Experimenting with a drone for light painting at Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Photo By Craig Bill

Lake Tahoe features some of the bluest, clearest water in North America. Accompanied by relaxing sandy beaches, soaring pine trees and white-frosted mountain peaks, Lake Tahoe is truly a photographic marvel. Visitors to Tahoe don’t often realize until they take in the view personally that this lake is huge. Its circumference is about 70 miles, and it can take at least an hour to drive from South Lake to North Tahoe on winding, narrow roads.

On this trip, I wanted and planned to do more unique and experimental exposures. Although I’m always looking for new and creative ways to approach photography, I was inspired by the techniques of another landscape photographer and friend, Abe Blair. I had seen how he set up his long exposures while flying a drone overhead to essentially light-paint the subject. And with Lake Tahoe’s crystal-clear blue water and unique terrain around it, I had to try myself.

By the time I hiked down to an ideal area late at night, there was no one around. I began to set up all the equipment—tripod, drone, various LED lighting and wide lenses. The moon was rising but low, which I hoped would add to the composition and ethereal lighting. Even in the moonlight alone, the clear water welcomed the lunar glow below, slightly illuminating the sand and submerged details. Then, as the lighted drone buzzed up to its hovering height, the water glow became incredibly surreal. It was a view unlike anything I’ve seen, and the color effect reminded me of bioluminescence. I mostly experimented with shutter speeds that wildly affected light depth, water clarity and color brightness. During my haste to find the best compositions with a 14mm lens, I occasionally found myself dancing in the cold snow water with my tripod. Along with the classic Tahoe boulders, jagged pine trees and wet sandy feet, I began capturing as many exposures as I could before the drone and light ran out of battery above.

I could tell with quick exposure reviews that I had something special inside my camera. The experience might have been a little cold, frustrating and equipment-intensive, but it was also filled with excitement, and I was confident that I had images that absolutely showcased a magical Lake Tahoe nocturnal scene featuring translucent and levitating blue water.

Sony a7R II, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC, wireless remote shutter, Benro tripod with Andoer head, DJI Mavic Pro 2, ULANZI L1 Pro LED cube. Exposure: 15 sec., ƒ/2.8, ISO 1000.

See more of Craig Bill’s work at CraigBill.com.

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