While you were sleeping….

I know I have posted more than a few photos of the hot air balloons as they descend near our house in north Napa. However, I had never been able to get myself up early enough to capture photos of them preparing for launch up in Yountville. (Truth be told, I actually did get up early twice and drove up there at 5:30am on days when I was working from home and did not have to commute to San Jose, but it was too foggy and I eventually found out they were not flying that day. Talk about a bummer….)

Well, about ten days ago I was working from home on a Friday, and I had a pretty good idea the night before that the skies would be clear, so Laurie and I got up at 5:15am and drove 7 miles north to Yountville to the golf course where they lift off from the driving range. I took my camera and my tripod, which was required since it was pitch black out. When we arived, they were already setting up. I literally could not see where I was setting foot as I walked down the bank of the driving range to set up the tripod. Bob Swanson, one of the Napa Valley Balloon Company pilots, started talking to Laurie as I negotiated my way down the hill, and Bob quickly came over and invited me to get as close to the action as I liked.  He loved our enthusiasm for getting up so early to come photograph the launch. He told us that in the past month they had only been able to fly the Napa Valley TWICE due to the unusually foggy mornings this season. Today, however, was different.

Over the next 45 minutes I took some great photos of the balloon teams as they set up, and eventually the customers arrived from the neighboring Domaine Chandon winery, where they had gathered for pastries and coffee prior to their ascent. The shots you see here were almost all taken with a tripod, many requiring 20-30 second exposures, since it was absolutely dark when I started. The camera could not even focus, it was so dark. While it seems light in these photos, trust me, it wasn’t, until just about launch time. Even then I had a hard time getting blur-free shots.

My favorite photo is the one of Laurie inside the balloon as it was being inflated. Our new friend Bob grabbed Laurie and pulled her inside the balloon (the fans were blowing air, and it was too loud to hear him speak, so she just followed his lead) and she held as still as she could while I snapped a 5-second exposure. It looks like her own “Magical Mystery Tour” experience.

I hope you enjoy the photos! (If you click on them, they will enlarge.)

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