2011 Top 10 Photo Moments … Number 8

Let the countdown begin! Over the next few weeks I’ll work my way down a list of my Top 10 Favorite Photo Moments from last year. I’ll post an outtake photo or two, a link to the finished project (a few are coming soon in 2012!), and a few words about what made that particular place—or shooting moment—so memorable. Stay tuned for Number 7, coming soon!

#8 Quechee Hot Air Balloon and Craft Festival, Quechee, Vermont: Last summer I photographed the Quechee Hot Air Balloon and Craft Festival for our upcoming Vermont Icons book. It’s always held on Father’s Day weekend and the kickoff is Friday evening. The officials were deciding whether or not to cancel that evening’s flight because of impending bad weather. While everyone was waiting, I struck up a conversation with Dick Young from A Beautiful Balloon, Inc., and he kindly invited me to hang out with his crew for the evening. The word came from the officials: no flight that evening. It was a bit disappointing, but safety is top priority at the Festival. While enjoying a lovely spot of wine and strawberries and conversation with the crew, Dick and Mary Beth (his wife, also a pilot) welcomed me to join them in the morning and ride along in the balloon chase van.

At 6 am the next day, fog drifted and hung low along the edge of the field, threatening to spoil the morning’s flight. I found Dick and Mary Beth and the crew on the field and waited with them while the officials made their decision. Finally, enough fog burned off and it was a “go!” I moved throughout the field photographing the teams as they laid out and inflated their balloons. A few balloons lifted up into the sky, and then Dick gave the go ahead, and the crew began to prepare their balloon. I can still hear the ffffffffffffffffff! as the crew turned on the burner flame and filled the balloon with hot air. When the balloon was prepped and triple checked for safety, Dick—who was piloting that flight—invited his passengers to climb into the wicker basket. After a safety talk with his passengers and a final check, off they went! They slowly floated up into the cloudy sky, every so often we could hear the hiss from the burner flame and watched them float higher. Then, Mary Beth informed me, the chase was on!


Mary Beth drove the chase van and the crew gave me the prime seat: shotgun! The balloon traveled toward town and we drove down the Main Street toward the shops. It was out of our sight for awhile so Mary Beth checked in with Dick via radio and he informed us they were traveling towards a school. We stopped the van and I hopped out for a moment to take some pictures of other balloons and all of a sudden, there they were—floating over the van! The crew looked on their maps and found a road that would lead us to the school. We chased the balloon to the school then Dick communicated with us that they wouldn’t land there, they were headed back toward town.

Off we went, losing sight of the balloon, and then it came back into view once we were on Main Street. Dick let us know they were about to land, so we parked the van on the side of the road and hopped out. We looked up and the balloon was crossing Main Street and  about to land on the front lawn of a house! I ran back, away from the balloon, and photographed its descent—my favorite moment—it landed so quietly, almost stealthily (except for the fact that a crowd had gathered and cheered as it landed!). I made a series of images of the landing, thinking that one day when I have a little extra time, I’ll edit them together as a multimedia piece.

After the balloon was folded up and it and the basket were stowed away in the van, Dick, Mary Beth and his crew had a celebratory toast and nibbles which they shared with the passengers, the folks from the house, and all the spectators who gathered to watch (and help take down the balloon!). It was a great morning shared with some of the nicest folks I’ve ever met!

Project: Vermont Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Green Mountain State, Globe Pequot Press, July 2012.