Light It Up: Natural Landscapes and Drones

Light It Up: Natural Landscapes and Drones
Drone lighting provides an additional magical aura coupled with the Northern Lights, Photo Credit:

How to make the world your photo studio by artificially lighting natural landscapes with drones

Aroshi Handu
July 25 , 2020
05 Min Read

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s a drone! Drones are high-flying, unmanned cameras which capture aerial images of some of the world’s most gorgeous landscapes, which otherwise cannot be viewed by other means.

If done right, drone photography can be supremely stunning and visually striking. When creative juices get flowing, they can translate into the most awe-inspiring ideas, and this is true especially in the world of photography.

Reuben Wu’s photos of LED-lit landscapes using drones at night quickly became a viral sensation on the interwebs for their uniqueness. What he did was that he mounted LED lights onto GPS-enabled drones and used them to illuminate massive natural formations to produce almost theatrically-lit compositions with a haunting glow. 

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A post shared by Reuben Wu (@itsreuben) on Apr 15, 2019 at 7:44am PDT

His images infuse a sense of drama, tension, mystery and intrigue by highlighting certain elements and isolating unwanted ones. This incredible control over what to show and what to hide, without the explicit use of Photoshop is what gives these carefully crafted images a sense of surreality to regular natural landscapes 

Inspired by Wu, photographers Ryland West and Paul Heran strapped LED lights onto a drone using strips of velcro and lit up natural scenes across America and Iceland, often with starry night skies as the backdrop. 

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A post shared by Highlight (@highlight______) on Nov 8, 2016 at 6:13pm PST

Florian Krause does something similar where he illuminates his subjects—the subjects being inanimate natural objects—by using drones. The dystopian feel that these photos give is unparalleled to if you edit them using photo editing applications.

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A post shared by Florian Krause (@florian.krause) on Dec 30, 2018 at 8:39am PST

‘Painting’ with light is another technique that Wu uses, which involves ‘painting’ halos over rock pinnacles which lend the photographs an otherworldly vibe, altering one’s perception of scale and time. Apart from giving a new edge to ‘regular’ photos, light painting allows you to use your own light source to illuminate your subject the way you want, just like you would in a studio setting, especially when the landscapes are remote and dark. 

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A post shared by Reuben Wu (@itsreuben) on May 13, 2020 at 3:51pm PDT

If you own a drone and want to dabble in this kind of project, photographers recommend that you first make a checklist of all your gear and make sure that your drone and camera are fully charged as flying time is precious and limited. The sweet spot between sunset and the birth of that evening-blue list is when you must strike hot. Do make sure to try out a few test shots before you fly. 

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