The Great Reno Balloon Race is an annual 3-day event held in Reno, Nevada and is boasted as the “world’s largest free hot-air ballooning event.” The event takes place over the first weekend after Labor Day, and almost always starts before dawn at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in Northern Reno. It usually begins with a glow show where several hot air balloons turn their flames on and off to the beats of music, followed by dawn patrol and a mass ascension launch that involves dozens of balloons. It is one of the biggest event in Reno, and attracts thousands of people each day of the race.

Balloon Race 6

The balloon race in 2014 was held from September 5-7 with over 90 balloons participating, and we went to both Saturday and Sunday’s event. The dawn patrol provided great opportunities for some interesting photos. There were six balloons lined up side-by-side, and when they turned on their flames simultaneously it was very impressive if you get close enough. When the sun rises above the ridge line, the balloon crews began making final preparation and we were moving all over the place, snapping photos of balloons, the crews and the crowd. Because of the number of the people around us, we were not able to always shoot from the angles and perspectives we wanted, and we had to work with whatever was available.

One thing I learned from this experience is that you should bring at least two lenses – a fast lens and a zoom lens – to any event that is going to be without adequate lighting. In the case of this balloon race, because the event starts at 5 AM and the only light source is the flames of the balloons, a fast lens would be extremely helpful by capturing more lights, saving you the trouble of having to up the ISO and deal with the image noise in post-processing. A zoom lens, on the other hand, gives you more flexibility to photograph the balloons when the sun is up and there’s a large crowd around you.

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Balloon Race 2

Balloon Race 1

Balloon Race 4

Balloon Race 3

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Another thing I noticed at the event ground is the number of people using flashes either because they want to make the balloons clearer in the picture or that they have their camera on full-auto mode. When people set their cameras on full-auto mode, the cameras might determine the scene to be too dark and would attempt to compensate by using flash. This is completely unnecessary because the distance between the balloons and the camera far exceeded the onboard flash’s capability.

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