A Night in the Air, August 2022

On Saturday, August 12, I attended the annual Fire Lake Balloon Festival in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

A balloon crew fires a propane burner to inflate their craft in preparation for the "balloon glow" portion of the Fire Lake Balloon Festival.
A balloon crew fires a propane burner to inflate their craft in preparation for the “balloon glow” portion of the Fire Lake Balloon Festival.

This event is always very popular, and features more than just hot air balloons, like live music, a midway with vendors, various hunting and fishing seminars, inflatables, kid’s games, and, of course, food.

I arrived at Fire Lake in Shawnee, Oklahoma at about 7 p.m. just in time to photograph the late-afternoon balloon flights.
I arrived at Fire Lake in Shawnee, Oklahoma at about 7 p.m. just in time to photograph the late-afternoon balloon flights.
An airborne balloon is framed by two others preparing for takeoff.
An airborne balloon is framed by two others preparing for takeoff.
Balloon crews use fans to partially fill their balloon prior to heating them with their propane burners.
Balloon crews use fans to partially fill their balloon prior to heating them with their propane burners.
Hot air balloons are fun and easy to photograph.
Hot air balloons are fun and easy to photograph.
A very light breeze - required for hot air balloon launches - carries five balloons away from the launch site to the northwest.
A very light breeze – required for hot air balloon launches – carries five balloons away from the launch site to the northwest.

My goal, however, was to photograph the hot air balloons, since I hadn’t been to a balloon event in years.

One challenge facing photographers, including me, is to avoid clich├ęs and bring a fresh perspective to events that are photographed all year long by millions of people. “Ooo, pretty balloons” isn’t enough. My photos, and yours too, should do more than just show off your equipment or skills. They need to tell a story.

At this event, I saw more people making smartphone “selfies” than I have ever seen before.

I don't begrudge people making "selfies." I am simply glad they are having fun, and I hope they are capturing good memories.
I don’t begrudge people making “selfies.” I am simply glad they are having fun, and I hope they are capturing good memories.

My cameras for the evening were my Fujifilm X-T10 with a 16-55mm f/3.5-5.6 “kit lens,” and my Nikon D3 with the AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8D.

I introduced myself to these two event photographers, who told me they were working for the Pottawatomie Nation, the entity who runs the Festival. I sensed they were slightly annoyed by being accosted by an old photographer with old cameras like me.
I introduced myself to these two event photographers, who told me they were working for the Pottawatomie Nation, the entity who runs the Festival. I sensed they were slightly annoyed by being accosted by an old photographer with old cameras like me.
Between the afternoon balloon launch and the dusk "balloon glow," balloonists sold tethered rides for $20 per person.
Between the afternoon balloon launch and the dusk “balloon glow,” balloonists sold tethered rides for $20 per person.
You can see in this images that the Wonder Bread balloon has gotten soiled after years of flying, and needs a bath.
You can see in this images that the Wonder Bread balloon has gotten soiled after years of flying, and needs a bath.
A balloon crew struggles to hold their gondola steady as they board tethered ride customers.
A balloon crew struggles to hold their gondola steady as they board tethered ride customers.
Kids play in bubbles as they wait in line for tethered balloon rides.
Kids play in bubbles as they wait in line for tethered balloon rides.
A man uses a phone to photograph tethered balloon rides. I love the dusty evening light in this image.
A man uses a phone to photograph tethered balloon rides. I love the dusty evening light in this image.
I tethered balloon gondola is set against a bright red balloon.
I tethered balloon gondola is set against a bright red balloon.

Hot air ballooning is completely dependent on the weather. It has to be calm and clear, with no rain or other hazard in the forecast. Even a 10 mph wind can delay or cancel the flights. But the weather was just right on Saturday afternoon and evening, and all the ballon events went on as scheduled.

Crowds of people are bathed in deep amber light at sunset.
Crowds of people are bathed in deep amber light at sunset.
People sit on the edge of the balloon field as balloonists inflate their craft for the "balloon glow" portion of the event.
People sit on the edge of the balloon field as balloonists inflate their craft for the “balloon glow” portion of the event.
Sunset light shines through the top of a balloon as the crew inflates it. This part of the balloon is a large, round flap called a "parachute valve," and can be opened by a rope in the gondola to release hot air and allow the balloon to descend.
Sunset light shines through the top of a balloon as the crew inflates it. This part of the balloon is a large, round flap called a “parachute valve,” and can be opened by a rope in the gondola to release hot air and allow the balloon to descend.
A man uses a smartphone to photograph friends and relatives in the balloon field as dusk approaches.
A man uses a smartphone to photograph friends and relatives in the balloon field as dusk approaches.
A large family poses for a photo on the balloon field as evening approaches.
A large family poses for a photo on the balloon field as evening approaches.
Balloons fill the frame in this telephoto view as the evening's "balloon glow" approaches.
Balloons fill the frame in this telephoto view as the evening’s “balloon glow” approaches.
Propane burners shoot hot gases into balloons as they ready for the "balloon glow" portion of the event.
Propane burners shoot hot gases into balloons as they ready for the “balloon glow” portion of the event.
A crew shoots hot propane gasses into a balloon as dusk arrives.
A crew shoots hot propane gasses into a balloon as dusk arrives.
The characteristic blue flame from a propane burner fills a balloon with hot gasses, giving it buoyancy.
The characteristic blue flame from a propane burner fills a balloon with hot gasses, giving it buoyancy.

I thought of Abby throughout the night. Last year we talked about doing this together, but her health situation took a sharp downturn just a week before. I know she would have loved this.

The evening ended with the signature “balloon glow,” with balloons upright and tethered so pilots could light them up with their propane burners.

As darkness arrived, balloon pilots inflated their balloons and kept them moored for the "balloon glow."
As darkness arrived, balloon pilots inflated their balloons and kept them moored for the “balloon glow.”
The "balloon glow" was the pinnacle of the evening, and I felt like I captured it pretty well.
The “balloon glow” was the pinnacle of the evening, and I felt like I captured it pretty well.