This past weekend was the Elephant Butte Balloon Regatta located at Elephant Butte State Park in New Mexico. I went for two of the three days as I was completely unaware of the media & sponsor day. I had an enjoyable experience overall but, I'm not sure if I would go to this particular festival again next year. I'll explain myself on that thought later.
To start things off, I have finally met the pilot/owner of a hot air balloon that is present in many of my best photos. Look at the trading card next to this paragraph, and you'll see that the balloon is called, "Vacation", and its pilot/owner is Janet Sofferra. I had seen this balloon at many balloon festivals prior but I had yet to speak to the pilot until now. So, I made a new friend!
I also met up with pilot Kelly Price and crew, and his balloon "Primary Colors". As always, they're wonderful people to meetup with during balloon festivals.
The big allure of the Elephant Butte Balloon Regatta is the potential to see hot air balloons over a large reservoir. Families can enjoy the beach whilst watching balloons fly overhead. There were many spectators so, clearly, this is a well advertised event that is worth going to. Photographically, this scenario should have some interesting moments to capture.
Unfortunately, on my first day, the light was not so great. Clouds were obscuring the sun which made the light flat, and dulling the colors of the balloons. Nothing much any photographer can do about weather. Then on the second day, I was crewing for Janet who was doing the tethered rides so my movement was restricted. This is a choice I made, and I enjoyed crewing. Should my focus be taking photos only, I would be hesitant on crewing.
Okay, I might as well move onto the topic of why I may not revisit this event next year.
The reservoir was very sad looking. No, it doesn't have a sad face but, the water level was surprisingly low. It may be difficult to tell from the images that I have posted but, the lake looked unimpressive. A frequent comment from the participants was about the low water line. It's honestly concerning to see as temperatures are gradually on the rise. Looking on the maps, the entire event was taking place within the lake however, we were all clearly on hard ground.
The second, and most significant, reason is that the sun is on the wrong side. Well, I guess you could argue that the event is on the wrong side of the sun. Either way, the balloons for this event typically fly towards the sun, flying over the lake, leaving photographers their shaded side facing them. This doesn't make pleasing photos in my opinion. So just move to the lit side of the balloons, right? Well, if you've got a boat you can certainly do this. I don't have a boat though.
A third minor reason is that the beach is kind of dirty... A common trait of many beaches is unfortunately litter. Trash, dog poop, etc, you'll find something gross at a beach. If you don't see it, you may smell it. I smelled something unpleasant. Usually you can count on some kind of breeze to alleviate the stench. Think about it though, balloons fly in calm winds. So the smells lingered until later in the morning when the breeze picked up. This is definitely a minor complaint but, it did impact my experience.
Honestly, Elephant Butte State Park is pretty alright for any photographic opportunities. However, if I can't get good light on the balloons, I'm going to have a difficult time. The unique feature of having such a large lake nearby makes it physically challenging to get into a spot with good light. Even if I had access to a boat, I wouldn't take my camera on board until I have some kind of waterproof housing. And I have no intention of spending money on a housing that I would only use once a year.
Looking back on what I've written so far, it looks like I'm just full of complaints. I don't mean to dampen the experience for anyone else. If you've never been to this festival, and want to photograph it, I say do it. At least try it once. For me though, unless if there's a very compelling reason to photograph it this even again, I ain't going. Or, if I do go again, I may leave my camera behind.
Take a look at the photos that I have taken below. Honestly, I did not get any winners from this one.