Manomet, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA

Manomet, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA
Manomet, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA

Monday, October 9, 2017

46th Annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Part 1 of 6 - Before Dawn, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

For nine days in October, an extravaganza unlike anything I've ever seen unfolds in the mile-high city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the wakening dawn beneath the shadow of the 10,000-feet-high Sandia Mountains, (or 10,000-foot if you prefer), the balloon pilots began inflating their ships, readying to fly. As many as 500 balloons may participate in this ritual every morning in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. (Click on an image to view a higher resolution version if your device supports that action).

I am not inclined to get up at three o'clock in the morning now that I am retired. When my alarm sounded, it reaffirmed that preference. Nevertheless, I was on the road early heading for the Balloon Fiesta Park, and by 4:00am, I was sitting in stop-and-go traffic to get in to the parking area. It was still pitch dark but by 4:25am, I was with tens of thousands of others wandering among the flight crews inflating their balloons for flight.

One of the delights of attending the Fiesta is to roam up close to the activity and chat up the flight crews.  And the pace of the event is pleasantly slow but deliberate, especially when compared to the frenetic pace of a traditional sporting event. It unfolds like a precious flower.

These next three images are similar - the differences being which balloon had ignited it's burners for a blast of warm air at the split second of shutter release. I found it a great photographic challenge to not over-expose parts of an image with this very wide range of light levels.

I arrived in long pants, a long-sleeved turtleneck, stocking hat, scarf, gloves, and fleece jacket - this New Englander was ready for the chilly weather in the mid-40's Fahrenheit. Amazingly, I saw many folks were wearing shorts - go figure.

The excitement and anticipation was palpable among the crowd as we walked around trying to get oriented in the dark and not trip over their equipment as the balloon crews were finalizing set-up and preparing for launch.

The Fiesta purports to be the most photographed event in the world and after seeing as many cameras - both traditional and smartphones - pointing skyward at every second, I have no reason to doubt that claim.

Stars still shining brightly, the sun yet to rise, the first ships among hundreds take to the skies to begin the 46th annual event - UP, UP, and AWAY!

Stay tuned - I expect a half dozen blogs about this event over the next few weeks covering different events and times of day.

Note to photographers: I exclusively used my point and shoot Sony RX100-M2 for this entire event, mounted on a monopod for the early morning images. I used manual settings and did not zoom so that I could keep the f-stop as low as possible. Shutter speeds were around 1/4 second, f/1.8, ISO as high as 6400. A fancy, full-frame camera would have been nice but, I'm glad I didn't have to lug around the weight. By the way, Canon is one of 165 official sponsors of the event - they had their own balloon emblazoned with their logo, a vendor tent, and their named camera equipment was everywhere.

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