Plano, TX held a Hot Air Balloon festival today, and the Dallas Photo Walk MeetUp group was there in force, snapping away left and right, and shooting everything in sight!

(In truth, and in the interest of full disclosure, I only saw one other MeetUper, and we ended up shooting together for awhile—me with my crop sensor, old $35 manual zoom lens, nifty 50, and iPhone; him with his shiny new D4, D800, 24-70 f/2.8, and 70-200 f/2.8 VRII: total cost for mine ~$1500 (including bag and strap); total for his ~$13,300, not including tripod and fancy lens belt system. I wonder if his pictures are 10x better than mine? He’s a fairly friendly fellow, and it was nice to have someone to chat with from time to time.)

I arrived well before sunrise, and set up (read: came to a stop, and turned on the camera…) as close as I could get to where the action looked like it might be at some future point.

Advertisements proclaimed a morning glow beginning about 6:30am, with a take off party at 7, some precision hot air balloon wrangling at 8, then a bunch of randomness (a classic car show, some gymnastics exhibitions, a 5k fun run, and the like) before the balloons returned near sunset for an evening ooo-ahhh type thing.

Well, at 6:15, one balloon was just being set up, and I caught this shot (today’s 365 picture), of the pilot(s) ‘revving the engine’ as it were.

If you follow this blog or my 365 project at all, you’ll recognize that I rarely crop square. But this picture seemed to beg for it.

(Note here the people with cameras clustered around, and shooting up into the balloon.)

It was really too dark to be trying to shoot handheld, so I got a bunch of blurry stuff until the sky began to lighten up. After that, it was a matter of getting the Vivitar focused properly, and in time to capture whatever I wanted to capture. (If I was smart, I would’ve used a higher aperture, but then I would’ve needed a tripod for sure.)

Like any photo enthusiast who tries to internalize various tips and tricks, I try to look behind me, and all around, rather than keep aimed at one target, so that’s maybe why 1) I didn’t bring a tripod; and 2) why I caught the silent silver plane drawing a golden chain:

Back on the ground, more balloons arrived and began to set up.

Volunteers arrived to guard the balloon field (even though it was cordoned off by some plastic flag-streamer things), and a bunch of photographers arrived to get up-close and personal with the balloons. Apparently, one could purchase a special badge that allowed field access if one was truly serious about ones photography.

I guess I’m not that serious.

It’s a good thing, though, because if I had been on the field shooting fire, I likely would’ve missed this early flyer getting a nice view of the sunrise:

Glenn—the fellow MeetUper with teh $15,000 camera set-up—was desperate to get closer to the action, so when one of the volunteers came close enough, I suggested that Glenn ask the volunteer about getting closer. After all, if you’re picture’s not good enough, you’re not close enough, right?

So Glenn asked, and the volunteer said he had no idea.

Glenn asked again, and the volunteer said that he had no idea, and gave a little laugh.

So Glenn asked again, and the volunteer, looking at me, exasperated, said again that he had no earthly idea.

So I asked if the volunteer knew of anyone who might know, or where one might find someone who did know.

The volunteer, regretting having volunteered, again said he didn’t know, and walked away.

By now, the sun was mostly up, and I scored this quick grab of the volunteer (the gentleman) with another volunteer.

Apologies for the blur… I really had some trouble focusing the Vivitar on the fly (see the postscript, below), though sometimes I got pretty lucky:

(I like how on-the-job this balloon-inflating helper appears to be, and also like how nicely the half-inflated balloons are framing her, though I really should’ve tried to clone out that trailer. I bet photoshop could pretty easily remove it, but then this would be a photoshopped image, instead of a slightly tweaked and cropped picture.)

And then they began to fly:

(Note: I in no way endorse ReMax, nor do they sponsor this website in any way. They do, apparently, sponsor some ballooning, and had some involvement with the Plano event, though the actual name of said event was the InTouch Credit Union Plano Balloon Festival.)

But, and of course, as soon as they floated up, they began to drift away:

Now this next shot is way out of focus, and it exhibits some motion blur, and it’s a bit under-exposed, and the white balance is off, but there’s something I really like about it. Something mysterious, or something, maybe.

So have you tired of balloons, yet? Have you tired of my largely mediocre pictures?

If so, you’re in luck, since there are only 2 left, and they’re not balloon-related.

First up, a nice abstraction: not my finest, but still pretty, methinks:

Ever since that farmer’s market photowalk last fall, and that shot I accidentally took that was completely out of focus, I’ve enjoyed making deliberately defocused pictures.

The Vivitar is especially good for this, with its macro mode that gives brilliant bokeh.

At some point, I changed to the 50mm, and started walking around. Actually, I switched to the 50 and started walking about the time they opened up the balloon field to the general public.

There were balloons on the field, still, and I wandered for another hour or so, but didn’t get anything good until I was on my way out and grabbed this shot up through a tree on a meridian. I think it looks incredibly surreal, rather plastic and unreal, and it received no post processing.

I hiked the mile back to the car, and that was the end of the Hot Air photowalk for me!


Postscript: important lessons

There are three things we can learn from this picture.

  1. Only you can prevent forest fires.
  2. Don’t be so worried about your gear that you forget to look behind  you. Something fabulous may be going on back there!
  3. It may be time to buck up and buy an autofocus telephoto zoom, maybe.


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