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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.