Archive for the 'Photos' Category

How To: Take photographs during a balloon ride

April 10th, 2011

When you book a balloon ride you may (like me) think that you don’t need to think too much about taking pictures: “f/8 and be there” would be all you need.

What you haven’t realised (or perhaps you did, and that’s why you’re here) is that the lighting conditions are going to be really difficult. Balloon flights nearly always occur at dawn, due to the weather conditions (particularly wind). But dawn is a really tricky time to take photographs.

Here’s what I did on a recent flight, it seemed to work pretty well.

Before the flight: choose your equipment. I cut back to two lenses – an 18-55 for wide-angle shots, and a 70-300 for telephoto. A polarising filter would have been a good addition, but I don’t have one of those.

Next, before the flight setup: I knew that I’d need pretty fine control, so I set my camera for full manual mode. I also checked the other settings, such as for the cursed ‘bracket’ mode – I have taken so many almost good photos ruined by forgetting to turn bracketing off.

Getting there: my flight started 30 minutes or so before dawn with the setup for the balloon. It was effectively dark at this point – I was shooting 18mm f/4.5 1/60″ ISO 6400 and getting photos that only had material in the far end of the histogram. That’s pretty much the extreme of my camera in terms of low-light.


Once dawn twilight started I began cranking my camera down. As I was on an 18mm I wasn’t getting too much depth-of-field problems from shooting at f/4.5, and with vibration reduction 1/60″ is fine for hand shake. So I took the improving light on the ISO to start with, cranking the ISO down whenever the picture started going past halfway on the histogram. This is purely a personal taste question, about the tradeoff between underexposure and noise, but I really dislike noise. Another reason to keep the picture a bit underexposed is to get better pictures of the flame from the burners heating the air


The balloon inflating is a good subject, and you can need to move quickly as it inflates quite rapidly once it gets going. I stayed on the wide angle throughout – the details weren’t that interesting, and the best shots I could see were including the most of the balloon.


After a quick scramble in for take-off we were away. I was still on f/4.5 and 1/60″, but now on ISO 200. The light is still improving, and as I was at my camera’s best ISO (it can do ISO 100, but you lose dynamic range) I was now slowly increasing the f/stop. While the depth of field on my 18-55mm lens is unlikely to cause any depth-of-field problems, the 70-300 is likely to have some problems unless it’s past f/11 or so, although it also needs a 1/125″ minimum handheld exposure.


Once moving it’s a slower experience. Try a range of different options as the balloon moves, and you’ll find you have plenty of time to try several variations on one subject.


Not too far into the balloon ride I found that the light had gotten better enough for me to start to worry less about it, so I switched over to aperture priority, and also started to play with my long lens for close ups of some of the things in the lake. I probably started a bit early, as the f-stop was still giving me depth of field problems with that lens.


Don’t forget to keep your eye out down as well as around – there were some rowers on the lake who made a very good subject on the day of our balloon ride.


Soon enough it was time for landing. To get one more interesting shot in, I set my camera to high speed, and took a sequence of photos as the balloon landed. Which, of course, I then turned into a time lapse video:

And that’s that.

52/30/5: Final thoughts

December 30th, 2009

One year ago I started a project to take photos every week, mainly as an exercise to force me to use my camera more.

It’s been a successful failure. I didn’t actually get my camera out each and every week, but I’ve done enough to fill in for 52 sessions worth. And I’ve used my camera a lot more, and learnt a lot about photography.

Am I getting any better? As an exercise I went through and graded each of my ‘weekly 5’ photos on one through five stars. It took a couple of passes, as initially I had nothing at five stars and only about six at four stars. In the end I had:

  • 1 star: 56 photos

  • 2 stars: 101 photos

  • 3 stars: 60 photos

  • 4 stars: 33 photos

  • 5 stars: 10 photos

We’ll get to my top 10 for the year in a minute, but there was definitely a slight trend towards improvement: less bad photos, more good photos in the later weeks. Still, that means that out of the 3,862 photos that I took in 2009 there are only 43 photos that I’m quite or very happy with – a bit over 1 per cent. Not bad for a beginner, I suppose.

I won’t be doing this next year, but I’m going to try and get out at least once a month or so just to take photos. I’m also about halfway through making up my 260 main photos for the year into a couple of books, which I’ll pay the ridiculous charges of Apple to get printed in hardback as a memento of my year.

Would I do it again? Probably. I’d probably tweak the rules, maybe only saying ‘take 10, choose 1’. Sometimes I found it hard to stretch a subject out to 30 photos, and it was especially hard to then find 5 of those that were distinct and interesting individually. Still, that was part of the exercise as well.

So now, as the grand finale for the 52/30/5 project, my 10 favourite photos of the year (in chronological order):





Sturt's Desert Pea

Garden at Schonbrunn

Stonehenge V

Night II

Elephant Herd

DRET Building

So what’s in store for next year? Stay tuned tomorrow for the official announcement.

52/30/5 Week 52

December 29th, 2009

For week 52 I had been hoping to go to Gininderra Falls, but that’s apparently been closed for a while. What I did find was a couple of dumped and destroyed cars, though:

Burned Car I

Burned Car II

Burned Car III

Burned Car IV

Burned Car V

The full set is on Flickr.

52/30/5 Week 51

December 28th, 2009

Week 51 was taken at Grevillea park on the front of Lake Burley Griffin.

A windsurfer on the lake:


A swan and a gosling:

Swan and Gosling

Buildings in the Kingston Foreshore (known as the Daleks):


The lake front at Grevillea Park:

Lake Front

And Lake Burley Griffin looking towards the Carillion:

Lake BG

The full set is on Flickr.

52/30/5 Week 50

December 27th, 2009

Week 50 was taken at the Point Hut Pond in Tuggernaong.

The basketball hoop:

Basketball court

A nearby slide:


Monkey bars:

Monkey bars

Ducks taking flight:


And a tower that is part of the play ground:


The full set is on Flickr.

52/30/5 Week 49

December 26th, 2009

Week 49 was a quick round of self portraits in the front yard.

Self Portrait I

Self Portrait II

Self Portrait III

Self Portrait IV

Self Portrait V

The full set is on Flickr.

52/30/5 Week 48

December 25th, 2009

Week 48 was taken in Edison Park in Woden.

Edison park has been suffering from the drought, the normal pond has been drained and has grown over:

Drought I

Drought II

The wooden path to the middle of the pond:

Wooden walkway

An anchor (a memorial for something or other) in the park:


And a swing:


The full set is on Flickr.

52/30/5 Week 47

December 24th, 2009

Week 47 was taken around the Treasury Building in Canberra.

The building:

Treasury Building I

Treasury Building II

Treasury Building III

The flag and coat of arms from the front:

Flag and Coat of Arms

And one of the car parks:

Treasury Car Park

The full set is on Flickr.

52/30/5 Week 46

December 23rd, 2009

Week 46 was taken in the Parliamentary triangle in Canberra.

Old Parliament House in HDR:


The War Memorial over the lake:

War Memorial

The National Portrait Gallery:

National Portrait Gallery

The High Court:

High Court

And the surprisingly Christmas-y local map sign:

Location Sign

The full set is on Flickr.

52/30/5 Week 45

December 22nd, 2009

Week 45 was taken at another bay near Lake Burley Griffin.

A seagull:


Birds surrounding a tree:

Bird Tree

A cycle path:

Cycle Path

Contrails in the sky:


A magpie in a tree:


The full set is available on Flickr.