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What Is a Ring Light?
A ring light is a circular lighting tool that evenly illuminates the subject of a close-up photograph. Ring lights are popular in portrait photography. In addition to overall studio lighting, a professional photographer or videographer may use a ring light to ensure their subject's face is evenly lit with a pleasing, soft light.
In the era of smartphone photography, LED ring lights are an increasingly common photography accessory. Some selfie ring lights attach directly to your smartphone. Other ring light kits may include a tripod stand, a gooseneck, and a charger in addition to the LED ring light itself.
How Does a Ring Light Work?
A ring light produces soft, direct light on a subject, minimizing shadows. When you take a photo using a ring light, place the camera lens in the center of the ring; this ensures that your subject is lit evenly from the direction of the camera. Other light sources may produce brilliant lighting on some parts of a subject while leaving others in harsh shadow. By contrast, a ring light that's properly set up on its light stand provides uniformity to the way surfaces are lit.
Fluorescent ring lights produce a relatively bright white light. (This is intrinsic to fluorescent bulbs, not ring lights specifically.) Most of today's ring lights use LED lights, which typically have a softer effect. Many LED ring lights are dimmable, either via an onboard dimmer or a smartphone app. Dimmable ring lights offer more versatility and greater control of color temperature, and they’re typically the best option for professional photography and videography.
4 Ways to Use a Ring Light
Photography professionals and hobbyists alike use ring lights in their work.
- For macro photography: In macro photography—close-up photography of very small subjects—ring lights help achieve lighting that is evenly balanced in every shot. A ring light mounted on the front of a camera allows a macro photographer to achieve consistent lighting in each new shot.
- For highly detailed close-ups: Ring lights are the best lighting option for close-up photography and videography projects like makeup tutorials. This makes them particularly useful for makeup artists.
- For video production: Cinematographers and videographers often use ring lights in their lighting setup, typically in conjunction with other tools like a softbox, a fill light, or a sidelight. A ring light affixed to the front of a camera is helpful when you’re filming a subject whose head moves around a lot. Provided the subject doesn't stray too far away, they'll always remain in the light.
- For smartphone selfies: If you want to bring out your best facial features, try using a beauty ring light when you take selfies. The ring light effect helps you achieve consistent lighting with a relatively simple lighting setup.