Using Drones for Supplemental Lighting
Since the colorado project in 2006, I had always seen the last piece of the lighting puzzle to be lights lofted above coming down at steller like angles. I remember very clearly while shooting the old broken down general store in Animas Co thinking to myself, damn if I could get light about 30 feet up and directed it down on this thing or that, it would be the holy grail of my lighting desires! My mind wistfully drew up plans of tethered balloons, hot air balloons, and the ubiquitous helicopter. Yet in each of these grand visions was either technical or cost hurdles too great to mount a real charge. And so after several years of flying drones, I finally was able to find the moment to attach some lights to a DJI Mavic 2 Pro and let em rip!
I had scouted the beach earlier in the day and with the exception of two of the most famous and accessible “tree sculptures” I found it difficult to condense anything relevant out of the remaining mangles of dead branches and roots. Because, as usual, I was traveling with my wife and our two toddlers I would attempt to haul all my gear to the beach shoot as quickly as I could then return to the van which was parked on the side of the road.
Over the years I have carefully developed the most efficient and stable workflow for these types of technical shoots. For my first project in 2006, I carried a 150lb 6k generator and lugged endless equipment around including cables, cases of lights, and stands along with dimmers and grip gear. Since those days I have switched to flashpoint wireless strobes battery-powered strobes with wireless capture when required. The flashpoint strobe system has totally changed the game for my business and these projects. That said shooting strobe is not always ideal and certainly not when if comes to capturing motion blur such as you might with moving subjects such as water or waves. To counter this I selected to attach to the drone two consent source led lights which would provide a cooler light 4000k and steady background light to capture the moving water in the normal long exposure way. The drone does have a built-in light, yet it is quite non-directional and has a much warmer color temperature which makes it harder to mix with the daylight-balanced strobes. Even with the LEDs at 4000 kelvin, I needed to gel down my strobes with a 1/4 CTO to bring them closer together leading to less post color correction.
As you know with strobes ya don’t really know what ya have until you capture the image and my first strobe captures were interesting but not phenomenal. That changed the second I launched the drone and pointed the lights at the trees. It was as if a totally new image appeared out of the blackness, a phantom that only shows itself when you speak the magic words. As I moved the drone it happened to skim over a tree I had totally discounted in the daylight. Again it was like a totally new tree sprung to life just as long as the light was pointed on it. On my last battery and at 50% I rushed the strobes into place and in a few minutes had the image captured.