Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta – The Camera Forum®
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Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

If you have never seen the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, you’ve never seen hot air balloons.  There is,  simply put, nothing else on earth like it.  Last month, at the first part of October, Albuquerque, New Mexico, held its 42nd annual International Balloon Fiesta, or as the rest of the world knows it, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.  It’s a 9-day event where over 700 balloons see liftoff.  It’s the largest hot air balloon festival in the entire world and one of the oldest such events.  I photographed my first one in 1987, a truly breathtaking event for me with several hundred balloons.


I was shooting film at the time, as was everyone else.  I still remember vividly seeing those beautiful chromes sitting on my light-box.  Digital photography was years in the future.  I also remember hearing from a Kodak event sponsor that the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was the largest single photographed event in the world.  According to that Kodak Rep, more photographs of it exist on film than the next two events combined.


This year, you would probably be hard pressed to find many film shooters.  The march of technology has taken its toll.  Todays 100,000 estimated daily visitors are using Smartphones and the real photographers for the most part are shooting with digital cameras.  Joel Schat was on hand this year to capture the action using his time-lapse technique.  Turn the Volume up, HD on, go full screen and enjoy this Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Experience.  If you are capable of watching in a higher resolution than 1080p choose original as this film was finished in 4k*


Joel shares his story with us about creating his short film.  “Beep.. Beep.. Beep.. The Alarm goes off at 4 am. Time to get ready for a morning full of hot air balloons! Eat a quick breakfast (maybe), grab the batteries off the chargers, cameras and warm clothes and head out for the field! This was my favourite part of shooting the Balloon Fiesta. The early morning anticipation running around the field in the dark trying to find the row of balloons that will go off for dawn patrol! The Balloon’s will be all laid out on the ground and just as you start to see some light back-lighting the Sandia’s mountains the first group of balloons start to inflate. The best pilots go up before the sunrise to find out what the wind conditions will be like for the day. They take off one after another into the dark of the morning. After that, it gets crazy.”


Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2006 Grand Ascension - Photo: Eric Ward

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2006 Grand Ascension – Photo: Eric Ward

Joel goes on to share “Dawn Ascension is when all of the balloons (excluding dawn patrol) take off one after another starting just before the sunrise. There is so much to see and so many absolutely massive balloon’s littering the field. Darth Vader’s head fills and lifts above you. You watch it ascend into the glowing morning sky, surrounded by the hundreds of colors and shapes of balloons everywhere. In an impressively overwhelming way, 500+ balloons take off in the span of an hour and a half. When the field finally starts to empty, your heart starts to beat and you jump in your vehicle to chase after the still flying balloons. The balloons land anywhere they can in Albuquerque. From school yards, to back yards to the middle of the street, the whole community unites to pull the balloons from the sky and celebrate those rides of a lifetime.”


Diagram of "The Albuquerque Box" at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

Diagram of “The Albuquerque Box” at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

Part of the reason for the success of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is the cool Albuquerque morning temperatures in October and the “Albuquerque box.”  The cool temperatures providing extra “lift” for the balloons.  The “box” is a set of predictable wind patterns that can be exploited to navigate the balloons. At low elevations the winds tend to be northerly (from the north), but at higher elevations they tend to be southerly. Balloonists use these winds to navigate in a vertical box: they ascend slightly from the launch park, move south, ascend further, move north, descend, and repeat the box or land back in the launch park or quite nearby. During events involving on-field targets, such as the “Key Grab” (where pilots attempt to grab prizes, including a set of keys to a new vehicle, from atop tall, flexible poles), it’s not uncommon to see the same balloon make 5 or 6 passes at the targets, simply by working the “Box” to keep returning to the field.


Dawn Patrol - Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Dawn Patrol – Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta


Special Shapes Procession from the 2008 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Special Shapes Procession from the 2008 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

Make your reservations now for next years event, the hotels sell out far in advance.  Pack twice as many batteries and cards as you expect to need, you will find yourself filling every card you have with you, and wishing you had more.  It is incredible the number of photo ops you can find at an event like this.  Make the most of it!



The equipment Joel used to make his latest video included:
Canon 6d Body
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens.
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens.
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.
Emotimo TB3 Black time-lapse positioning head.

Film + Edit: Joel Schat (
Music: Watching the Storm – U137



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Chuck Jones

Digital Media Producer, Photographer, Video Storyteller, Cinemagraph Master. Only Semi-Reformed Hippy. Managing Editor of http://TheCameraForum.Com

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