7 Creative Ways to Use A Ring Flash - Digital Photography School

7 Creative Ways to Use A Ring Flash

I'm gone get you........
I’m Gonna Get You by Ragoem

Ring flashes (or ring lights) provide some awesome light. They are very common with the fashion industry where they are used to create a glamorous look. However if you want to use one the lights they use on high-end fashion shots, be prepared to say good bye to a couple of Big Ones. The oddly shaped – around the lens – modifier, combined with lots of lighting power does not come cheap.

Luckily new, easy on the pocket, rings lights like the Orbis ($200) and the DIY Ring Flash ($25) provide access to this wonderful tool to the budget minded photographer as long as they own a small hot shoe strobe.

With the wider availability of ring flashes, I thought it would be nice to explore seven ways (both orthodox and unconventional) to use ring flashes.

Use It For Subtle Fill

The most common use for a small ring flash is to use it to create a subtle fill light. Since the light is coming from 100% on-axis, it has very little effect on the scene other than to provide additional light.

Greg "Krypto" Selinger

Photographer Benjamin Von Wong explains how you create such a photograph:

Use It For Framing

Though it is not trivial, it makes sense to use the ring of light coming from the strobe as a framing element – it provides a perfect white circle of light:

Pow!
POW! by EJP Photo

The interesting thing, is that using an ultra wide lens (like 8mm wide) you can also use the edges of the ring as framing element while placing the lens behind it. This is demonstrated by photographer Fallon Chan

The "Jarvie" window
The “Jarvie” window by Fallon Chan

Use It To Expose Details On a Hard Light Shot

David Hobby A.K.A Strobist came up with one of the coolest and interesting ways to use a ring flash. Using several strobes as hard lights he creates a contrasty scene. Then he uses a ring flash as fill to add details to the final photograph. you can learn more about this technique here and here.

Bionic Arm
Bionic Arm by Bionic Arm

Use If For Interesting Catch lights

One of the most visible signatures of ring lights is the unique shaped catch lights they produce.

Since the light is coming from a bagel shaped source, they catch light it produces is bagelled as well. This is wonderfully illustrated in John Winters photograph.

50" ringlight
50″ ringlight by 50″ ringlight

If you are going towards this look, one thing that you need to take care of is the distance between the ring flash and your subject. The closer the ring light, the more prominent the catch light effect will be.

Of course, if you are into catch lights, you may want to try having your subject ware sunglasses. While I am not sure that this would qualify as ring light per se, the effect is well worth trying. And if you want to take this into extremes you can always add some star patterns into the ring light.

DGTL PHTGRPHR - Magic Cyril Johnson
DGTL PHTGRPHR – Magic Cyril Johnson by Steven Monteau

Use It As Key

Of course it is always an option to use a ring flash as strong key light or even a single light. This is where you can see the “signature” lighting pattern of the ring light at its best. Note the halo of shadow originating around the model as the light hits her exactly from the lens center.

Ray Flash Ring Light
Ray Flash Ring Light by Ian Wedlock

Use It For Macro

If you opt to photograph the small things, a ring flash is your perfect companion. Its even illumination is great for macro shots where you need very soft light.

Refraction 001
Refraction 001 By LULZ Photography

Use it As Softbox

Lastly, you can forget the fact that this is a ring flash at all and simply use it off camera and off axis as a small softbox.

This is exactly what Tomer Jacobson did for Nadia, his model. Using a Lastolite Triflector Speed-Lite as soft glamorous light with a ring flash coming from top left and actually acting as a softbox to add a bit of directional light.

Nadia with ring flash
Nadia by Tomer Jacobson

Your Turn

Are you using ring flash at all? Got any favorite ring flash image? How will you use (or have you used) a ring flash to take great photographs?

About The Author

Udi Tirosh runs DIYPhotography, and makes great photography products.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Guest Contributor This post was written by a guest contributor to DPS. Please see their details in the post above.

Become a Contributor: Check out Write for DPS page for details about how YOU can share your photography tips with the DPS community.

Some older comments

  • usuqa

    May 23, 2013 08:41 pm

    It depends on the ringlfash Paul.

    Some studio style ones have bare bulbs showing so you wouldn't want to touch them, but when its plastic/adapters for speed lights you should be fine.

  • Paul

    March 20, 2013 08:12 am

    Is it safe to touch the Ring Flash like this? Is it durable?

  • gipukan

    February 13, 2013 05:10 am

    Will be making one soon i hope and VW rocks with his idea's, Great to see you teamed up with him!

  • Timothy Gilbert

    March 2, 2012 09:31 pm

    I like "Use it As Softbox" and "Use It As Key" but it helps to have those models in the shot!

  • Malene

    November 24, 2011 04:47 am

    Oh, this is awesome! :) I'm definitely getting one.

  • Lizzy Vosseler

    November 22, 2011 05:31 am

    Don't forget about the Ray Flash: The Ring Light Adapter. This was the first, portable Ray Flash to come out on the market that attaches to your flash head on your camera, leaving both of your hands free. Both the Orbis and the DIY Ring Flash are designed for use off camera.

