Hot air balloon glow photography with film

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by williamtk1974, Oct 1, 2019.

  1. Hello everyone,

    Hopefully this is the correct spot for a question like this.

    Next month, a hot air balloon festival is taking place in my city at one of our parks by the river. From what I've read so far, they're not publicizing any early morning launches or flights, but are highlighting the 4pm til 11pm timeframe, with emphasis on the balloon glow that will take place as the sun's going down.

    My night photo experience is limited. I've done a fireworks show with some success, but the balloon glow thing is new. I have a pretty varied assortment of equipment, so I'm not worried about not having something useful, but I don't know much about the best color film for low light and after dark.

    The problem is figuring out what film to use. Should I go straight to an ISO 800 color film, or use ISO 400 and push it to 800? Or neither? I wish I thought Ektar 100 would work because its color can be so rich, but it can be so picky in low light. I really want to get the best colors and keep the sky dark without having excessive grain.

    From what I've read so far, it might be best to take my Nikon F90X camera and use a zoom lens. I have a Sigma 28-70mm 1:3.5-4.5 that's been good for alot of other projects. I also have an AF-Nikkor 1:1.8 50mm, and my grandfather's vintage Nikon F with lenses ranging from 35mm 1:2.8 to 50mm 1:1.4 and 1.8, to 135mm 1:2.8 and a Vivitar 85-205 1:3.8.

    Now, in the event that there is an early morning launch and flight, would Ektar work for that?

    Thank you,
  2. I haven't thought about balloon glow, but suspect that a lot would be in IR.

    Otherwise, I know that film cameras are a lot of fun, but I suspect that for low-light
    in color DSLR are the best choice.
  3. I'm surprised that more people don't seem to know about that type of photo subject. As the sun's going down, the pilots will inflate their balloons and then fire the burners to make the balloons glow from within. It's a colorful display. I lied a bit in my OP... I actually tried to do this at a similar festival a couple of years ago, and sent my film off to The Darkroom thanks to a friend's recommendation. The USPS lost my film, so I have no idea how any of it turned out. I would like to think some of the pics were good. To my mind, the challenge is accurately capturing the colors of the glowing balloons while maintaining the contrast of the dark sky.

    A DSLR might be the best choice because it allows for some experimentation that film won't, but I think a truly good shot looks best on film. I know this can be done; it's just a matter of how.
  4. I know exactly the kind of image you're chasing, and it sounds like a lot of fun. If we assume the grain of ISO 800 film will be OK with you, then you should be able to get some decent shots. Area shots from a distance or with a short focal length lens will be less prone to motion blur than telephoto. If it were me, I'd stand off a little bit, use a +/- normal lens at a medium-large aperture, and shoot as fast an exposure as possible. It might be worth some experimenting to see what kind of exposure values you'll need for the balloons with internal flame. It shouldn't be too big a deal to rig a mockup, and even experiment with a DSLR to determine initial values. I expect it will be difficult to determine your initial values on-site, as the last of the sunset and early twilight on the balloons will skew the exposure readings versus with internal flame as the primary light source. I also note the extreme variation in exposure values from the bright, raw flame at the base of the balloon to the upper half, being 4+ stops, so you'll have to determine your best value and shoot for that. I wish you luck and look forward to seeing your results.

    Addendum: Looking at various examples online, it appears a reasonable exposure value would be one which correctly exposes the ground equipment and people on the ground around the balloons when lit only by the burners after full dark.
  5. Yeah. Good luck with that shooting 35mm film.
    A definite +1 to that!
    But you don't even need a DSLR to improve on what 35mm colour film at 800 ISO will get you. Almost any recent digital camera with 12 Megapixels or more will do better.

    Truth is that at an event like this, you're going to be surrounded by dozens of other amateur shooters using digital cameras, and almost all of them are going to get clearer shots with better colour than your 800 ISO print film will give.
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2019
  6. As far as the whole digital thing goes, I'm just not quite ready to go there. One thing that's put me off is knowing that the image sensor in the average P&S and most DSLRs is not as big as a 35mm exposure. So, they can talk about all the mega-pixels they want, but if the shot is taking place on what amounts to a 110 negative, all those mega-pixels are only going to be good for so much. I know there are exceptions to this and that the technology should improve. But that's the thing... There are people out there who coughed up quite a sum to get a good DSLR a few years ago, there was alot of hoopla about how great they were, and now they've been superseded by something better. It's like buying a computer. You need it and it's going to cost more than you've paid for a running car in the past, and it'll be superseded in two or three years and no longer able to receive updates in six to eight years, and useless at around ten years...

    With a different size of image sensor comes different behavior from existing lenses. Is a 50mm prime lens still considered the best of the prime lenses?

    Last time I went to an event like this, my SO was using her iPhone to take pics. It may have been the 8 Plus she has now. She got some nice-looking pictures, but their weaknesses began to show when viewed on something other than the iPhone's screen.

    Now, I promise I'm not trying to turn this into an anti-digital rant. At some point, I'll probably take the plunge. But right now, the only advantage I see is that a digital user doesn't have to worry about getting film and having it developed. People were able to take film-based photos of images like the ones I've described before digital photography was a thing, and we liked what they got.
  7. Would using 800 film pulled to 400 work well? Alot of people talk like 800 Portra can be used that way. Now I'm wondering if it could be pulled to 200 without overexposing. I've also seen Lomography 800, and wondered what it was like. Who makes it? For awhile there, that brand got associated with the sort of hipster types who would spend $250 on a Holga camera and designer duct tape to light seal it...

    I may order some 800 Portra and get some low light practice between now and the event.
  8. Sorry, william, but your understanding of digital is very weak.

