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Taken at 1/400 second at f/7.1, ISO 400 with a EF8-15mm f/4L FISHEYE USM @ 15 mm
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What an amazing experience it was watching hundreds of balloons take to the skies starting in the dark and passing well into sunrise at the 2012 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Shadows of hundreds of onlookers as the first balloon of the day begins to fill.

Hundreds of photos and flashes light up the first balloon of the morning.

After checking into a cheapo hotel room at midnight and getting three hours of sleep, I dragged myself out of bed at 4AM to get over to Balloon Fiesta Park by 5AM. I had read online to get there early, and that parking fills up fast. As I drove out at 10AM or so and saw people walking at least a mile back to their cars, I realized just how important that advice had been!

The burner fires in the morning darkness as the balloons prepare to fly.

The week’s weather had been sketchy even up in Taos, and everything had been cancelled on my first visit Friday night. Getting up I checked the @balloonfiesta twitter and initial indications looked good … but there was still uncertainty. After a coffee and breakfast burrito, the search for action and interesting images began!

About 6AM or so the first balloon began to fill. I think everyone in the park flocked to it! Even now, the overhead conversations amongst balloonists were still saying it might just be a static glow display, meaning all of the balloons would remain tethered and simply light off their burners. Beautiful, but not quite the same.

The first balloons light up in the early morning darkness.

The balloon filled slowly, apparently this balloon had a slow fan so they began early. Before long, however, a row of balloons was beginning to fill! Suddenly there was breathing room and open space as first one, then two, then an entire row of colorful balloons filled. It was still quite dark and only about 6:30AM, a sliver of moon was in the sky, but before long burners began to fire and suddenly there was a whole row of glowing balloons on the ground! It was absolutely beautiful, like a half dozen of the largest Japanese lanterns you’ve ever seen.

Before long, the whole row was lit, and the crowd cheered as there was a synchronized glow as all of the balloons lit at once. Standing there with one camera on a tripod, and another in hand, I fired away at the glowing balloons, the moon hanging in the background over the Sandia mountains and the beginnings of the sun’s glow peeking up over the ridges.

And then … one was off!

And then … the uncertainty was over! Looking up, a single solitary balloon began to float up over the field, to the huge roars and cheers from the crowd. And then another, and another … and the skies began to fill with glowing balloons.

Before long the second set of balloons took their place, and the field was covered with balloons filling as the sun began to rise. A couple thousand photos later, the sun was up, the balloons came back down, and it was time to leave and head back to the airport, a single brief day of balloons being surprisingly enjoyable.

The skies fill with glowing balloons.

If you ever have the chance to go watch this event, take it. It was an amazing experience to photograph and simply to witness. I expected to enjoy the photo opportunity. I did not expect that the entire field and sky filled with balloons would be such an amazing view and prompt such a viscerally enjoyable reaction.

That’s all for now … but perhaps a second post is in the works about the rest of the morning! Certainly there will be more photos!

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