Drone Lighting used to help photographers

Drone Lighting used to help photographers

Drone LightingDrone Lighting could provide the answer to the difficult, time consuming problem of setup, especially outside the studio.

In the researchers’ experiments, the drone lighting robot helicopter was equipped with a continuous-light source, a photographic flash, and a laser rangefinder (photo courtesy of the researchers)
Now, researchers at MIT and Cornell University hope to change that by providing photographers with squadrons of small, light-equipped autonomous robots that automatically assume the positions necessary to produce lighting effects specified through a simple, intuitive, camera-mounted interface.

At the International Symposium on Computational Aesthetics in Graphics, Visualization, and Imaging (Vancouver, Canada 8-10 August 2014) they take the first step toward realizing this drone lighting vision, presenting a prototype system that uses an autonomous helicopter to produce a difficult effect called ‘rim lighting’, in which only the edge of the photographer’s subject is strongly lit.

According to Manohar Srikanth, who worked on the system at MIT and is now a senior researcher at Nokia, he and his presentation co-authors – MIT professor of computer science and engineering Frédo Durand and Cornell’s Kavita Bala – chose rim lighting for their initial experiments precisely because it’s a difficult effect.

“It’s very sensitive to the position of the light,” Srikanth says. “If you move the light, say, by a foot, your appearance changes dramatically.”

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.

Thereafter, the robot automatically maintains the specified rim width. “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,” Srikanth says. “So in order to compensate for the change in the body, the light has to change its position quite dramatically.”

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