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Photographer Reuben Wu uses drones to shed new light on Stonehenge for the National Geographic August cover

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Photographer and visual artist Reuben Wu, whose shot campaigns for the likes of Audi, Google and Samsung, was tasked with capturing a well-known prehistoric monument for the August cover of National Geographic magazine. Wu always takes an unconventional approach in his work, so it’s hardly surprising that he showcases Stonehenge in a way never seen before with the help of drones.

Located in Wiltshire, England, about 90 miles Southwest of London, Stonehenge has stood in place for more than 4,500 years. Millions of travelers visit this natural wonder, annually, so it’s hardly unfamiliar. Wu, who grew up in England before calling Chicago, Illinois, home used to visit on school field trips.

Because Wu’s aim is to get people to think of places in a different way, he decided to use a set of drones to light up the stones during dusk and at night. Flying in this area presented a series of challenges. Drones typically aren’t allowed near Stonehenge. Also, drones cannot fly directly over the stones.

Wu and his assistant, Zac Henderson, also a drone pilot, had to pass the U.K. drone exam, get permission to fly from the English Heritage, which maintains the area, and call ahead to inform the Royal Air Force base every single time they launched. The shoot took about 3 hours total to complete.

This is Reuben Wu’s first cover photo for National Geographic.

While you can see a Phantom 4 series drone in the foreground of the leading video in National Geographic’sBehind the Cover‘ piece, there’s another one in the shadows. Wu confirmed that he also used a DJI Mavic Enterprise because he needed a powerful built-in light that could tilt forward.

‘By subverting the idea of a drone as a flying camera and using it as a flying light beam, I’ve been able to reveal new meanings in old subjects,’ he tells DPReview. ‘New technology (drones aren’t new anymore but they were kind of were in 2014) gives me the opportunity to explore the planet we inhabit in unexpected ways, especially when thinking about it as tools that we can experiment, modify and hack for our specific needs.’

‘While I do not rely on drones exclusively for lighting (I also used a 40ft pole with lights attached for inside the stone circle), they have been transformative to my artistic practice and have become a signature element in my art,’ Wu concludes.

More behind-the-scenes footage from this shoot can be found on the National Geographic TikTok channel. Subscribers can read the full story on the magazine’s website or pick up an issue on newsstands.


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