Never one to shy away from trying out new technology, action sports photographer Craig Coker tries to put a unique twist on his images by adding drones into the mix, especially when it comes to lighting his shots. Check out his go-to gear below!
Talk us through your gear. What are your go-to items?
For most, this might be considered an unusual assortment of gear. Particularly, the lighting equipment attached to my drones. It has been my biggest, newest addiction in the world of photography. It’s a perspective rarely explored but with reason. This genre of drone technology is sparsely practiced because there isn’t plug in, and play equipment at the caliber of images I’m looking to create. Lucky for me, I’m technologically knowledgeable in this field and have fabricated my own setups. The right lighting equipment is key for night drone operations. Not just on the drone but on ground as well so that you can illuminate your gear for preparation. Most locations I go to are pitch dark so I rely on Foxfury LED’s to help me throughout the night.
For my go-to glass coupled with my a7R II is Sony’s FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA. It’s fast and sharp for night shooting. I’ve also found that these wireless triggers by Aputure are affordable and reliable with exceptional range. That is a must when your drone is over 1000ft from you.
Why does one person need three drones?
Each one provides a different use. One 3DR Solo has a flash while the other has a powerful LED lighting system for a constant spotlight. I sometimes operate both drones simultaneously. This enables you to shoot a long exposure and light paint with the spotlight while using the flash to capture a moving subject. It’s a complex operation but the end result is pretty unique. The DJI Mavic is my mid grade photo/video drone. It’s not necessarily a part of my drone light projects but It’s small enough that I can take it everywhere without sacrificing much space.
How do you choose gear for different projects?
For me, step one is to pre-meditate the project. It’s the same process as what an athlete does before they physically preform a trick. In my mind, I virtually process the shoot and think of all the details and tools I need to capture the perspective I desire. Step two is physically gathering the gear I pre-meditated and then grabbing alternative gear just in case my vision doesn’t pan out.
Which piece of gear would you never leave at home?
Lately I haven’t left home without my Mavic drone. Mainly because its small yet so powerful and easy to use. I can get up in the air and fire off shots faster then mounting a camera on sticks. Plus I get the aerial perspective.
Does your gear sometimes take a pounding to get the shots you’re known for?
Yes. I’m constantly pushing my drones to their max capabilities. Drones are notorious for rapid battery discharge in high altitude and cold temperature and thats when I put them to the test. I’m always putting stress on these mechanical creatures with hundreds of flight hours in every weather situation. Although, I still have a vigorous maintenance ritual to make sure my drones are in top shape for the next project. With drones, the slightest doubts can quickly turn into disasters so if theres a part in question I replace it immediately.
Any items you wish you could add to your bag?
I’m working on a drone light that is so bright it can illuminate large mountains. I’ll be using this for some future projects that are, at the moment, concealed of secrecy.
Any tips for aspiring photographers?
I believe if you can stand out from the crowed you will be successful. Be unique and try to think steps ahead of the trends. Drone crashes can get expensive and cause serious injury if not operated correctly. Be comfortable and confident in your abilities to operate a drone before jumping into light projects. Night flying takes a different skill set from day flying. Your perception of distance from you, the drone and subjects are misleading. For cameras, I suggest something that can provide exceptional results in low light scenarios but also accommodates high resolution capability. I’m a mirrorless guy so the Sony a7R II is my go-to. If I was on a budget I would look to the Sony a6500. It’s compact, 24.2mp, fast and a fraction of the cost versus the a7R II.
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G
Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
Sony FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA
Sony FE 16-35 f/4 ZA
Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar T ZA
3DR Solo x2
DJI Mavic Pro
GoPro Session + GoPro Hero4
Aputure Trigmaster +II
FoxFury Nomad Now + Rugo (x3)
Selens Light Modifiers