    Check out the Ray Flash here - http://www.expoimaging.com/product-detail.php?cat_id=8&product_id=15&keywords=Ray_Flash:_The_Ring_Flash_Adapter

  • Daniel*1977

    November 20, 2011 06:57 am

    Nice tips, need to do some shots with my ring. Until now I've done such:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/didmyself/6242658053/in/set-72157623212388171/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/didmyself/6243173866/in/set-72157623212388171/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/didmyself/6277247440/in/set-72157627822053437/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/didmyself/6276714335/in/set-72157627822053437/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/didmyself/6277230338/in/set-72157627822053437/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/didmyself/6302179991/in/set-72157627822053437/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/didmyself/6238566845/in/photostream/

  • Lomography

    November 19, 2011 04:25 am

    Using the ring flash for Macro is a very good idea. My big normal flash usually bounces over the subject I am trying to capture. Thanks for the Tips

  • Tasha

    November 16, 2011 10:24 am

    Thankyou for the post.
    I have never used a ring flash although I would love to own one.
    I'll be going broke like Jon.

    I always thought a ring flash was used for small objects so this is very interesting.
    I would like to see a photo of the actual ring flash in use when taking the girl's
    picture. Where is it placed in relation to her.

  • James

    November 12, 2011 03:55 am

    This is great info thanks!

  • Jon Welling

    November 11, 2011 12:35 pm

    Yeah... I've been getting back into the photography thing for a bit now. I love doing it. I stopped before because money and time. I still lack both but miss it. Your site is making me go broke though. Now I want one of these ring flashes. I can see it coming in handy for a few things.

  • Thomas Arne Strand

    November 8, 2011 10:32 pm

    Love ring flash, just have to be careful with the model's eyes!

  • ccting

    November 8, 2011 12:43 pm

    WC, great DIY ring flash..

  • Lettisa

    November 7, 2011 08:28 pm

    Thank you for the post!
    I do prefer to use a single ring-flash for the main light, rather than a softbox, because softbox reflections aren't pleasure to see in the subject's eye!

  • Paul Monaghan

    November 5, 2011 09:26 pm

    I used one off camera ages ago for this photo of my wife.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/usuqa/4875799387/in/set-72157613030005925

    I also use it for fill sometimes, or if I'm shooting a gig night in the crowed as a main light...

    https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-WygfEyjSHiA/TqvxeX2gc_I/AAAAAAAABKE/606SIXMymdI/s640/IMGP2545.jpg

    They are a handy thing to have in your kit but are getting overused too..

  • kevin bucchio

    October 28, 2011 01:20 pm

    Neat article def. think i may do a diy ring flash seems neat.

  • Chris

    October 28, 2011 09:55 am

    Interesting article - thanks!

    Does anyone have any experience with these units:

    http://photojojo.com/store/awesomeness/ring-flash-adapter/

    Price looks tempting at $40, just wondering if they are any good?

  • Nomader11

    October 27, 2011 01:02 am

    Almonz - thanks for the quick reply. I am totally willing to stick Styrofoam in the head to support the flash. Thanks for the link too. I checked it out and I'll go ahead and purchase the ring light. Much appreciated!

  • Almonz

    October 26, 2011 11:48 pm

    Hi Nomander11,

    the 430ex's flash head is slightly smaller than the opening in the CoCo. I had to use a small piece of styrofoam to support my 430ex's head into the opening of the CoCo ring flash.

    Here is a shot I took of my friend at her daughter's b-day party using the CoCo and the 430ex II.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedra12/6138415464/in/photostream

    -Almonz

  • Josh

    October 26, 2011 02:49 pm

    I feel I should mention that the "Jarvie Window" was named after Scott Jarvie https://plus.google.com/u/0/100962871525684315897/posts?hl=en and he writes about it here http://jarviestudios.com/blog/2010/02/the-jarvie-window-experience/

  • bryan

    October 26, 2011 08:29 am

    i would love to use one now i just have to go get one

  • Nomader11

    October 26, 2011 06:12 am

    Hey,

    Great article. I'm looking at purchasing a Coco Ring Light but I'm wondering if I can get away with using a 430ex ii instead of the 580ex. Does anyone know if the 430ex ii is compatible with the Coco Ring Flash? Thanks.

  • Rodrigo

    October 26, 2011 03:15 am

    Use it for fun
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rodri200000/6150405711/

  • WC

    October 26, 2011 02:36 am

    I've done my very own DIY ring flash adaptor: http://templartan.blogspot.com/2009/03/my-diy-project-ring-flash-adaptor.html

    It is made from corrugated sheets. :p

  • Boudoir Photography

    October 26, 2011 02:01 am

    I honestly haven't used mine for years .. it was a lot funner to use when it wasn't so popular.

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed

Sign up to the free

DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download

GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed

Sign up to the free

DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE

  • Guaranteed for 2 full months
  • Pay by PayPal or CreditCard
  • Instant Digital Download
DPS NEWSLETTER
DPS NEWSLETTER
DPS NEWSLETTER

DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Email:
 
 
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed