Bealeton Balloon Fest, Part 2

By Roger (28 August 2016)

As you read in our last blog, Mark and I stopped by the Bealeton Flying Circus, for their balloon festival. I've always loved these events. I have photographed several balloon fests, in the past, so I had high hopes, based on my previous experiences.

My first balloon fest was in Augsburg, Germany, back in 1981. The balloons there were the old style balloons, with helium, instead of hot air. The balloons were encompassed in nets which were staked down as the balloon was filled with gas. You can see the nets weighed down in the first photo. Just prior to liftoff, the pilot attached the net to toggles in the cockpit; sandbags and tether lines were released; and the balloon took off. These photos are both shot with a 50mm lens, on my trusty Canon F-1. As you can see in the second photo, we could get right next to the balloons.

Balloon Fest, in Augsburg, Germany

Balloon Fest, in Augsburg, Germany

The pilot securing net toggles

The pilot securing net toggles

I shot several of these events over my two assignments to Germany. In more recent years, I've continued to get in close to the crews during their preparations. The draw now is the flames from the burners. They put out some really cool flames. Again, I have used normal or shorter telephoto lenses.

Get in close to catch the burner flame (Wisconsin Rapids)

Get in close to catch the burner flame (Wisconsin Rapids)

I mention the lenses because, as Mark said in his blog, I made some assumptions for the Flying Circus event and wasn't as prepared as I could have been. In short, I didn't bring a long telephoto lens. It turned out this balloon fest was different than the others I've attended. Since the airfield was active, with several bi-planes landing and taking off, we were not able to get close to the balloons while they were being prepped. My longest lens was a 70-200mm; not long enough to get close in photos. I was disappointed, but I was there, so I had to photograph something before I went home.

At first, I made the same photographs as Mark. We both shot the two plane formation. with the moon in the background. And both saw the planes flying behind the yellow balloon and knew the compression, from the telephoto, would make it appear as if they were flying in close formation.

Flying with the moon

Flying with the moon

Almost the same shot Mark took

Almost the same shot Mark took

I was a little disappointed and ready to leave when I realized it was time to adapt to the situation and change my plan of action. Since the pilots were offering rides, for a small fee, I decided to get a different perspective on the balloons. The slow speed and open cockpits of the bi-planes make them a great platform for aerial photography. I talked to the pilot, and he agreed to help me out by flying around the balloons. It made my day a success.

After climbing over the wing and into the front cockpit, I settled down for the ride. The pilot asked me to keep my hands off the controls; that was a pretty easy request to honor since it's pretty sparse in the Stearman cockpit.

Stearman cockpit RD42815

The ride was spectacular. I've been up in many types of aircraft, including an interesting trip in a doors-open military helicopter flying at high speed and nap of the earth, but this ride was pure enjoyment.

The pilot went right to work for me. Many of the balloons were beginning to land, and he knew where they would probably touch down. He flew over a vineyard, with a balloon down by the pond, and put the plane into a shallow bank to give me a shot without the wings in the viewfinder. I had switched to my 24-120mm zoom, and that was the perfect lens for the job, and I didn't have to worry about vibration from the wind buffeting the longer (and heavier) 70-200mm.

Convenient - landing the balloon next to a vineyard

Convenient - landing the balloon next to a vineyard

He took me by balloons flying over trees, in hay fields, and by farms. We saw six different balloons and were on our way back when we saw one last balloon. It was still flying and just getting ready to cross over a pond. I was getting ready to point it out when he told me to make this one good because it was time to return to the airfield. I made my favorite photo of the day from the two circles he made.

I wish there was a reflection, but it is still my favorite.

I wish there was a reflection, but it is still my favorite.

On the way back, we passed over the airfield, so I could get a shot of the small hanger, at the end of the grass airstrip. The trip was worth every penny it cost (hint: it was less than $100). I had not intended to spend the money for the ride, but I was really glad I did. It made the day for me and provided a completely different perspective from the other balloon fest photos I have.

Airstrip RD42960

Don't forget the Worldwide Photowalk is coming on 1 October. Although there is no cost, you must register to participate in all the fun. You can find our walk, in Shepherdstown, WV, here. If you'd like to check other locations, you can find them here. Come join us for a fun time.

Bealeton Balloon Festival -Ground View

By Mark

One of my favorite local events is the annual hot air balloon festival at the Bealeton Flying Circus.  I convinced Roger to get up before dawn and head down there.  Now to be fair, I told him not to bother showing up before 6:30 as they wouldn’t start launching until later.  He of course got there much earlier thinking they would have the balloons all fired up and ready to go.  Not so much. 

It was a really calm morning and the biplanes were out on dawn patrol, keeping company with the moon.

Unlike last year, they didn’t let us get up close to the takeoff points where they filled up the balloons.  We had to stay behind the fences and watch as the ground crews delivered the gondolas and envelopes to the field.

One of the things I enjoy most is the bright vibrant colors.  

Soon enough the first balloons were off with suitable escorts.  

They walked the purple one over by the fence to better load the paying passengers for their rides.

This year they had some experimental balloons as well, including this one from a local dentist.  It doesn’t have a basket, just a reinforced lawn chair.   

He just flew it the length of the field then, landed and collapsed it.  That was interesting to watch as well.

Other balloonists had taken off from the airport trying to make it to the airfield to land.  Unfortunately, the winds didn’t cooperate, so they landed in the fields and farms surrounding the area.

