Behind The Shot: ‘Balloons Over Bagan’ by Scott Stulberg – Bagan, Burma (Myanmar)

Black and white toned Three hot air balloons flying above temples with clouds in Bagan in Burma Myanmar

Balloons Over Bagan by Scott Stulberg

After traveling frequently to Burma since 2001, I know pretty much where to be and what time to be there to capture this amazing country. On this particular morning in Bagan, I was alone with my guide at my favorite temple and hoping to capture the hot air balloons floating across the sky in a perfect design. We climbed to a good vantage point in total darkness and I set my tripod up with my Canon 5D Mark II and my 70-200mm lens and I waited till dawn for the hot air balloons to start their incredible journey. As a photographer, you're always hoping for great clouds to help with so many photos and this day was no different. We were so lucky to have the beautiful sky that made the ideal backdrop on this absolutely perfect morning.

As the balloons started to sweep across the sky, I realized that ‘three’ was the magic number. Within minutes of their assent, three balloons formed the most perfect pattern and, with my camera set at ISO 200 and 1/500th of a second at f/11, I knew movement would be stopped and the depth of field was still good. I kept shooting all morning, as this is one of the most gorgeous spots on earth with or without hot air balloons flying above it, but that one moment was one I will never forget. The clouds, mist, amazing temples that stretch in every direction and these balloons gave me just what I envisioned.

I used Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 for the final touch to give me the ancient and etheral look I was after. This photo is now the cover of my new book “Passage to Burma” (Skyhorse Publishing), as it really portrays what this country means to me. Burma was Kipling's mythical landscape and for me, the jewel of Southeast Asia. Whether on my own or taking a group, there are few places that have I been to on this earth that make you realize you are so incredibly lucky that you are a photographer. As Kipling said, “it is quite unlike any land you know…” - Scott Stulberg

Equipment and settings: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L telephoto zoom, Benro carbon fiber tripod and Really Right Stuff BH-40 LR ballhead with Compact Lever-Release Clamp – 1/500th at f/11, ISO 200

This image is available as a print here. It is also the cover for Stulberg's new book, “Passage to Burma”, which can be ordered on Amazon here. Follow Stulberg on his blog. His portfolio can be found at his website,, and more information on workshops that he offers to the Palouse in Washington and other areas can be seen here.


    My trip to Burma with Scott is for a long time on my “to do list”. When I saw his pictures for the first time, I was amazed. It looks like Burma is still one of the places on Earth, where you can find things looking like they were hundreds years ago. Definitely I need to go there. Thanks for book Scott, this will definitely get me there faster and for sure will motivate to go there in person. Can’t wait.

    Patrik, buddy from your Death Valley workshop! 😉

    Scott – Congratulations on being featured in Outdoor Photographer! If anyone is deserving of it – it definitely has to be you as your landscapes shots are the best I have ever seen. I am looking forward to seeing the rest of your Burma shots in your book!

    Best wishes

    This is such an amazing picture! It lets me fly together with the balloons right into a land full of wonder and magic, beauty and adventure! – A shot that lets me dream and triggers in the most beautiful way my imagination and creativity. Congratulations, Scott, I’m looking forward to your book!

    What can I say … I wish this would my MINE shot! Just stunning and thanks for the story too. Would love to meet you at one of your workshops! I LOVE your work.

    Scott, this is the perfect image to have the place of honor on the cover of your upcoming book. I think I was one of the first to pre-order a copy, and can’t wait to re-visit all the places we went together in Burma 2012. Your description of being high up on a temple as the sun came up and then seeing the balloons rise before us was, indeed, magical. You captured the moment so perfectly!

    Having known you for awhile now, I am not surprised by seeing another amazing image from you Scott….But, this is definitely one of your best! It portrays a calm, soft beauty that I have come to recognize in your images. I loved the back story on how you got this shot. So interesting! Congratulations on your feature ;))) And thank you for teaching me so much about photography and photoshop. Not only are you a great photographer, but an amazing mentor. Kudos Scott!

    Scott’s Burma shots are magical. Heck, all of his stuff is! I have learned a lot hanging around with him. You should see this shot printed and hanging on a wall, it is amazing. Scott always pushes me to do better, try new things, get out and not just dream about it…

    He has made me a better photographer for sure.

    Gorgeous photo and fun to read your account of the shoot. Bagan has long been one of my favorite places to shoot and I’m looking forward to relocating there in the coming months to focus on several long-term projects in the area. If anyone is interested in reading more about photographing at Bagan, feel free to check out my blog at Thanks again for the great image and write up, Scott!

    Just wanted to say thank you to those who have written about this blog. Burma is so amazing and no matter how many times I go there, it will never be enough. What a perfect place to be able to capture so many unbelievable sights in every direction! Thanx again everyone!!


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