How Reuben Wu used DJI drones to put Stonehenge on NatGeo’s cover

reuben wu drone photography stonehenge

It’s hard to count how many times British photographer and artist extraordinaire Reuben Wu has bowled us over with his creativity. But what he has achieved this time is beyond special. Reuben has used drones to showcase one of the most photographed landmarks in the world, Stonehenge, in a completely new light. And his work has made it to the cover of National Geographic’s August issue.

Reuben talked to the magazine about the challenges of photographing the iconic archaeological site using drones – which are typically not allowed at Stonehenge without a bunch of complicated approvals. He says he didn’t mind jumping through the hoops because, in order to create something exceptional, he needed to capture the prehistoric monument using a 21st-century innovation.

Stonehenge, Reuben argues, is so familiar to most people, they tend to dismiss it as something ordinary. And this perception is exactly what he wanted to break with photography that leverages a technique called drone lighting.

“A lot of the work that I do is based on this idea of showing the familiar in an unfamiliar light,” Reuben says. “There’s this jarring landscape where you wouldn’t expect that kind of lighting to be, and it shows you something which you may have seen every day in a completely different light.”

Read: Porsche’s hauntingly beautiful drone light painting shoot for 2021 Panamera

Flying a drone over the Stonehenge

The infamously unpredictable weather of the UK aside, Reuben had to tackle several challenges every time he wanted to launch a drone over Stonehenge. With all his certifications and licenses in place, he had to call ahead for permission from English Heritage, which maintains Stonehenge, and from the Royal Air Force.

Even then, the drone could not be flown directly above the stones. So Reuben improvised by attaching a Bluetooth-operated LED light to the top of a 50-foot telescopic pole, which his assistant held above the stones to light them. He also kept an eye on the moon cycle because if the moonlight were too bright, it would interfere with drone lighting.

Reuben used a DJI Phantom 4 series drone as well as a Mavic 2 Enterprise drone that supports a powerful spotlight attachment.

What you see on the magazine cover above is a composition that uses multiple images taken throughout an evening. Both a small drone and a pole are used to light the stones in a precise way. Reuben decided to keep the sunset in the background to get that perfect pairing of the colors that would provide an otherworldly feel to the composition.

The cover image took about three hours to photograph, starting when the sun was setting so the artist could capture the fading light and through the night.

“Perhaps more conventionally, you’d be waiting for a sunset, or a really kind of perfect angle of light by the sun, in order to capture something in its best light, but for me, I’m trying to actually create this perfect angle of light by using the drone,” Reuben sums up.

Read: 14 amazing drone photos from DJI SkyPixel contest winners

Photos: Reuben Wu, National Geographic

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