This was originally written and published for Photofocus. The article is republished here with search engines blocked and canonical set to the original published article. It is here for archival purposes and so my community can find it too.
At first glance, it might appear as though a ring light has only one purpose in photography. But really, you can think outside the circle (pun intended) to use a ring light in multiple ways. Today we’d like to share some of those with you.
The standard method for using a ring light is to use it as a main light source with a camera inside of the circle. That enables the light to illuminate the subject’s face perfectly in a complete circle. With the camera inside of the circle, the lens will not see the light so there will be no reflections or flare.
WIth how ring lights are made, it means that the light is typically constrained to its target and will not bleed outside of the circle too much. That makes for a reasonably precise light source without the need for a modifier.
A downside to a ring light in this standard way is when a subject uses glasses. It’s nearly impossible to completely remove light reflection from glasses caused by a ring light. That’s due to the nature of having the light source aimed directly at the subject’s face with little to no movement or tilting.
The upside, though, is how beautiful the light will be on your the face.
Hair Light method
Another way to use a ring light is to mount it up high out of the way from the camera’s view, behind the subject as a hair light. This does two things.
- It adds a beautiful backlight to the subject’s head and potentially (depending on distance) to their upper body.
- It can create a separation of the subject from the background.
Because of what was mentioned earlier, the light won’t bleed too far away from the circle shape. Of course, the size of the circle will depend on the distance you have it from the subject.
But if you want to create the perfect hair light for a subject, then why not go with something designed for a head?
This might sound odd, but why not use the light as a background? The circle of light can create quite the unique look for a portrait. Behind the light could be another light or just darkness. Your subject would still have to be illuminated by something like a softbox as well. Otherwise, your subject will disappear into the abyss.
Your exposure will depend on a few things:
- The brightness of the ring light
- What’s behind the ring light
- What’s being used to light the subject
- How bright the main lights are
You’ll either need a light meter or just trial and error to pinpoint your exposure.
If you have a ring light, like the Ray Flash or Orbis, and a fisheye lens, then consider the Jarvie Window. It’s a unique view of the world discovered by Scott Jarvie around 2010. It needs no explanation once you have the two components, but we recommend checking out Scott Jarvie’s blog post on it to see some cool examples.
Have you used ring lights before? Head over to the Photofocus Readers group on Facebook and share your ring light illuminated photos using either of the three methods shared here.