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Picture the Fiesta

The Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is America's largest and most exciting ballooning event. It is also the most photographed event in the world. These tips on how to best capture the event are from noted professional photographer, Rick Sammon.

Picture the Fiesta Color. Action. Excitement. Fun! The annual Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta offers it all -- and more! Just bring your camera and film and get ready to take some of the most colorful pictures you've ever taken.

This year's event runs from October 7th to October 15th. It will draw hundreds of hot-air balloonists from around the globe and thousands of spectators interested in seeing and photographing the spectacular balloons flying high in the clear New Mexico sky.

I've photographed the Fiesta for the past four years. Why do I keep going back? It's simple. Each Fiesta offers new balloons and new photo opportunities. What's more, Kodak continues to offer new, more colorful films and digital cameras that help me get knockout images (or "way-cool" as my son calls 'em).

"Be there or be square!" That's what I say about the Balloon Fiesta to all my friends. It's an experience unlike any other.

The action begins at 5 am. Under a veil of darkness, several "dawn patrol" balloons are launched to check the air currents. It's awesome watching the glowing "dawn patrol" balloons drift through the nighttime sky.

If the "dawn patrol" gives the okay, about 400 balloons are launched just after sunrise -- at about 7 am. For several hours, balloons of all sizes and shapes fill the brilliantly clear New Mexico sky. It's a wonderful opportunity for picture taking.

By 11 am, just about all the balloons have landed. That means it's time to take a nap and get ready for the evening events.

Picture the Fiesta The balloons don't fly at night. But there is still lots to see -- and photograph -- at the Balloon Fiesta. Around dusk, many of the balloons while tethered to the ground are inflated. Just after the sun has set, the pilots are given a signal and the field comes alive with colors during what's called the "Balloon Glow." It's a spectacular event that makes the perfect ending to a picture perfect day.

Before giving a few tips on capturing the event -- on film and with a digital camera -- I'd like to share one general tip: Don't miss the world famous "breakfast burritos" that are served on site. They are a tasty treat that after just one bite gives you the feeling of being part of a unique event.

Okay, so here are my tips and techniques for recording your memories at the Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta:

Lens recommendations.
I like to "tell the whole story" when I cover an event -- whether it is an international event or a family gathering. Therefore, I use wide-angle and telephoto lenses to set the scene and to capture the action and activities.

At the Balloon Fiesta, I use wide-angle lenses in the 17mm to 24mm range for shots of the sky filled with lots of balloons. When I'm up in a balloon, I use wide-angle lenses for pictures of the ground packed with people and balloons. I also use wide-angle lenses when I'm taking pictures of the balloons being inflated. Wide-angle lenses, especially when set at small apertures, offer good depth-of-field -- much more so than telephoto lenses.

I use telephoto lenses in the 100mm to 400mm range for full-frame pictures of balloons after liftoff. The longer the lens, the "closer" I can get to the balloon -- which is sometimes close enough for a picture of the pilot waving from his or her basket.

Film recommendations.
For dawn and dusk pictures, I shoot Kodak Ektachrome E200 slide film. When the light level is very low, I "push" (expose) the film at ISO 400 or 800, which gives me a fast shutter speed at which to shoot, thereby eliminating the need for a tripod. When I send my pictures to the lab, I tell them about the "push" and ask for "push processing."

When the sun is shining brightly, I switch to Kodak Elitechrome Extra Color 100, which, as you may have guessed, gives me a bit more color in my already colorful slides.

If you shoot color prints, I'd recommend Kodak Max 800 Zoom for dawn and dusk shots and Kodak Gold 100 for sunshine shots. The Gold 100 offers very fine grain, which is a nice attribute when you want to make enlargements.

Digital Guidelines.
At the 1999 Kodak International Balloon Fiesta, I saw more than a few digital cameras -- in the hands of amateurs and pros, alike. The beauty of a digital camera is that you can see your pictures immediately on the camera's LCD screen -- and delete the ones you don't like.

When "going digital," make sure your battery is fully charged and that you have plenty of extra batteries on hand because there are no power outlets for recharging on the field. Also don't skimp on memory or memory cards. I shoot with a 48MB Picture Card in my Kodak DC4800, which gives me 48 pictures at the 3.1 megapixel setting -- resolution high enough to see the line between the balloons and the baskets. I recommend shooting at high settings because you just may want to make a nice enlargement for your home or office wall. Naturally, you can shoot at a lower setting (lower resolution) if you only want to post pictures on the Web or e-mail them to your friends. Less memory is used at lower resolution settings. This frees up space for more pictures per memory card.

If your camera accepts accessory lenses, I'd recommend picking up accessory wide-angle and telephoto lenses. They will expand the range of your camera's zoom lens, and also expand your creative opportunities.

I hope you can make it to the biggest ballooning event of the year -- this year or some time in the future.

Have fun. And remember: Cameras don't take pictures, people do.

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