One of features of the flying circus is the opportunity to go flying in the open cockpit Stearmans.  Roger decided it was time and he will be posting his shots from the air, which are, I hate to say, very cool shots.  

Getting in to the plane requires a lot of grace and skill and the patient assistance of the ground crew.  

Taxiing, takeoff, a very low pass across the field, and then the careful return to earth.  

.  It looked like a blast and you will enjoy the photos from the plane.  

Worldwide Photowalk 2016

By Roger (15 August 2016)

It's time to register for another Worldwide Photowalk. Scott Kelby announced this year's walk on his blog, today. He has been organizing the WWPW for nine years; Mark and I have participated every year and led walks for seven years. This year, we'll meet in Shepherdstown, WV, at 9 a.m., Saturday, 1 October.

These photowalks are always a fun social event. It's an opportunity to visit a new location; practice your techniques; and learn from other people who have the same interests. Besides, we all need to get outside and work on our step counts, right?

Our group from the 2013 Worldwide Photowalk, in Williamsburg

Mark and I visited Shepherdstown, this weekend, to map out the route. We'll start and end at the Bavarian Inn (link). They are right along the Potomac River and have an easy parking lot. We arranged to have room for us to have a great post-walk lunch and a place we can talk and chimp. You don't have to buy lunch, but we'd sure like to chat with you after the walk.

Shepherdstown is the oldest town in West Virginia. It was laid out from land granted to Thomas Shepherd in 1734 and chartered in 1762. The town has played roles in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. There are historic buildings, a street market, unique shops, a public garden, and Shepherd University. All of these attractions are along our easy route, which is less than two miles.

Worldwide Photowalks are a great way to meet other photographers. We usually bring a light camera bag – sometimes as light as one camera, one lens. There is a competition for those interested; it certainly isn't mandatory. If your photo is judged the best of the walk, you'll win a free year of KelbyOne online training. The winning photo will be forwarded to the main photo competition, where the prizes are much bigger, including a new Canon 5D Mark III and lens. Scott will have a full list of the prizes in a future blog, but the grand prize list usually exceeds $10,000 in value.

Our 2014 Harpers Ferry walkers

Our 2014 Harpers Ferry walkers

From last year's Worldwide Photowalk, in Culpeper

From last year's Worldwide Photowalk, in Culpeper

We recommend you bring lots of enthusiasm, comfortable shoes, a bottle of water, and any camera gear you want to carry. You can use any camera, including old film cameras or your phone. At one of our Williamsburg walks, one of the photographers used a pinhole camera. This year they even have a category for video if that is your bag.

You can find our walk here. Although there is no cost, you must register to participate in all the fun. If you'd like to check other locations, you can find them here. Come join us for a fun time.

Photowalk D304339

The Flying Circus

By Mark

Photographing airplanes from the ground is very hard.  Usually they are too small in the frame to get much detail and if they are against the sky, it is tough to have any sense of scale. 

Luckily, old style flying shows still exist and we are fortunate to have one nearby.  We went out an overcast but still very hot morning to see the show.

Camera EXIF data

Camera EXIF data

Because of the relatively slow speed of the aircraft, I knew I wanted to shoot in Shutter Priority mode and set my speed at 1/800th of a second.  Additionally, I changed my metering mode to spot as I really wanted the camera to focus on the airplane.   Even with that, the relative smallness of the plane versus the much brighter sky, meant that the images were going to be too dark.  I cranked in +1 EV of exposure compensation to start, but wound up having to take it to 1 2/3 EV more than the camera thought necessary.   I had my 70-200mm f2.8 on (my favorite lens), but knew that was not going to be enough.  As you look at the EXIF data, you will see that my focal length wound up being 340mm.  I used my 1.7 “doubler” which magnifies your image at the cost of 1 or 2 stops of light.   In post processing I really cropped the images significantly, removing more than 50 per cent of the image so that you could actually see what was going on.

 Created after World War 1, as the United States sold off many of the planes they had built, flying circuses and barnstormers crisscrossed the nation, giving most people their first sight of an airplane and for many, their first ride.  As the competition between shows grew more intense, the length they would go to for stunts also grew. Wing walking, if you haven’t seen it, requires a person to climb out of their cockpit and climb out onto the wing.  Since most of these aircraft were biplanes, they did have plenty of struts and wires to hang on to.

One of my wife’s fellow teacher’s boyfriend happens to be not only one of the pilots, but also is the wing walker. 

Bealeton Flying Circus Pt 2-201.jpg

Joe is a very brave young man. In real life he runs his own cattle ranch.    His first trick, once he is on the lower wing is go hang upside down, from the wing, only holding on with his feet.  

Next he climbs on top of the airplane’s top wing.  This whole process is done without any kind of parachute and often times without any tether.  At least there is a post and some foot straps because, the pilot then starts doing aerobatics.  Here is Joe going all the way around a loop.  At one point is twice as heavy as on the ground, and then he is weightless.

To cap off their show they unfurl a lovely American flag and buzz the crowd at pretty low levels.

A successful landing is one you can walk away from is an old pilot’s adage.  Here they come back to earth.   

.   If you live close to Northern VA, you should definitely make this a weekend destination.   Hours and schedule are posted on their website:    You can also buy flights in their open cockpit aircraft.  It is a lot of fun and the balloon festival is coming up soon.