    There are lots of "full frame" sensors. Constant improvement will always be the case for ALL technology. If you get a camera that does what you want, you can easily ignore the constant upgrade process until you want to get back in. The fact another camera has been introduced does nothing to negate the one you already own. There are HUGE advantages to digital beyond simply not having to buy film. The fact you are unaware of them is not a condemnation of digital, nor an argument for the superiority of film. You may have noticed that there are very few photographers, professional and amateur, who have made the switch to digital long ago, and who would never go back to film. Film has become an "artistic choice" that some still make, but I know of almost no one who doesn't think that digital is empowering and liberating for their photography.

    For your problem with the balloon photography, my advice is also to think digital as a real solution to the issues you are concerned about. I shot film professionally years ago, so I'm not without perspective, and I know that getting the shots I think you are after is far more likely with a good digital camera system than with film. And shooting at high ISO values (likely necessary for what you want) is many, many times better with modern digital systems than with film. Re-think your "objections" to going digital.
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  9. You've raised some fair points, Larry, and I haven't said that I would never go digital. But I think my concerns have some validity. I also have a few others that I didn't mention in my previous replies. One of them is that I don't have the money that I feel like I should tie up in something like that. I probably could pull it off, and I'm not picky about buying used equipment as long as it's not used up. A vendor like KEH could probably be used for something like that. But money is money, and I try to be smart with it. I don't see that a DSLR, used or new, is a smart purchase right now.

    On top of that, think about the lenses. We all know that the statement that any Nikon lens will work on any Nikon camera is a myth. While I can use my grandfather's old AI lenses on my F90X, a few features are non-functional. With the newer DSLRs, they require a different set of glass entirely to fully take advantage of what they'll do. And that's where some serious cheddar can come in. It's almost like razors and blades...

    But please also keep the following in mind: I didn't come here to be told that I needed to change over to digital in order to get the images that I want for this particular situation. I came here to find out how to use what I have to best get what I want. Telling me to go digital isn't really all that helpful.
  10. Even if you use film, you don't need to go to high ISO.

    Here's a balloon in Kodachrome 64, back when
    williamtk1974 and Vincent Peri like this.
  11. Kodachrome was pretty picky about light conditions, wasn't it? I only got to shoot one roll before processing was discontinued. My pics turned out decent.

    How did you do this, and were you shooting at night?

    This comes back to wanting to use a film like Ektar 100 that offers bright colors without a high amount of grain.
  12. I confess it was dusk, rather than night. The balloon was being inflated. Like all slide films of the day, there was very little latitude. I was probably going for saturation and shooting at EI 80

    If I were shooting film today, I'd use Ektar 100

    Ambient Light
  13. Ok, I found this:
    Film Review: Kodak Ektar 100 by Night – On Film Only

    The forth pic is what I'm talking about. The sign might be brighter and whiter than a glowing balloon, but the principle is the same. Photographer said he exposed for the highlights, which I'm gonna guess means that he metered on the sign. So, the sign dominates the photo, but the dark areas of the pic weren't ruined. There are still some details.

    All the pics were taken in low light using Ektar 100 in low light. Some of them may lean a bit toward cyan, but they all have appeal.

    This shows that it can be done.
  14. So, you used Kodachrome 64 and underexposed it a bit by shooting it at 80. Did you have it processed like it had been pushed?

    Lomography - The Beauty of Ektar Pushed + 2 Stops
    This lady uses some toy cameras with Ektar 100, and shoots quite a bit of it pushed to 400 along with having it processed accordingly. Most of the images look good, and she got what I thought were some great after dark results doing that.
  15. No pushing, the point was to notch up saturation, so underexposure of that slide film was the cat's meow (did I really just say that, OMG!)

    For Color Negative, frankly, pushing or pulling processing is a waste of time. Film latitude can cover that.
  16. You're right. It was an "off topic" post, but I think you should really consider going digital. The advantages for just what you are concerned about are real.

    JDMvW has your "film" answer. I totally agree with that advice for film, but ....... think about digital.
  17. Not the least of the advantages of digital is the abillty to chimp as you go
  18. I didn't mean to come off like I was losing my cool. You're correct in that I should probably be thinking about the next step, Larry. KEH had a couple of good used D800s in their inventory, and for someone like me, that would be a logical option. But like I said, not yet.

    Part of the problem I had was that I posted a similar query on another photo-related forum. There was no sign that it was exclusively film or digital. Just the typical forum where people are talking about projects, photos, their gear, asking questions, sharing tips etc. The lone response I received was along the lines of, "Well, I've never done that before, you might have better luck with digital, and find some photographer who's done something like what you're talking about and ask them." I was like, why do you think I'm here...

    I appreciate the advice I've received here. It appears that I can take a risk and use Ektar 100 pushed for slight underexposure, f11 on my lens, aperture priority for the most part, and don't forget a tripod. I went ahead and ordered a few rolls of the film and what appeared to be a nice cross-body camera strap. Neck straps get to feeling really heavy really fast.

    Hopefully I can get some low-light practice in before the big event, and no harm in normal day practice either since we have a car show locally this weekend.

    Thank you again,
  19. Balloons don't move very fast, so a tripod might solve some film speed problems.
  20. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    I am somewhat amused when I see people talking bout using (large) 35mm format as opposed to smaller formats. At one time 35mm cameras were considered miniature cameras. That ~1.5 x 1 inch size has to be blown up 80 times in area to get an 8x10 inch print. If one is worried about loss of quality from using even smaller than full frame one should get larger format, 4x5 negatives that only have to be blown up 4 times in area to get an 8x10 inch print. Or even medium format. Using anything smaller is settling for convenience rather than quality.
    William Michael likes this.

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