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