Photographing Balloons at Dawn – Great Reno Balloon Race 2023

Photographing Reno Balloons at Predawn

My journey to The Great Reno Balloon Race began at the early hour of 4:15 am. My goal was to capture this enchanting event during the predawn hours. Armed with my camera backpack and strong coffee, I embarked on a journey that would test my early hour photography skills. The early morning streets were surprisingly alive with fellow enthusiasts, all heading to the same destination. The anticipation in the air was palpable as I navigated through the crowd, searching for the perfect vantage point on the field to document the pilots and crew preparing the balloons.

My Suggested Camera Settings For Balloons in Predawn Light

Photographing this spectacle before the sunrise presented a unique set of challenges, most notably the mastery of low-light photography. With only the faintest hint of daylight gracing the sky, the vibrant colors of the balloons were delicate treasures waiting to be uncovered. I chose to forgo a tripod in favor of fluidity, a decision that pushed the boundaries of my photography skills. As I gazed upon the dimly lit landscape, I adjusted my settings, juggling between ISO (1600 and 3200) and shutter speed, all in an attempt to capture the essence of this moment. The ambient light was minimal, a mere whisper from distant car headlights, occasional flashlights, and the gentle slice of the moon. My goal was to maintain a shutter speed above 1/10 sec to preserve sharpness, all while handheld, and hope that the balloons remained still as I clicked away with my trusty 14mm lens at f1.8.

A close-up image of the team working to inflate their balloon, photo by Evan Petty

Balloons Begin to Inflate for the Great Reno Balloon Race Glow Show 2023

Soon, the spectacle began to unfold before my lens as the balloon pilots and crew ignited their fires, bringing the balloons to life. The delicate dance of flame and air, feeling the warmth and intensity of their powerful burners. As the balloons grew more vertical, I remained mindful of the heat’s potential to singe which has happened to me on more than one occasion.

The field of balloons in preparation of the Glow Show 2023, photo by Evan Petty
Balloon pilot Adrian Held raising the balloon from the ground to a vertical position, photo by Evan Petty
A smile from pilot Adrian Held, photo by Evan Petty

Every 20-30 seconds the gas burners kept the balloons inflated, creating a mesmerizing display on the field with exhilarating shots of the fiery dance. The crowd awakened as the announcer introduced each pilot, sharing their origins and tidbits of information that added depth to the experience.

A viewer watching the “twinkle twinkle” of the Glow Show, photo by Evan Petty
A simultaneous balloon glow, photo by Evan Petty

Balloon Dawn Patrol and Liftoff!

With the conclusion of the Glow Show, the balloons were deflated and repositioned, making way for the grand spectacle of the Dawn Patrol liftoff. The Dawn Patrol liftoff was nothing short of a spectacle. As the sky gradually revealed the first hints of sunrise, the balloons ascended, casting a warm and ethereal glow. The balloons painted the sky with their vibrant hues. The announcer’s playful request for the pilots to “twinkle twinkle” alternated the lights, creating a magical, synchronized dance of luminosity. My personal favorite moment was when all the balloons would glow simultaneously, allowing me to capture stunning, perfectly lined-up shots.

Dawn Patrol liftoff, photo by Evan Petty
Dawn Patrol liftoff tight formation, photo by Evan Petty

This year, the weather graced us with no wind, ensuring the balloons remained together in a tight formation. In my nearly two decades of attending this event, I can hardly recall a year with weather as cooperative as this one.

A family watches the glow from the balloons from the west side of the field, photo by Evan Petty

Sunrise and Views of the Field

The ethereal glow from the balloons is an awe-inspiring dream first thing in the morning. Capturing this fleeting beauty is an inspirational reminder of the beauty that can be found in the early hours of the day. Kudos to the amazing team that brings us the Great Reno Balloon Race each year.

Balloons on the east side of the field, photo by Evan Petty
A spectator photographing the T-6 flyover, photo by Evan Petty

#renoballoonrace #renoballoonraces #renoballoon #greatrenoballoonrace #grbr #renotahoe #homemeansnevada #renoisrad #cityofreno #renonevada #travelnevada #renolens #biggestlittlecity #momentslikethis #flywithme #upupandaway #beautifuldestinations #hotairballoonfestival #hotairballoon

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on unique places to shoot photography and video around Lake Tahoe and Northern Nevada, please reach out to me:

About Evan

Evan is a freelance photographer based in Reno, NV. When he is not shooting freelance photography for clients, Evan is shooting aerial photography, landscape and astrophotography, as well as other unique projects. Evan’s photography has been featured in the Guggenheim, CBS Sunday Morning, United Nations and more.

See Evan’s Aerial Photography around Reno | Lake Tahoe | Northern Nevada:

See Evan’s Online Photography Print Gallery including landscapes, astrophotography, and more:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *