‘Bristol by Balloon’ from Bristol instagrammer and student Patrick Metcalfe
On my 10th birthday I picked up my very first camera, and 13 years later I’ve never been more engaged with photography! I love the combination of the technical knowledge, creative freedom & exploring of the great outdoors that it can offer on a daily basis, whatever the weather.
I joined the popular image-sharing platform Instagram back in 2014 and this has been the main source of inspiration and drive for my photography over the last 3 years – there are some superb Bristol-based ‘Instagrammers’ out there!
Originally from Kent, I’m a current Master’s student of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol and it was in my first year (all the way back in 2013) that I was first given the opportunity to take my camera into the air by flying with the university’s hot air ballooning society. The society, known to most as BUHABS, celebrates its 31st birthday this year and offers students & staff the chance to get involved with the operation of the iconic Bristol University balloon. As well as being trained in how to help with the operation of the balloon (known as ‘crewing’), the society offers frequent flying opportunities which can take you over the city of Bristol.
After my first flight, armed with my camera, I was hooked – and I’ve returned to the skies in the balloon on many occasions since then to fill up my camera’s memory card with photos of Bristol from the unique perspective that the hot air balloon offers! Unlike the increasingly popular consumer drones, having your camera in the basket allows you to take up heavy zoom lenses and it’s a lot easier to spot compositions with your own eyes than via your smartphone screen.
I like ballooning so much that I now hold a position on the society’s committee, as well as travelling to hot air balloon gatherings across Europe – with the annual Bristol International Balloon Fiesta being my favourite, of course!
The photos I’ve captured from the air, some of which are featured in this article, have helped my photography to reach a wider audience than I ever thought possible – I have recently started selling prints of my work, as well as having it featured in venues and publications across Bristol. It generates a small but welcome income that I use to support my university studies (& photography kit, naturally).
In this article I have chosen 12 of my favourite Bristol images I’ve taken from the Bristol University hot air balloon – I hope you enjoy them!
The repeating patterns in this group of houses in Totterdown leapt out to me when seen from the air, in fact I’ve actually taken this shot on two separate flights across the city. It’s not hard to be hypnotised by this image, and it’s turned out to be one of my most well-known compositions.
2. Broad Quay Birds-Eye
The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice this was taken before the infrastructure developments started in the city centre for the metrobus. This was actually shot on my first flight in the hot air balloon – and what a memorable flight it turned out to be!
3. Cumberland Basin
From the ground they don’t look like anything special, but I really like the curves of the Cumberland Basin junction when viewed from above. The Bristol Ferry was an added bonus to complete the composition! This is an area I’d love to get the chance to shoot again from a different angle – fortunately flights from Ashton Court Estate can frequently pass over this area when the wind direction is right.
4. Hotwells & Cliftonwood
This was one of many colourful Bristol scenes that I couldn’t float past without capturing on my camera. It’s now become one of my best-selling prints!
5. Clifton & The Suspension Bridge
Another of the spectacular views that Ashton Court take-offs can offer – this time looking north-east over the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Clifton Village & beyond to Southmead Hospital. It’s a great feeling to float past the White Lion Bar terrace and give a wave to the people enjoying drinks in the evening sunshine.
6. The SS Great Britain
One of Bristol’s many historic attractions, Brunel’s SS Great Britain. She was built in 1839 in the same dock where she now rests, having carried passengers and cargo all over the world for nearly a century! Having been sunk and left to corrode off the Falkland Islands in 1937, she was returned to Bristol and has been restored into a fantastic museum.
The tall ship Kaskelot was actually built over 100 years after the SS Great Britain, in 1948, and still sails around the UK. On this particular flight she was moored by Lloyd’s Arena which made for a simple composition, with the straight lines leading the eye to the ship. This image was also processed into a partial monochrome to further highlight the Kaskelot, which was lit up in a lovely golden colour from the low evening sunlight.
8. Shimmering City
Hot air balloon flights are usually in the early morning or evening, when the temperature and wind speeds are lowest. The low sun at these times creates long, dark shadows which give a high contrast with the bright sky. In this image the sun also casts a bright glare from the river, making the scene look magical.
9. A Lot of Allotments
Whilst not particularly Bristol-specific, I had to include this birds-eye of a group of allotments that passed under the basket on a recent flight over east Bristol. There are scenes like this all around the city that may not look particularly special from the ground, but when viewed from above they are transformed into something completely different!
10. The Avon Gorge
I was surprised at just how small the Avon Gorge looked from the air, considering how high above the river you feel when crossing the Clifton Suspension Bridge! It’s also amazing to see all the way across to the Severn Estuary and Wales when just 1000ft above the ground. I’ll never get tired of the views that ballooning offers!
11. Queen Square & Park Street
Any Bristolian will tell you that Park Street is one of the steepest roads in Bristol, but from the air it looks significantly flatter! The view from the top of Wills Memorial Building has the same perspective-distorting effect. I like how the trees surrounding Queen Square stand out in the foreground of this image, surrounded by the building of central Bristol- it emphasises the importance of protecting these green spaces within our cities.
12. The Harbourside
One of my favourite places in Bristol is the Harbourside, so to see it from the air was something extra-special for me. Lloyd’s Arena in the bottom-right is occasionally used as a take-off location for balloons and it’s high up on my ballooning wish-list for obvious reasons!
If these have got you itching to get airborne, I can’t recommend the experience enough! There are lots of commercial ballooning companies in the Bristol area who fly throughout the year and these balloon rides make excellent birthday presents. In my opinion, hot air balloon flights should be on everyone’s bucket list!