Adventures in Photography: Hot Air Balloons Over Rhode Island

by Greg Lessard

“I can check that off the bucket list,” was the phrase that was said over and over again at the 32nd Annual South County Hot Air Balloon Festival, sponsored by the Wakefield Rotary Club. Hundreds of photographers and balloon enthusiasts attended the early morning liftoff at the University of Rhode Island campus in South Kingston, R.I. Many of the visitors also went up for a ride in one of the colorful balloons. Their joy at floating nearly one hundred feet above the ground was apparent on their faces as they returned from their flight.
Anxiously waiting in line for my turn to fly, I felt a twinge in my stomach as I read the sign that emphatically stated “You will be required to sign a waiver before entering balloon basket.” Thoughts ran through my head of stories of balloons crashing and flying very far away. Fortunately, this flight would be tethered to the ground.
Just as I was thinking of the infamous fiery zeppelin explosions, a thunderously loud bang rang out over the campus. I thought for sure that a balloon had made its final flight. Then, sheepishly, I noticed two revolutionary war re-enactors saluting the dawn with their muskets.

Soon, my chance to float high above the ground arrived. I was led to a beautiful multi-colored balloon named “Amazing Grace.” The owner, Gerard Lefevre, welcomed me and two other guests aboard. The basket was quite small and our heads were not too far from the flames that heated the balloon. Amazingly, you could barely feel the heat as it was directed straight upwards.
In no time at all, we had lifted off the ground. With my attention focused on photographing the interior of the balloon, I didn’t even realize that we were flying. We were nearly twenty feet up before I noticed that we had left the ground.
From the air, we could see for miles into the Rhode Island country side. Surprisingly, I was calm. This serene experience alleviated all of my nervousness and dissipated my fear of heights. I wished that we could float free; carried by the wind to an undisclosed location.

All too soon, we descended back to earth with a gentle tap upon the ground. I too was exhilarated and mentally checking off my bucket list. What a fabulous way to start a day!
The South County Hot Air Balloon Festival runs annually for three days in July. To get more information on the festival, visit this website:
For more info on “Amazing Grace”, visit the following website:

This month’s tip: Take advantage of being up close to the balloons. The balloons are a riot of color in the early morning light. Instead of using only your wide angle lens to photograph the entire balloon, use a medium telephoto lens. A 70-200mm zoom lens will let you isolate the most fascinating colors of each balloon. It will also allow you to combine the shapes of multiple balloons into beautiful layers of color.