Bristol Balloon Fiesta Photography

The Clifton Suspension Bridge is the icon of Bristol and the South West, and the hot air balloons take the scenery to the whole new level. Bright colours, familiar shapes, and wonderful clarity are sure to please the viewers eye! The annual event takes place in August and once again it promises to be an extraordinary spectacle. The morning balloon ascents are well worth getting up – and the sight can be usually enjoyed from most parts of the city. The daytime promises continuous entertainment in Ashton court, including the all loved Red Arrows acrobatic flight performances. In the evenings, once again the balloon launches will be the centre of the stage – and the crowds will be waiting in Clifton for the balloons to go over the bridge. One only has to hope for a good weather.

The first image was made in 2009 during an impressive afternoon ascent. Using a longer focal length and zooming in helped to achieve and even more dramatic look. Admittedly this is my most popular and successful work to date; it is an impressive Bristol-themed wall art for home and commercial properties.

The next morning I went to Ashton court. The hot air balloons were already rising up in the air just after the sunrise. A telephoto lens helped to isolate the action just over the rooftop of the manor house.

In 2011 I was lucky enough to witness another great show and grand view from the Clifton side of the suspension bridge. I arrived slightly late so there was little time to prepare. I grabbed my trusty Canon 1Ds mark II camera with an ultra wide-angle Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM lens, and promptly mounted Lee filters to balance the exposure of the sky. The festival action was unfolding right in front of my eyes; the balloons were passing right over my head. What a Drama! The very first image at this view point proved to be the very best one. There were all the right elements in the frame: the bridge, the gorge, balloons and nice warm sunshine. Great!

However, not everything was so simple once I downloaded the RAW files from the memory card. Ultra wide angle lenses are know for significant distortion of subjects in the corners; and the balloons proved to be no exception. Luckily DxO Optics software came to a rescue with the excellent Volume Anamorphic Correction feature. In the end I decided to blend the key areas back into the Lightroom processed image. Perspective or keystone correction also proved necessary  to ensure the bridge looked naturally upright; that is never easy with tight compositions like this straight out of the camera. The correction resulted in the compression of the lower part of the image, and then Photoshop CS6 with the smart healing tool was invaluable to fill in the “blank” corners, and remove a couple small distracting branches on the right. Finally, a couple years later the image came to life after this adventurous journey, that was made possible by the recent advances in image processing software. Therefore, it is always a good idea to hang on to the original files…

The direction of the wind quickly changed taking the balloons eastwards. The vantage point from the cliffs next to the bridge provided a more dramatic view, as a couple of the balloons almost descended right in to the gorge. The show didn’t last very long – the sunshine was soon gone, and the ever changing wind brought the launch to the end. Quick decisions were the key to getting the pictures. Perspective correction was also very helpful to ensure the image looks as close to the day as possible.

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