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Photo Tips

Photographing from moving platforms. Part 1. Balloons

Jackie Ranken

This article is about the experiences that I have had of shooting Landscape photographs images from a moving platform. As photographers, we can often find ourselves in this situation…either not being behind the wheel or simply being in a situation where you just can’t stop. Though the positive action of at least trying to make a shot you can often be rewarded with images that work on a different level. Photographs made from moving vehicles whether it be a car, horse cart, train, hot air balloon or aircraft all require a different way of shooting and also a different way of thinking. The major consideration once you have found a subject to photography is to ask yourself ‘what do you want to say’ and then to experiment with your camera settings to make photographs to help communicate those thoughts and ideas.

The major factor to be aware of is that your shooting platform is now moving and your distance relationship to your subject is constantly changing. This kind of shooting takes practice, be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them. Hold onto all your captures and analyze what worked and what didn’t work. Be prepared to take a second and third look at your shots before they hit the ‘bin’ because blurry moving images can still work.

 When I am travelling I always try to have my camera out of the camera bag and setup with the most appropriate lens and camera settings.  This is usually a lens range of 24-70 on my full frame Canon 5DMKIV. Equivalent to around an 18-55mm lens on a smaller DSLR sensor size.


To start with let us look at  making photographs from a hot air balloon.

 F8, 1/1000th Sec, ISO 160, focal length @70mm Canon 5DMKIII  My favourite shot!

F8, 1/1000th Sec, ISO 160, focal length @70mm Canon 5DMKIII

My favourite shot!

Shooting from a hot air balloon is an event that starts in the dark. So keep your wits about you and be prepared to record the whole story. From the inflation of the balloons in the near darkness to the landing and champagne breakfast. 

Once in the air, your viewpoint changes dramatically take a deep breath and remember to enjoy the ride.  Before the sun lights up the landscape below you it will light up your balloon or other balloons that you are flying with. Take advantage of this and make some air to air shots. Then photograph the first rays of light that are cast shadows across the landscape. This can look most dramatic when you shoot towards the direction of the sun.

For me this is the money shot. Shooting against the light and cropping out the horizon line emphasised the early morning smoke from the villages below. The temple is the key to the composition and shows that we are over The Plains of Bagan.

 f3.5, 1/80th sec, ISO500, focal length set at 38mm  The air to air shot.

f3.5, 1/80th sec, ISO500, focal length set at 38mm

The air to air shot.

 f8, 1/640th sec, ISO400, focal length set at 35mm.  The landing shot that tells the story of what I am in, what I can see and where I am going. 

f8, 1/640th sec, ISO400, focal length set at 35mm.

The landing shot that tells the story of what I am in, what I can see and where I am going. 


Tips for shooting from hot air balloons

• Try and get a corner in the basket because this will give you a better opportunity to shoot straight down to the ground.

• Carry your camera around your neck and have another small bag that you can hold around your waist with a spare lens. A wide angle lens is good to tell the story of what’s going on around you and a mid-range telephoto lens (70-200mm) will be best for shooting details in the landscape.

• Keep your horizon level.

• Because the balloon is moving faster than you think, keep your shutter speed double that of the focal length of the lens. Raise your ISO if necessary to keep your shutter speed fast enough.

• Before landing put your camera away so that it doesn’t hit you in the face! But be ready to grab it (with a wide angle lens) as soon as you have landed to tell the last part of the story. Taking off. f3.5, 1/100th second, 1000 ISO, 70mm.

Taking an opportunity to see the world from above in the early morning should not be missed. Moving with the air is an experience like no other.

Join  Mike Langford and I, on our 2018 Myanmar Photography Tour October 29-Nov 11

For more info click HERE

Only NZ$7420.00 Twin share 

Single Supplement extra $1400.00

Photograph the Milky Way from Mount Cook - Astro photography

Jackie Ranken

These images were made on our 2017 Photography Workshop to Mount Cook and the Aoraki National Park. Where the night sky is so beautiful.

This year's Photo Workshop dates are July 12-17 2018

Photography of the Milky Way is best in the winter months when the hours of darkness are much longer and the heart of the Milky Way sits much higher in the sky. (In summer the arch of the Milky Way moves much closer to the horizon).

Be prepared and dress to suit the weather conditions. Make sure your batteries are charged and your gear is clean and ready to go. Pack your glasses if necessary (it is always harder to see the back of the camera in dim light).

In daylight with the lens that you are choosing to shoot with, focus on the distant horizon and then look at the focus ring and identify where infinity focus is on your lens. This is the spot to start with when you are in the dark, using manual focus and Live View.

Below is a list of tips on how to set up a DSLR Camera fro Astro Photography:

  • Create RAW files as these have a wider dynamic range than jpegs and are easier to manipulate later in the computer.

  • Set your white balance to tungsten as this makes the sky a blue tone. This can be adjusted in the RAW processing to suit your aesthetics.

  • Turn off image stabiliser as this can create movement with slow shutter speeds.

  • Use a cable release or your two-second timer to release the shutter.

  • Open up your aperture (smallest F number in my case I used F4), and turned my ISO to 3200. Lenses that open to f2.8 or wider apertures are called fast lenses because they allow more light to enter through the lens which means your shutter speed can be faster or the ISO lower. (F2.8 = 1600 ISO)

  • Lower ISO’s will have less noise as will full frame sensors.  

  • With a wide-angle lens, choose a shutter of around 20 seconds. Longer shutter speeds will record the movement of the stars, they will start to stretch and look like oblongs if longer than this or if your lens is zoomed in closer.  (Really long exposures create star trails. That is another recipe.)

  • Choose a position where you have options that create foreground interest. Something that tells the viewer where you are or one that gives a sense of scale to the shot.

  • Use a sturdy tripod and know how to use it in the dark.

  • Know how to use all your gear in the dark. Practice in the light beforehand with your eyes closed.

  • Use a head light that can be dimmed, so that your night vision is not spoilt.

  • Look at the night sky and spot a bright star, point your camera towards this and turn on Live View. Use the focus zoom within Live View to magnify the bright star and focus in and out until you have achieved what seems to be the sharpest focus.

  • Make a test shot and check to see how sharp the image is. Sometimes it can take a few shots to know you have the correct focus setting. Once you know your focus is right - then you are ready to play.