'Use your photos to tell a story': How to take the best Balloon Spectacular pictures

Cool, crisp March mornings are the perfect time to catch sight of a hot air balloon floating gracefully through a clear morning sky in Canberra, with the annual festival of flight returning to the lawns out the front of Old Parliament House.

With the annual Balloon Spectacular set to start on Saturday and run until Sunday, March 17, there are more than enough opportunities for you to take the perfect photograph of the balloons – weather depending, of course.

Balloons rising over the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion at the National Arboretum.  Photo: Carol Elvin

Balloons rising over the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion at the National Arboretum. Photo: Carol Elvin

Darrel Kolsky says preparation is key and it is especially important if you're not usually an early morning person.

"Plan your locations before you arrive, once the balloons launch you don't have a lot of time to search around for places to capture the action," he says.

Kolsky recommends Mt Ainslie, Red Hill and the Arboretum, which all offer wide and sweeping views of Canberra and a way to take photographs of the balloons from above as they are rising.

"Use your photos to tell a story, capture the close up details of the baskets and the balloons, the setting up and packing up, the gathered crowds as the launch site and out on the lake and how the balloons feature within the landscape.

"While the balloons are on the ground, use the surrounding people to give a sense of scale to emphasise the size of the balloons," Kolsky says.

Balloons above the National Library as the sun rises over Lake Burley Griffin while paddle boarders take to the water. Photo: Carol Elvin

Balloons above the National Library as the sun rises over Lake Burley Griffin while paddle boarders take to the water. Photo: Carol Elvin

It's a sentiment echoed by Carol Elvin, who says the best photos of the Balloon Spectacular find a way to tell the event's story in fresh and interesting ways.

"The event is about dozens of balloons lifting off simultaneously and drifting en masse across the Canberra landscape.

"Photos that capture as many balloons as possible in the one shot with iconic Canberra landmarks tell the story best," she says.

Elvin tries to get to the Balloon Spectacular most of the days they take off. The event's flight director decides whether the balloons will take off between 6am and 6.15am each day.

Elvin checks the wind direction, cloud cover and lift off location before she decides where to go. She takes two cameras and shoots in aperture priority mode, but says her settings are often guesswork and it's OK to take lots of different photos until you get it right.

"If I think it will be a great sunrise, I tend to shoot from the south side of the lake looking towards the sun and hope the balloons drift past.

"The north side of the lake is best for capturing the balloons with Canberra's iconic buildings in shot," she says.

"When the balloons take off from Yarramundi Reach, I'll head up to the Arboretum to capture the balloons drifting by with Black Mountain Tower and the lake in the background.

"That said, it's still mostly luck."

  • Be prepared. Make sure your gear is packed and ready to go for an early morning start – and keep an eye on the weather forecasts and the whether the balloons will take off
  • Be in the right place at the right time. Mt Ainslie, Red Hill, the Arboretum, Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and Reconciliation Place all offer good photo opportunities
  • Get as many balloons in the shot at once
  • Bring a tripod and shoot in lower ISO settings – but be prepared to run cross country with your gear to capture the best shot
  • Look for balloon reflections, sunrise colours and landmarks to make it clear you're in Canberra
  • Remember the best photographs find a way to tell a story of the event

You can find Carol Elvin (@carolelvin) and Darrel Kolsky (@dkolsky) on Instagram