Not just for cameras, video shows drones are great for holding lights

Daven Mathies
Digital Trends

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When photographer David Robison set out to shoot Red Bull slopestyle mountain bike rider Matt Jones, he wanted to up his game. Two years prior, he had been intrigued by the large drones that were part of Red Bull’s equipment pool. The custom-built octocopters were capable of flying Red Bull cinema cameras and lenses high above the action. Robison saw potential in the drones for a different use, however — as mobile, aerial light stands.

Robison finally had the chance to put his idea to work just recently, thanks to a high-end, portable flash from Elinchrom. The ELB 400 strobe provides up to 424 watt-seconds of power from a compact, battery-powered controller. From a power perspective, this is on the mid to low end as far as studio lights go, but is much brighter than the average on-camera flash while being smaller and lighter in weight than typical studio lights.

In fact, when combined with a single Quadra flash head, the entire package was lighter than the cinema cameras normally carried by the drones. Seeing everything rigged to the drone looks a little ridiculous, but there was no problem flying it.

Related: Don’t try this at home: photographer flies drone over waterfall at night to light kayakers

Robison wanted to use the drone for a couple of reasons. First, it provided an opportunity to use a flash when normally such a thing wouldn’t be possible due to the wide framing of the shot. Second, by lighting his subject from a high angle, Robison was able to achieve a more natural look. The resulting photos still have the sharpness and pop associated with flash photography, but the artificial nature of the light is not distracting as it blends in with the natural light from the sky.

Depending on the flash head, ELB 400 kits range from about $1,840 to over $2,200. However, we wouldn’t be surprised to see amateurs and hobbyists imitating Robison’s setup with much smaller, cheaper lights and drones (just please be safe out there!). For more details on how Robison used the ELB 400 from a drone, head to the Elinchrom blog.