MIT Researchers Build Drones That Automatically Provide Picture Perfect Lighting For Photographers

The intrepid researchers at MIT never fail to impress, and a new system they’ve designed that uses fleets of drones to automatically light a shoot for photographers is no exception. The prototype of the system will be on display at the International Symposium on Computational Aesthetics in Graphics, Visualization and Imaging happening in August, and uses a single lightweight UAV to produce “rim lighting,” an effect in which one edge of the subject being photographed is lit particularly well.

The initial system allows a photographer to set the width they want of the lit border on the subject, after which the drone then takes the appropriate place to create that effect with its on-board light. It can even adjust its position in real-time in response to moves made by the subject, which could be a stationary object or a person, which requires a tremendously delicate sensitivity to light.

System co-designer Manohar Srikanth also notes that the drone can compensate for the photographer’s movements, too, by providing the drone-controlling computer with a sample image 20 times a second to help it update its position. These pictures aren’t actually stored on the camera’s memory card, which would take up an immense amount of memory, but instead are streamed and bypass local storage.

Future versions of the system could incorporate a large number of drones working in concert to provide more complex lighting effects, without the usual breakdown and reset required when trying to do the process manually. This could cut down on labor costs and overall shoot time, which could greatly reduce the cost of professional-caliber photo shoots.