High in the Sky

The summer days are long and the skies are full of watchful wonders that arise dreamy photographic opportunities, something Daugirdas Tomas Racys has taken full advantage of. Jessica Bracey finds out about his technique

Whether you’re an adventurer of the skies, a fan of Around the World in 80 Days or have a complete fear of heights, there’s no question that hot air balloons are magnificent forms of transportation. Magical in their functionality and awe inspiring with their presence when you see them gracefully glide above our heads, they hold a special place in our imaginations that make them just so interesting.

As for photographer Daugirdas Tomas Racys, he’s taken this interest one step further and has propelled himself into shooting these wonders in one of Britain’s most intriguing landscapes, Bristol. Renowned for its annual balloon fiesta, Daugirdas tells where the fascination first began: «I became drawn to the field when I moved to Bristol four years ago and thought that the balloon fiesta was a great way to capture the spirit and the essence of Bristol,» he says. On the right day the spectacle can be amazing, and this has really captured my imagination.»

With Bristol’s iconic landscapes making up his body of work, waiting for hot air balloons to fill the frame must be a vibrant experience: «I love vivid colours but at the same time presenting accurate and representative colours as the balance of colours can create a feeling of harmony. The light therefore can have a very dramatic effect on the colour and our perception of the view.» And with this perception of view, composition and light when on location go hand in hand. «There are compositions that work best at certain times of the day due to the direction of light and the nature of location. Interesting light is arguably the most important ingredient for creating visual artwork. The position of the sun and the level of clouds in the sky can be key to a striking view, while low lying sources of light can illuminate the subject producing rich and vivid colours, which also reveal interesting textures and create long shadows,» Daugirdas advises on the advantages of different light. «Dusk is also great as you can capture the dramatic colours of the sky’s after-glow with attention grabbing scenery in the foreground, but this window of opportunity can be as short as 10 minutes, so working fast is essential. Such photography almost invariably requires the use of graduated filters or multiple exposure blending to control exposure right across the frame,» he continues. On shooting the spectacle in the south west, Daugirdas praises the surrounding landscapes but stands by a photographer’s duty to be prepared. «Mornings and late afternoons or dusk are the most picturesque at Clifton, which also work in favour of balloon festival launches in the summer. A lot of thought has to go into planning the day before the shoot so I try to pre-visualise the scene how I’d expect it to look in print and aim to select a few angles. It is usually a waiting game until the subject is in the right place at the right time.»

Priding the Canon 5D Mark III for its ability to produce fast, accurate and creative framing with its large viewfinder combined with a 24-70mm f/2.8 as his go-to lens, Daugirdas advises that a tripod is a must for this style of photography. Starting on an ISO of 100 to present clean and almost noise-free shots, he says that lenses perform their best between f/8-11 and at times f/18 is an option when you want to maximise focus. «The full-frame 35mm sensor in these cameras records very clean, highly detailed images with plenty of deep shadow and highlight details,» he says about shooting in Raw on the 5D — a trait which is essential for his subject matter. «I usually aim to produce images that are bright and well exposed, spanning the whole histogram range — but avoiding clipped highlights or lost shadow details. Therefore the graduated filter tool is one of my favourite features; this allows me to fine tune the photo and achieve the desired look in just a few mouse clicks,» Daugirdas says about his edits in Lightroom. «Other post-processing includes exposure compensation, sharpening, white balance and colour correction.»

While shooting into the sun can raise challenges, timing can be the biggest difficulty. «The prediction of weather and lighting conditions may be difficult at times. But perhaps the toughest part of landscape photography may involve rising at 3am, driving more than 70 miles and climbing for an hour to reach the location just in time for the sunrise.» But walking away with a handful of images that make your heart go sky high is certainly worth the wait, and as for Daugirdas’ words of wisdom, what tips top the list? «In terms of kit I’d go for a DSLR with ultra-wide to standard zoom lenses, graduated filters to control exposure of the sky and foreground, and a longer lens for detailed shots would be advisable for most keen photographers. For the adventurous souls I would also suggest trying some unusual vantage points — perhaps from one of the balloons in the air.»

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