It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Balloonists, lining the streets of Page, Arizona with their baskets and burners. Controlled fire was everywhere, synchronized to music. Let me show you a bit of what I'm talking about.
It was supposed to be a lighting event. Hot air balloons were to be filled and sitting on the ground, lit up and displayed from one end of the road to the other. Imagine my excitement as a photographer, drooling at the prospect of both seeing and shooting this for the first time. Imagine my disappointment when the ten mile an hour wind speed limit had been reached. A long line of beautiful, lit balloons just wasn't in the plan that night. I figured my great opportunity had been crushed. As you can see from the photos, it flourished, morphed from what was to be into what you see in the photos.
Those balloonists, what can I say? Apparently they're stubborn, not easily stopped from properly entertaining their followers. They hatched a genius plan that turned out to be absolutely beautiful. I had no idea, but I was about to feed my lenses with fire! The very same wind that stopped the flames from filling the balloons was now about to sculpt an amazing display. And just as we heard the news about the lack of balloons and turned tail back toward the car, we were told about the replacement plan. We figured "why not check it out". Thankfully, we found some pretty amazing reasons.
Burners lit and ready. Fire away...
It was a bit chilly that night, but it didn't matter over here. You could feel the intense, instant heat form these burners from quite a distance. The nanosecond someone would pull the cord would bring out quite a show. The sound was big, a quick rushing combination of roar and rumble. The light glowed intensely, a beautiful blue at the bottom that worked it's way up through deep oranges and yellows, ending tens of feet above the burners.
There were non-stop hoots and hollers, constant excited shouts from a crowd that was free to wander around the baskets and get close to the fire. Along side was a festival of delicious, celebratory foods. There were vendors who sold trinkets, shirts and artwork. It was quite an amazing site to stroll through the streets, passing under stop lights and signs, choosing vantage points to see flame after flame.
Burners would fire one, then the next, then the next. At times there would be one down the way firing along with one next to us while many in between lay dormant. Patterns of cord pulling, bright light and roaring sound would develop into successions of flames while music synced up in the background.
Every once in a while you could hear commands spoken over two-way radios, calling to the balloonists to lay fire with timing. My favorite was to hear "All burn in 3... 2... 1..." just before the entire street lit up for a few seconds, every basket, every burner.
Normally I'm slow when it comes to shooting. Most of the time I take a good thirty to sixty seconds to set up one frame. On occasion I've taken as much as fifteen minutes or more just to perfectly align one image. That night in Page, Arizona was totally different. The balloon regatta had added a new style to my skill set. I've taken some long hard hikes to get to get to a place I want to capture, but never used this much energy just for the actual shots. I was moving and focusing quickly, holding the shutter button down for long periods, letting the camera take in round after round. By the time it was all said and done, it took less than an hour to rack up almost 700 images!
In post-processing, it took a bit for my excitement to build. Imagine thumbing (with a track pad that is) through hundreds of images, all looking about the same at first. After about an hour of this I'd grabbed a few for later. With all of that work I'd found some that felt very artistic, exciting even.
In the above image, the white circle you see toward the bottom of the flame is a full moon.
I see a face in the image above. I call him "Lyle". I'd love to hear your comments if you know which Lyle I'm referring to.
City streets just weren't meant to be used like this. Safe, controlled fire under stop lights and street lamps. Hot Air Balloon baskets sitting on pavement, just outside of business and restaurant entrances. People walking around fire, smiling, laughing, pointing at bright flames. Thank you Page, Arizona! Thank you Balloon crews! Thank you ten plus mile an hour winds!
Mainly here I've focused on the fire display the night before the second flight. Remember I mentioned stubborn balloonists? I learned even more about that because on the next day, the weather wasn't quite cooperating again, this time for the launch. Instead of giving up, they split up and left the main launch site. The crews spread out to different spots around Page and launched. It was incredible, balloons popping up all over the horizon. You can also see images from that moment in the transport gallery or by clicking them below...