Rim light photography? Not a problem for this drone

Soon, professional photographers might have a use for these fancy personal drones that are becoming popular among hobbyists today. A joint research group from MIT and Cornell University are developing a kind of drone that will assist photographers by providing them with the perfect light, even in the most difficult requirements, like rim light.

Rim light is a lighting technique where only a specific edge of the subject is lit. It is notoriously difficult to pull off because even the slightest change in position or orientation can have a dramatic effect on the outcome. It also makes it the perfect test case for Manohar Srikanth and Fr├ędo Durand from MIT and Kavita Bala from Cornell to try out the algorithms for their drone project.

A photographer will indicate the direction where the rim light will come from as well as the width of the rim. The qaudrotor drone will then fly to the position that will produce the effect specified by the photographer. Sounds simple enough. The real "magic", however, happens with the other half of the system, the camera. At 20 times a second, the camera produces an image, not for storage, but for sending to computer that will run the researchers' algorithm that continuously computes the current rim width and compares it against the desired value indicated by the photographer.

The result is an almost completely autonomous lighting system that automatically adjusts itself no matter how much the variables change. Should the subject move or change his or her orientation, the drone will compensate by flying to the correct position. Even if the photographer (and the camera) moves, the drone will still be able to do its work. There is even an aggressive mode that will automatically trigger the camera to take a shot once the drone arrives at the right spot.

With rim lighting bagged, the team believes that other effects will be easier to accomplish because those would not need as precise positioning as rim light. In some cases, manual positioning might even be more than enough. The next step would be transforming the drone and camera system into something that can be used in real world work. Pretty soon, we might be seeing photographers that will not only have an army of makeup artists trailing behind, but a horde of drones bearing their own bright lights as well.