Cappadocia is a semi-arid region in central Turkey that’s famous for its otherworldly scenery. Formed from the erosion of tuff (hardened volcanic ash) the landscape is a series of plateaus and deep valleys, with beautiful “fairy chimneys” and other strange rock formations. It’s a fabulous place for landscape photography and one of the best ways to take it in is from the basket of a hot air balloon…
Photographing Cappadocia from a hot air balloon
Cappadocia is one of the best places in the world to go hot air ballooning – the landscape is truly stunning and the weather conditions are suitable for flying over 250 days of the year. The balloons usually only fly at sunrise, when the wind is lower and the air is cool enough for them to get enough lift, which makes for an early start! Here was my experience:
After begrudgingly getting up at 5 am we were quickly whisked away to a restaurant to pay for the flight and eat a bit of breakfast while everyone on our balloon was collected. Soon enough we were back in the minibuses and driving in convoy out along dirt roads to the takeoff area. It was still pitch black at this point, and all around there were flashes of coloured light as hundreds of balloons were being inflated. It was a bizarre experience and really felt like you were in a movie (think car chase scenes in Twister crossed with some kind of alien invasion film). Once we got to our balloon we had a few minutes to watch it being inflated. I fired off a few quick shots, but as I was shooting handheld and quickly trying to adjust my settings only a few came out.
After an ungainly climb into the basket we were off… and as we rose out of the valley we soon realised that the whole sky was filled with balloons. The weather the day before hadn’t been good and flights were grounded, so there were 150 balloons in the sky that morning. To say it was spectacular is an understatement.
We drifted low down over the valleys for a while before climbing up to around 800 metres. The only way I can describe the view was epic. The patterns in the landscape were fascinating and it was a (mostly) tranquil experience, with just the noise of the burner breaking the silence. The only annoyance was the couple next to us in the basket, who decided to film a video of themselves on their phone accompanied by R Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”… the entire 5 minutes and 23 seconds of it. You couldn’t make it up.
After an hour of spectacular views we descended back into the valley and landed with expert skill right on the trailer! The crew make a bit of a fuss of you at this point, and you get a certificate and some fizz to celebrate your flight, which isn’t normally my thing but was a pleasant end to the journey.
As for practical tips for photography – you’re going to be shooting handheld (even if you could fit a tripod in the basket it wouldn’t help) so you really need to ramp up your ISO to get sharp images. You’ll also want a wide-angle lens on at the start, then if you have one, a long lens when you get up higher so you can pick out details and patterns in the landscape.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to a balloon ride, the spectacle of all the balloons each morning is still worth photographing from the ground. Just head for any of the viewpoints around the town of Goreme.