What happens when you present a photographer with visual sensory overload? You get hundreds of pictures that are impossible to cull to a group of only 10. But I have committed to limit myself to 10 pictures for each topic. So what now?
Answer: I cheated. I divided the pictures into 10 that are representative of the overall balloon festival experience and another 10 that are just the interesting “special shapes.”
The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is one of the three largest balloon festival in the world (largest by some measures), with approximately 550 balloons. Of these, almost 100 are “special shapes,” which are very creative, as you will see.
The day starts with “dawn patrol,” a select group of about a dozen experienced pilots who go up before sunrise to test the wind currents at different levels so the remaining pilots know what to expect.
Mass ascension takes about 2 hours. If you do the math, you realize a balloon is lifting off about every 15 seconds during that time. The amazing thing is that this takes place while the crowd is actually on the field amongst the balloons. It is fantastic!
A note about what makes Albuquerque such a special ballooning place. It is in a large “bowl,” with mountains of some kind on all sides. So the wind swirls in different directions. There is a so-called “box effect,” where a pilot can go different directions based on the altitude of the balloon. This means a skilled pilot can land the craft at the same area where he/she took off, flying each of four directions so that the course looks like the outline of a box. We watched several balloons accomplish this.
And then, of course, the colors. Wow!