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Playing With a Circle of Light...Discovering Ring Lights

I’ve always been fascinated with ring lights.  That mesmerizing, bright ring that brings life and mystery to the eyes in the image…it pulled viewers in like bugs to a zapper.  When you see it, you’ll know it, and you cannot un-see it.  I knew immediately that I wanted to make an image using a ring light as soon as I saw one.  I quickly jumped on eBay to see how I could acquire one.  Unfortunately, they are not cheap…and I didn’t want to make an expensive investment on something that might only get a few uses, or not work for my type of imagery.

Fast forward a little bit, to the part where I saw a DIY ring light on YouTube and thought, “Hey, I can do that!”  A quick hop into the truck, off to the local hardware store and it was on!

I was successful in making a ring light out of standard household items (yay!)…Electrical ballast, some wire, a plug, wire caps, and a circular 19” bulb.  I’m no electrician, but within the hour, I had one operational homemade ring light.  I was very proud of myself.

My first attempt at using a ring light with a subject went…okay.  I cheated a little.  I had two strobes, side-lighting the model from each side, a single white board below her chin, and I held the ring light over my lens.  The ring light didn’t need to illuminate my subject, because the strobes took care of that.  All this ring light did was provide a nice circular loop in her eyes.  It’s a very nice image, but it didn’t have that “ring light look”…where the front of the face was lit up, with a nice ring in the eyes, and nice light fall-off just beyond the subject’s ears.

This is a great portrait, with small ring light in the eyes.  But it's not quite what I had intended.

I gave up on using a ring light for about six months.  I kept seeing those ring light portraits with the signature bright rings in the eyes.  A few months later I came across Neewer’s Universal Collapsible Ring Flash for $21.  “Twenty one bucks!  Okay, I can afford that!”  I decided to give it one more try.  Once I had it in my hands, I have to say that my first attempt almost had me giving up again.  I tried to make portraits of my young daughters…complete disaster.  Nothing went right…the environment had too much natural light, the kids would not sit still, nothing meshed.  It was beyond frustrating.  I folded up my collapsible ring flash and stashed it on the bottom shelf.  My bottom shelf is usually where equipment goes to die.

A few months later, I came across the amazing work of Dani Diamond.  My initial response was “Holy cow!  This man’s work is off the chart awesome!’  And it got me thinking about that ring light again.  I wanted to make a really big one…like three or four feet in diameter.  Then I thought, “Wait a minute, remember that ring light sitting on the bottom shelf?  Yeah, let’s try that one first!”  Out it comes again.  This time, it’s late at night, the rest of the family is gone visiting the grand parents.  I have no time limit, and no distractions. I can spend as much time as I need to learn.

For this shoot, I would be the primary subject.  I got everything ready for the ultimate selfie…tripod, remote, DSLR, flash, and…my collapsible ring flash.

The ring light catchlights in the eyes are small, but the overall portrait gives me the look I want.

This time, I had fun.  And the results show it, but again, I’ll let you be the judge.

A soft ring light effect, with a shallow depth of field gives me the look I'm after.

Switching from left to right and maintaining the eye contact makes for a strong ring light image.