Photography: A Burst of Balloons

June 19, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

     Sometimes a photographic experience is almost overwhelming. Faced with an incredible array of image opportunity, it's entirely possible to feel nearly frozen. Which way to move first? What decisions must be made immediately?

     That's how I felt at the Sonoma Hot Air Balloon Festival. Confusion was no doubt enhanced by the fact that I got up at 3:45 a.m. to ensure a timely arrival for the Dawn Patrol - a group of hot air balloons that would rise in the pre-dawn darkness, brightly lit by the propane tanks that heat the air within them.

     The question that was causing me the greatest conflict was a classic one: to carry the tripod or not? On the one hand, the darkness offered wonderful opportunities for long exposure night photography. A tripod is essential for that. But on the other hand, there would be lots of action, moments when I would want to move quickly and have maximum maneuverability. There was a case to be made for both approaches.

     I went with the no-tripod option, because I felt I had a solution in my back pocket. I would shoot in bursts.

     Some weeks ago, I attended a seminar offered through Click Monkeys, a Sacramento meetup group. The presenter offered a technique for achieving sharp photos at very slow speeds: hold your camera as steadily as possible, hold your breath to avoid body motion, and shoot a burst. The likelihood is that one of those shots will be sharply focused.

     I've found the technique works well - the shot below was taken at 1/15th of a second. While the figures aren't tack sharp, the balloon itself is, and I like the sense of motion.

     Beyond that, I've found that burst is useful in so many situations it is now my standard setting. I use it for panning shots, for zoom, for fast action, for situations where there is movement. Real life happens in a flash, and there are momentary expressions, movements, compositions, that last only for a rare instant. Burst makes is more likely they will be captured.

     I'm sure that each of us has had occasion to be surprised when we first see our pictures on the large computer screen. There are so many elements that simply can't quite be discerned on the little LCD screen, and many of them are happy surprises indeed.

     Of course, the downside of burst is that it creates a lot of images. And so my first task after any photo shoot is to quickly edit the images, so I am left with a selection of successful shots.

     While burst is a favored setting, it is not a permanent setting. There are certainly situations for which it doesn't make sense. But more and more, when it comes to burst, I find I am most likely to ask myself "why not?"

     And so, for the Sonoma Hot Air Balloon Festival, I stayed in burst all morning. Take a look at my Hot Air Balloon Gallery and let me know if you think I made the right decision.Dawn Patrol Lifts Off


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