Drones Can Automatically Set up Photography Lighting

Researchers from MIT and Cornell University have co-developed small, light-equipped robots that automatically position themselves to create the best lighting…

It’s been demonstrated in recent years – and in a particularly dramatic way this past Independence Day – that drones can carry cameras and take amazing pictures. But now drones can also set up lighting for photography.

Lighting is crucial when taking pictures, particularly portraits, but these lights take lots of time and knowledge to properly set up.

That’s why researchers from MIT and Cornell University have co-developed small, light-equipped robots that automatically position themselves to create the best lighting for pictures.

From Stephanie Rosenow in Product Handling Concepts: “With the new system, the photographer indicates the direction from which the rim light should come, and the miniature helicopter flies to that side of the subject. The photographer then specifies the width of the rim as a percentage of its initial value, repeating that process until the desired effect is achieved.”

Here’s a researcher’s own take on the subject as interviewed by Larry Hardesty writing for MIT:

“If somebody is facing you, the rim you would see is on the edge of the shoulder, but if the subject turns sideways, so that he’s looking 90 degrees away from you, then he’s exposing his chest to the light, which means that you’ll see a much thicker rim light. So in order to compensate for the change in the body, the light has to change its position quite dramatically,” says Manohar B. Srikanth, who did his post-doctorate work at MIT and is now at Nokia in Silicon Valley, where he develops advanced algorithms for computational photography applications.

In the same way, Srikanth says, the system can compensate for the photographer’s movements. In both cases, the camera supplies the control signal. Roughly 20 times a second, the camera produces an image that is not stored on its own memory card but transmitted to a computer running the researchers’ control algorithm. The algorithm evaluates the rim width and adjusts the robot’s position accordingly.

A blog on Srikanth’s Facebook page says he likes this article that notes that it is a custom quadrotor drone that reacts dynamically to the movement of subject and photographer. “It’s not in content creation but content management that robots truly excel … some simple drone technology that could have far-reaching effects on film,” author Graham Templeton observes.


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