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  • Writer's pictureSudhir Damerla

How to shoot drones... and not leave debris behind!

Updated: May 29, 2019

man and drones flying behind
Neel Mehta, Director and Co founder of Asteria Aerospace

As a freelance photographer, I get to meet very interesting people and see some really cool technology. One of my assignments last year was to shoot pictures for a story in a renowned publication about business and such. When I heard it was for a story on drones, I couldn't be happier - this was an opportunity to experiment after-all!

The publication was writing profile on Asteria Aerospace - a Bangalore based startup which indigenously designs and manufactures drones for surveillance & security applications. Their customers include the Indian military, paramilitary and several state police forces.

So on the first day that I went to shoot, I had an hour, if that, to shoot what I could and get out of the drone company's space. Unfortunately this space was located in the middle of the city and flying the drone was out of question. So a standard shot of the company Director was all I could get. It was still a good starting point, but I wasn't satisfied. How do we make it a little more interesting for the audience? The answer - direct their eyes to see what you want with some selective lighting... Now that is right up my alley!

[The office shot from day 1 - A classic case of improvise-adapt-overcome. Not all offices, especially busy ones like these, are made for shooting. The lighting is generally flat and functional and there are bound to be a lot of distractions around. Below is the lighting setup and the location]

A before and after shot. We got rid of the rack in the background for the final shot though

lighting behind the scene
Quick and easy lighting setup with 2 lights. A small flash in an octa to light the main subject and a hard light with a grid to put a pool and back light the drone

Next was the testing / R&D room. Nothing out of the usual here either. Pretty lab standard safe lighting which is , again, not the most inspiring. This was an ideal situation to use some inspiring conceptualisation. Semantically speaking, technology is cold, hard, high finished, chrome ... blue. So I wanted to give the room a cool blue hue and light the technician with a hint of warmth. Here are a couple of shots of the space. Note that I turned off the fluorescent light for the final shot as I thought it was an unnecessary complication dealing with an ambient distraction.

Now, the way to go blue in the room would be to gel a flash blue and fire it up into the ceiling. Unfortunately it was one of those days when I did not have the right size handy to cover the Godox bowl. So the other easy option was to shift the camera white balance to tungsten which would render the 6000 degree flash light blue. So now all I have to do is gel the second flash on the technicians face to tungsten (CTO) which would render it neutral. In hindsight I should have added another 1/4 CTO gel on top of it to get a little more warmth on his face (Remember, the blue light is already on his face from the room light and we have added a neutral light).

Left: Godox in bowl firing up into the ceiling. Right: SB700 snooted to light his face

technician in lab testing electronics
Not bad for a 10 minute setup?

And I reckoned that the last shot for the hour should be of the drone itself! I wont get into the details of this because the series of the shot is self explanatory. The black backing was some foam we found in their storage ... probably some kind of anti slip floor cover from when they moved in. One light to top light and give definition to the drone, but not to really light it. And the small flash was to light the propellers and separate it from the background - simple!

Not a glamour product shot ,but good enough for news print.

Now that I have the safe shots out of the way, I decided to join the team which was test flying some drones the next day to see if I could get something a little more interesting.

Not knowing what to expect, I took my trusty TP-Link MR3040 battery wifi repeater to tether to the phone which was running qDSLRdashboard which enabled me to preview while shooting remotely (Highly recommended, download here and experiment especially if you are into time lapses). This is a heaven sent for location shooting. Previously only available for Android, it is now on iOS too. I love this setup when I have to light paint or check my flash setup as it saves me running between the camera the flash.

So I have an overcast day and dull sky. Underexposing the whole scene gave me some amount of contrast. So all I had to do was light the Director AND the drones! Holding the Godox on a light stand I shoot multiple frames of the director and the drones and blend them in Photoshop later. I do wish I was lower and wider for this shot but time is critical and I need to let them get back to work.

I'm shooting with an old Samsung S5 in bright sunlight and I wish I had the iPad for this shoot. Bit of a hit and miss affair as I couldn't see the screen very well, but the Godox stayed very predictable in the TTL mode.

And finally in print.........

Thanks for reading and do keep coming back for more articles!

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