But when it comes to lighting, the ring flash is our trusty friend. It’s cost-effective, distinctive, and versatile. And for those reasons, it’s a good piece of equipment to own.
Here’s all you need to know about using a ring flash.
What Is a Ring Flash?
There are many ways to artificially light a subject. They range from huge complex strobe systems down to smaller and simpler systems that attach to your camera.
The flash gun, such as the Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT, is standard. These are used for events, such as weddings. But they’re also used by portrait photographers. Ring flashes are a worthy investment for all sorts of photography.
A ring flash is a flash in the shape of a ring, as opposed to a flash gun. The ring shape is important because they are designed to fit around your lens.
Why Use a Ring Flash?
A ring flash produces a specific type of light. You’ve undoubtedly seen the very specific reflected rings, often found in the subject’s eyes.
They offer a different type of light spread than a flash gun or studio lighting offers. Because the ring flash fits around the lens, the light spreads out evenly over the subject.
A flash gun fires from above the camera and can produce some very harsh shadows. A ring light does the same, but it does so around 360 degrees of the subject to cast fewer shadows.
Other lights only cover a certain angle and degree of spread. A direct flash was used for many years for fashion photography. That’s because fashion photographers like having a strong shadow behind the subject.
A ring flash helps cut down on those harsh shadows. Think of a bust-style portrait image where you want to show the model’s hair, makeup, and jewelry on her neck and wrist. A right flash creates even spreads, showing the viewer that every element is just as important as the last. To achieve this professional look, a ring flash is often mixed with other lights.
If you are looking for an even light cast with spectacular light details, a ring flash is for you.
How to Use a Ring Flash
Ring flashes fit around your lens. They come with screw mounts. And they have adaptors, allowing them to fit most lenses. Others allow you to shoot through them.
You simply screw it on and plug it into your camera. Some models have a battery pack that sits in your camera’s hot shoe. This is typical of ring flashes like the Canon MR-14EX II Ring Lite.
Other models, such as the Neewer R-160 Ring Light, have battery compartments in the ring itself. On these models, the camera connects via a cable.
You can get much bigger ring lights that don’t connect to your lens at all. They might not even connect to your camera, as they provide constant light rather than a flash.
With these larger models, your camera shoots through the ring. This is possible either handheld or by using a tripod.
The biggest benefit to having a ring flash is that it is still a light source. Even if you don’t want that reflected ring characteristic in your image. You can turn it into a simple light by reflecting it into a studio umbrella. This saves you money since you won’t have to buy other lighting equipment.
When to Use a Ring Flash
There are many instances when you could use a ring flash. They were originally developed for dentists, as they could evenly illuminate a person’s teeth.
Ring flashes are cheaper and easier to use than the bigger, more complex lighting systems found in some studios. They allow the photographer to keep their ISO low, allowing better quality images.
They do have a softer light than these bigger setups, but their portability is a huge plus. Photographers can experience one or two stops of lower light in comparison.
But this is what the exposure compensation setting is for. Increasing the light in your image is down to your own unique vision and image purpose.
A ring light is very helpful in macro photography, especially if you use extension tubes. As you get closer and closer to your subject, you’ll find your lens blocks natural or flash gun light.
Having a ring flash at the front element of your lens means having a well-lit subject. This also ensures that the light fall-off is even. In this situation, you might want a dimmable ring flash.
This light aims to help keep the ISO down and allows you to keep fast shutter speeds. Perfect for insects and other subjects that move.
For portrait photography, a ring flash helps avoid shadows. If there are any shadows, they are behind the subject and unseen by the viewer.
The ability for the light to wrap around the subject here is a big advantage. It’s perfect for when you are showing many elements within a scene.
It’s a common giveaway for how photographers light their subjects. A ring light will show up as a ring in the subject’s eyes. The bigger the light, or the closer you are to the subject, the bigger the reflection.
When combined with a soft box, photographers are able to use much bigger ring flashes and right lights. A bigger version helps to light a wide scene or environment.
Food photography is another area where photographers benefit from using ring flashes. They are able to create complicated lighting setups where one light isn’t enough.
By having a light on the camera, you have more light portability. You have directional light readily available from any perspective you shoot from.
Again, it works as a fill or key light. Photographers can use it to expose details in high-key, contrasty scenes.
You can add gels to them. But this is a little more complicated than using a flash gun or other studio lights.
Again, photographers use them as key lights, where other lights fill in any shadows. They also fill in to bring out subtle details.
The ring flash started out by photographing teeth. So really, any item benefits from this type of flash. Every product looks better with even light coverage.
Using a ring flash means there are no harsh, distracting shadows. This means the light is constantly coming from the camera’s perspective. This might not feel like a big deal, but it saves in time and energy.
Underwater photography is another area where ring flashes can benefit your shots. It keeps all your gear centralized and around the camera’s balance center.
It’s especially helpful for underwater macro photography and keeping any subject evenly lit.
For an on-camera ring flash, we recommend the Canon MR-14EX II Macro Ring Lite. Since it’s produced by an OEM (original equipment manufacturer), it’s on the pricey side.
For a cheaper alternative, there is the Neewer R-160 Ring Light. The best thing about this is that the batteries are built into the ring itself.
This does make the lens a little front-heavy. But it’s great for those who don’t want the flash pack to sit on the hotshoe.
The Godox Witstro AD- H600B is the bridge between ring flash adaptors and dedicated ring flashes. This is very portable and can sit anywhere off-camera.
For more power to light larger scenes, go for the Neewer Ring Light Kit. This plugs into an electrical outlet, allowing a brighter light. It also means you don’t have to depend on battery power.
If you plan on using the ring flash a few times and don’t want to spend a few hundred dollars, there is another way.
You can make a DIY ring flash. You obviously need to take the time to make it. But it produces some beautiful and soft results.
Ring lights are used in so many applications, it’s not surprising to see so many photographers using them. If you do any macro or product photography, a good ring flash should be in your kit. We recommend the Neewer Selfie Ring Light for Laptops if you don’t need a portable one. If you need an on-camera ring light, check out the Canon MR-14EX II Ring Lite.
Either of these ring flashes will bring your photos to the next level!