Drone Photography In Fine Art

At the end of October, I attended a “Drone Educators Conference”  with colleagues from the CCSF PHOTO department co-hosted by the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and Skyline College in the Bay Area. In addition to listening to bureaucratic details on the legalities of drone use, I learned that the use of drones is very clearly trending in areas such as scientific research, search and rescue, agriculture and industrial survey use, real estate sales and as a replacement for what used to require a very expensive helicopter ride in order to get aerial film footage.  What doesn’t seem to be prevalent in the drone discussion groups however, is how artists are capturing or appropriating drone imagery in their own works.

Articles and examples of the drone in art are well documented on a website hosted by Bard College titled the “Center for The Study of The Drone”.   I also recall the work of early drone adopter and award winning artist Trevor Paglen, whose work spans image-making, sculpture, investigative journalism, writing, engineering, and numerous other disciplines. Themes at the core of his visual investigations include “invisible war, mass surveillance and bad metaphors”.

© Trevor Paglen, Untitled (Reaper Drone), C-Print 48×60 inches, 2010

See Trevor Paglen Speak at the Smithsonian Institute: https://youtu.be/DnwfZOzzyWg

Over the weekend, at a  SPE Regional Conference, I was also exposed to the art work of Mishka Henner who incorporates found drone imagery into his work. Similar to the investigative nature of Paglen’s images,  Henner’s “Feed Lots” features found imagery which he edits into beautiful and disgusting compositions that expose operations of the American Beef Industry. This series was featured on the April 2015 cover of “Artforum”.

Coming back from both of these conferences, I was inspired to seek out more artists using drones and am linking to a very recent Petapixel article below. In the comments area  – I hope you will share artists whose works you admire and who directly or indirectly make use of this technology. – Erika

Petapixel: “These Nighttime Landscape Shots Take ‘Drone Lighting’ to the Next Level”
Published on Petapixel – Nov 3, 2016

Drone lighting is a technique that’s taking off in the world photography. After seeing photographer Reuben Wu photos of landscapes at night that were lit using an LED-equipped drone, photographers Ryland West and Paul Heran were inspired to take the technique to a new level with a project titled Highlight.

Like Wu, West and Heran built a custom aerial lighting rig by attaching an LED light panel to a drone using two strips of Velcro.


The duo then took their light drone to locations across Northern California, Nevada, and Iceland, lighting up natural wonders of the world under the starry night sky.


“By carefully crafting shadows to manipulate landscapes, we brought a certain surreality while maintaining a natural feel to each nightscape,” the photographers tells PetaPixel. “We found it incredibly empowering to have this much control over what is shown and what is hidden in the photo.”


“We were able to be extremely selective of where the light hit, and highlight only what we wanted in each frame,” the duo says. “When choosing our composition, we strived to show depth and texture, while utilizing the night sky.”

“The top light gave us the ability to bring out texture so brilliantly that it seemed as though you could almost feel the surfaces through the photo.”



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