Balloon filming in practice
By Last Refuge (Company)
Advantages of filming from a balloon
When balloon photography works successfully, the result can be visually very satisfying. It is the ultimate in smooth aerial platforms and there is no need to over crank the camera to smooth out bumps or aircraft vibration. There is also time to consider a shot more carefully, and there is the potential to fly low enough to skim the grass blades.
Some problems with filming from a balloon
Balloons are severely restricted by weather.
It is difficult, and uncomfortable, to take off or land in windy conditions.
In tropical areas, it can be dangerous to fly during the heat of the day when a turbulent thermal can toss the balloon about alarmingly, or, worse still, suck a lot of the air out of the envelope.
Balloons cannot choose the direction to fly in - they go wherever the wind blows them, which not only means you can't go around for a second chance at a shot, but landing areas need to be planned well ahead of time.
Balloons are not available everywhere, and, even where they are, they are expensive, and time consuming, requiring a ground crew with a vehicle suitable for the terrain and large enough to accommodate all the equipment. The difficulties in recovery in remote areas cannot be over estimated, either.
Filming animals from a balloon
If you are planning to film animals from the air, a balloon is not the most suitable platform – they do not like the burner noise or the huge profile, so they will run away from you as fast as they can if you are at low level, and if you go higher, there is always the possibility that the wind will carry you on a course that carries you and your balloon out of range of that huge herd of wildebeest that you thought you could not miss when you assessed the ground wind before take off.
Filming landscapes from a balloon
If you simply want landscapes, and recovery is not a problem, then balloons can provide an exciting way of getting some interesting shots. Don't limit yourself, though, to placing the camera in the basket on a conventional tripod or clamped mount on the side of the basket. If you do, the camera will be too high for those dramatic ground skimming shots.
Using a camera platform with a balloon
For the film ETOSHA, in "The Living Edens" series for ABC/Kane, we built a camera platform outside the basket which was hinged so it could be stowed neatly for take-off and landing; but, when deployed, provided a large enough surface to walk around on, with a 35 mm camera mounted on a high hat. The platform, made from marine plywood, was suspended from the balloon burner frame by thin steel cables, and more steel cables provided safety lines for both the camera and operator.