Eight Tips for Capturing the Great Reno Balloon Race

Balloons are always on the slow move - creating endless angle possibilities.

Early September in Reno is a beautiful time of year for the city. School has started once again, sweatshirts arrive for the new morning chill, the morning skies appear to have a bit more color to them, probably due to a hint of smoke billowing in the air.

Then we add balloons to the mix.

A beautiful explosion of colorful dots peppering the skyline and bouncing on the mountain ridges that can be seen from just about anywhere in the Reno valley.

If you are an early riser then you get a light show that starts before the sun rises. That portion of the event won't be covered in this article but is a good experience at least once.

I arrive for the mass ascension which begins at 7am.

Since 2013, I've been able to shoot the balloons on iPhones, crop sensors, and full frame cameras. Each year finding a new spot and viewpoint of the balloons that go into the air year after year for four days each September.

In my mind, I regard the Reno Balloon Races to be one of the most magical events to capture.

Here are ten tips and ideas to get the inspiration flowing for the next balloon mass ascension:

1. There are two lenses I use for this event

  1. Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8

  2. Canon 16-35mm F/4

It should be stated that any range lens will work at this event. Art can be created in so many ways with these balloons at any focal length.

However, being close to the balloons creates the need for a wide lens necessary to capture the entire balloon. These things are big!

Also, if all 70+ balloons are stretching across the sky, it’s nice to use a wide lens to capture the many balloons scattered across the horizon.

The Star Spangled Banner is played before the mass ascension each day

The telephoto lens allows for more up close and personal shots of people in balloons and the designs on the balloon. This lens can also be used to capture balloons as they dance in front of the City of Reno skyline.

As always, I recommend the Tamron version of the 70-200mm F/2.8 telephoto lenses. For the price and the quality, it deserves to be mentioned as a great all around lens that produces spectacular images.

2. There are two ponds with reflection possibilities

Utilize the existing ponds in the park to capture reflections in the smooth morning water.

This map of lower Rancho San Rafael Park indicates where the two ponds for reflection images are located.

Pond 1 is the larger of the two ponds. It is located on the eastern side of the park towards UNR.

Pond 1

When shooting at the ponds remember; The wind decides which pond will get reflections, and sometimes both get ignored from the balloons.

If the wind is right then these ponds can be magical.

Also good remember etiquette when shooting as these spots. Images can easily be ruined if you get in front of someone's reflection. Be aware of your safety, others, and then your shot once the other two are lined up.

Pond 2 is smaller and can be a duck nightmare, ruining any chance of reflection even if the balloons are perfectly lined up. Just like the winds, ducks are also unpredictable.

Pond 2

Bridge over Pond 2

3. Close viewpoints from above

Pick your favorite viewpoint of Reno's skyline and chances are you will see balloons on the mornings of the races.

The mountainside "N" represents the University of Nevada. It also offers exceptional views of the balloons from above.

Two places in particular are well known and offer exceptional views.

The first is the mountainside "N" that is within hiking distance and balloons can be seen from anywhere along or around this path. It is the least populated of all the spots. Please respect our desert and pack it in and pack it out if you go for this hike.

The second spot is above and within the Rancho San Rafael Park disc golf course on the north side of McCarren Blvd.

Both are great spots as many balloons will end up landing in or around this location depending on winds.

Another advantage to these higher spots, in addition to the many others not mentioned in this article (go explore, just don't trespass) are the views of the Reno skyline. If the winds are on a northeasterly path then these opportunities are abundant.

A view from the Disc Golf Course

4. The Thursday ascension

Thursday is reserved for a practice flight for balloons and the event to work out logistics a day before the masses arrive. This is also media day, which allows local and national media outlets closer access to the event.

Reflection at Pond 1

If you have press credentials or are shooting for a publication this a good day to get up close.

If you aren't a part of the media, it is still a good day to catch the mass ascension from afar - refer to list number 8.

5. Timelapses are a pleasure to record here

If you love to record timelapse videos then this a great event to create timelapse magic.

The shorter intervals between shots will allow for buttery smooth video of these magical blobs soaring through the sky, seeming as to almost collide at all times in timelapse motion.

The trickiest part of recording a steady, evenly produced content video is the wind direction. If the wind direction is timed perfectly to allow for the balloons to be in one frame for a long period of time, magic happens.

Another option is multiple angles across different viewing locations.

6. Go shoot somewhere else, anywhere else

Allow yourself to explore and discover weird angles in town to capture creative images with balloons in the background.

The Reno Arch, Reno Fire Department, and Balloons

7. Finding creative shots on the field

These balloons are very large. Compared to what seems smaller in the sky, when you are standing next to one, you say, "wow."

Use these moments to capture that bigness of what is happening and the extraordinary nature of having such an odd, magical festival each year.

The field is a people place. These are the folks making it happen.


Find the people that tell the story of the event.

Give perspective to the vibe, size, and colors.

Capture the freedom of flight.

Discover patterns that are just awe-inspiring.

8. Invite the people you love to enjoy and capture their joy

It's a great time of year for a few days of magic and inspiration to brighten everyone's spirits and imagination.

Thank you for taking the time to read through and be sure to check each year as we add to the list. Please comment with other ideas and inspiration so our community can inspire new art every year.

As a side note, if you enjoy the articles you read here and learn something useful, please consider making your gear purchases through the Amazon links throughout the site. This supports more articles to be possible in the future.

Thanks again everyone, enjoy the balloons!