Imagine your image has two lines going down vertically and two across horizontally, like a grid with 9 squares. Try to frame your images so that focal points are positioned on the crosses where these lines would intersect. Many cameras actually have a function that allows you to see this grid when taking a photo. Using this simple technique will allow you to take a balanced and striking photograph. Remember to keep your images straight if you’re taking a landscape show, so that the horizon is in line.

Technical knowledge isn’t essential to get an awesome photo of a hot air balloon, but if you’re using a DSLR you could have a look in your manual settings to see what you can do. Keep an eye on your ISO, increasing the number if your photos are coming out too dark or blurry. However, don’t go too high or your pictures will look grainy. Shutter speed is another important thing to think about. If your photos are blurry or dark, turn the shutter speed up, if they are over-exposed, turn it down and have a look at altering your other settings. For more abstract shots, you could play around with the aperture to get some artistic background blurring. Make sure the dial you see through the viewfinder is on the middle of the scale and your photos should be balanced if you’re at a good ISO. And always check your white balance depending on what the light is like for the correct colour balance.

Again, lighting is important. Keep an eye on the sun – if shooting from the ground, think about whether you want to backlight the balloons to get that silhouetted look with a glow around the balloon’s outline. If so, take a picture when the balloon is in front of the sun. Perhaps you want the light to illuminate the front of the balloon in all its glory? Make sure you work with the light to get the best shots you can.

However, as they say, rules are made to be broken, and the more creative you are with your images, the better! Use interesting angles, surprising lighting and any other ideas that pop into your head, and experiment with what you can create!


Take a look at our archive of From the Sky and From the Ground photo entries for inspiration!

So, get snapping… and good luck!