A New Take on Stonehenge: Reuben Wu’s Drone Art Featured on National Geographic Cover

Stonehenge has been photographed so many times that images of it have become a little cliche. Yes, it’s incredible, but how many pictures can you see before it loses some of its luster? But drone artist Reuben Wu has found a way to make the ancient structure look new, and even otherworldly. Working

Stonehenge has been photographed so many times that images of it have become a little cliche. Yes, it’s incredible, but how many pictures can you see before it loses some of its luster?

But drone artist Reuben Wu has found a way to make the ancient structure look new, and even otherworldly.

Working at night, Wu flew a drone equipped with a powerful light over Stonehenge, providing a light source for his photography. The result was a brand new take on the monument, and one that was so good it got him on the cover of National Geographic.

How Reuben Wu Made the Stonehenge Picture

Over the last several years, Wu has become known for using drones as light sources to create surreal images.

He first came across our radar in 2018 for his work using slow exposures and drones outfitted with lights set to fly in orbit around rock formations, creating what he calls mountain halos.


Credit: Reuben Wu

In 2020, this work landed Wu a spot on Nat Geo’s Storytellers Summit 2020.

At the summit he spoke about his work using drones as light sources, and how they have allowed him to shoot landscapes at night in a completely new way.

Familiar Places in an Unfamiliar Light | Reuben Wu | Storytellers Summit 2020

This talk came to mind a year later when photo editors at Nat Geo were working on a big story that would reveal new findings about Stonehenge made with modern technology. They recalled Wu’s work and wondered if he could capture a new take on the iconic site for the article.

Wu jumped at the chance.

The project was personal for him. He’d grown up in the U.K. and remembered taking trips to Stonehenge when he was young. Not only that, but from a young age he’d always wanted to have a picture in Nat Geo.

 

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A post shared by Reuben Wu (@itsreuben)

Between navigating unpredictable weather and the U.K.’s regulatory requirements, getting the shot wasn’t easy.

The first thing Wu had to plan around were the cycles of the moon, since he didn’t want a full moon interfering with the shot. Another factor was the weather, which can change suddenly at Stonehenge, meaning that forecasts of clear skies don’t guarantee you’ll get them.

In addition to natural considerations, Wu had to get licensed to fly a drone commercially in the U.K. (though he’s British, he lives and works in Chicago). Every time he flew at the site, he had to secure permission both from the Royal Air Force and from an organization called English Heritage, which oversees Stonehenge.

Further, drones are prohibited from flying directly over Stonehenge. To address this limitation, Wu used a small drone equipped with a light to fly as close to the site as was permitted, as well as having an assistant dangle a 50-foot long pole over it that held a Bluetooth-operated LED.


Credit: Reuben Wu

The goal, as you can see in the Nat Geo cover photo, was to take the picture as the sun was setting. To do it right, Wu needed to have all of the stones well lit from above using his own light sources, and he wanted to have the shot framed symmetrically.

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 Wu

The image that finally made it onto the cover of National Geographic is a composite of photos taken over the course of three hours, from when the sun began to set on through into the night.

 

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A post shared by Reuben Wu (@itsreuben)

Reuben Wu’s Progression

Reuben Wu has taken a fairly simple idea—using lights strapped to a drone to illuminate a subject at night—and turned it into a universe of imagery unlike any we’ve ever seen.

Since Wu first began making mountain halos he’s been incredibly busy making new series of images and pushing the boundaries of his art.

A lot of the work that I do is based on this idea of showing the familiar in unfamiliar light.

– Reuben Wu

In 2020, Wu unveiled a series of photos called Light Storm featuring fresh new night images that looked both alien, and yet also familiar somehow.


Credit: Reuben Wu

And in 2021, he began releasing work that he called “motion pieces”—powerful works that told a story through light and natural imagery.

COMMUNIONhttps://t.co/uGx4M91LWD pic.twitter.com/kApy9saurP

— Reuben Wu (@Reuben_Wu) May 1, 2021

These are just a few examples of the incredible body of work Reuben Wu has produced over the last several years. To see all of Reuben Wu’s work we recommend visiting his website or following him on Instagram.

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