Lenses for a Hot Air Balloon Trip

Posted July 25th, 2011 by   |  Photography, Travel  |  Permalink

Here’s the scenario: You are headed out on a hot air balloon flight with 150 other balloons and want to capture the scene with great photos. Your pilot tells you that you can’t bring a bunch of camera gear because of tight space. What do you do?

That’s precisely the question Jerry sent to me yesterday. Here’s his email with my response below.



Next Saturday at 6:30 a.m., I think I am taking a ride in a hot air balloon that is taking off at the same time as 150 other balloons.  I dream about great images, but this time I want to do more than dream.  Because there are four people in each basket, I can only bring my camera (D300S) with whatever lense I choose.  I can’t bring my bag full of lenses.  My  choices are Tokina 11-16 2.8, Nikon 18-70 3.5-4.5, Tamron 18-200, or Nikon 50mm 1.8.  I’ve also been thinking about picking up the Nikon 18-200, but not sure.  What is your advice for the lense I should bring? Common sense tells me to use the 18-70, but I think the 11-16 might be fun and interesting.

Thanks for your advice.  I would also appreciate tips on camera settings.

Best regards.


Hot air balloon, Winthrop, WA. Nikon D2X, 12-24mm f4.

Hot air balloon, Winthrop, WA. Nikon D2X, 12-24mm f4.


Jerry –

Yes, tight quarters means that you won’t be able to bring much gear along. However, you can pack a still pack a few things even if you don’t bring a camera bag.

My recommendation is to wear a vest or jacket so you can take along the 11-16 and the 18-200. Or, bring some cargo pants/shorts so you can hold one of the lenses in a big pocket. I do this all the time when I’m not able to bring along a bag.

You’ll come across a variety of shooting angles during this shoot. When you are taking off, all the balloons will be close together and you’ll want the big wide angle shots for drama. Then, as you are flying, you’ll want the longer telephoto so you can pick off far away balloons and details. If you can truly only take one lens, then bring the 18-200. That will give you the most flexibility.

Camera settings … I’d shoot aperture priority and vary between f5.6 to f11 for most of my shots. In the morning or pre-dawn, I’d be shooting at ISO 800/1600. When the sun comes out, shoot ISO 200.

Hope this helps!

Best regards,

Mike Hagen

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