Moon or Zoo Balloon? You Decide.

Philly Zoo Balloon Moon

50mm, f/8, ISO 1250, 1.6 sec

In a earlier post, I developed the idea of capturing an epic moon photograph. To follow through with this personal challenge, I spent every evening at Boathouse row searching for the perfect moon photo. Of course, the moon was in hiding these evenings. That is when I discovered during a moonless evening, the Philadelphia Zoo Balloon made an even better ‘moon’ shot.

Watching the sun sink into the Schuylkill river is a treat to behold. Shortly after, the Philadelphia Zoo Balloon appeared glowing in the azure sky as it floated above Boathouse Row.  At that moment, my jaw dropped as a choir sang and trumpets rang aloud; here was the photo I was looking to capture. I grabbed my gear, my dog and ran to find a good vantage point to capture this image.

At first I thought the balloon had broken free of its mooring cables and was adrift. After watching for a few minutes, it was clear the balloon was illuminated for show. Perhaps it was for an event hosted by the Zoo, with the balloon adding drama to the event decor. Whatever the reason, I had to get this photo. My kit consisted of  a 70-200mm f/4 L, a 50mm f/1.4,  Canon 7DM2 and a Joby gorilla tripod. The low light of evening worried me as the 7DM2 struggles with noise in low light. It is my one complaint with this camera. Yet I had to find a way to make this work with the gear I own.  Locking the ISO at 1250 and positioning the tripod, I crossed my fingers the noise wouldn’t be terrible. The next struggle was to compensate for the balloon movement. Constant swaying of the balloon causes motion blur while the boathouses stay in sharp focus. The goal is to have both the balloon and boathouses in focus.  I thought of all the techniques I could use to capture an amazing image with both the balloon and buildings in focus. I attempted focus stacking in hopes of combining the photos in Photoshop. Back home, I merged the photos to discover the balloon did not align well in Photoshop. Next I experimented with shutter speed and aperture combinations.  I found an aperture of f5/6 – f/8 with a shutter speed of 1.6 – 2 seconds returned the most usable images.


70-200, f/5.6, ISO 1250, 2 secs

There was noise in both Zoo Balloon photos featured in this post and improved in post processing.  Canon’s dismal ISO performance at this light level annoys me. I continue to have lingering questions about my choice in ISO, shutter speed and aperture settings for this photo. I can’t go back and recreate this scene, but I will take the lessons learned here and move forward in my photography.

I am always looking for improvement. What setting would you have chosen with the gear I described above? Constructive critique is always welcome here.

As a bonus, I am sharing two more photos taken in the same area as the Zoo Balloon and Boathouse row. Philadelphia is a pretty town at night, don’t you agree?




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  • Boathouse Row is a cool place and so festive looking with the lights outlining the features of those neat old boathouses! On your FB thread of this beautiful photo, I speculated if this was advertising and it’s hard to tell but it probably is for and event at the Philly Zoo or just general advertising for the Zoo itself. Cool looking helium balloon and the illumination from the inside! BTW, I know balloons! 😉 Right before I finished Weather Observer Tech School in the USAF, there was a call for volunteers for Rawindsonde School and I raised my hand and was accepted. I learned how to launch weather balloons filled with helium with radiosondes attached to them that would signal back temperature, dew point, pressure and height, and from the use of wind charts or with a DEC minicomputer, wind direction and speed could be calculated of the upper atmosphere. I worked a few Rawindsonde runs at the weather station at my base on the Central Coast of California. One run that I worked, the balloon got up to 108,000 feet before it finally burst! If the Zoo Balloon loses its tether, it’s going straight up into the atmosphere.

    • TaniaGail

      You have lead a very interesting life!