Ring Light

5.24.12BLOG > Portraits

Anatomy of a Portrait: The Ring Light

by Tom Bagby and Kristen McGill

The overall illumination look that has become so popular is something that is most easily attained by using a ring light, shooting close to the subject through the center of the light. There are several models available commercially, but I wanted to try out the look without investing a lot of money. I came up with a solution that not only saved me some money, but also gives me a look that I haven’t seen from the other lights on the market. My homemade ring light is based off of something I saw my friend Rod Evans use. His might be safer and sturdier, but mine does the trick. In fact, it’s become indispensable in my studio.

How to Build Your Own Ring Light

The ring light is made from a circle cut out of a sheet of ¼” plywood. The outer circle is 32” in diameter and the inner circle is 22” making the frame 5” wide. There are 14 light sockets (found at a hardware store) mounted to the frame and holes are drilled for the wiring. I use 60 watt make-up globe bulbs – just enough light to make the subject’s pupils constrict! Lastly, you need a bracket to mount the light onto the stand.

How to Use Your Ring Light

  • Place the ring light in front of the subject. It may be as close as one foot away from the subject, but tweak the placement of the light so that the ring is centered in the iris of the eye. You will then shoot through the ring of light.
  • Ideally, use a 70-200mm lens zoomed out to at least 175mm to minimize distortion of facial features.
  • Place the subject about two feet away from the background. If the subject’s hair is disappearing into the background, you can place a hair light above and behind the subject.
  • Underexpose one half to one stop. Shoot at your lens’ widest aperture.

CAUTION: Do not build and shoot this light unless you want to sell an image from it in EVERY session you do. It’s THAT popular!

For more information on how to build and use a ring light, Tom and Kristen’s “Anatomy of a Portrait” booklet is available. Email Kristen at Kristen@tombagby.com to order. For Tom’s presentation on the ring light and how to finesse the technique of shooting with it, watch the video below.

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2 thoughts on “Ring Light

James Raymond says:

I build, make, invent, as a retired owner operator og once one of the worlds largest heavy construction company’s , My ring lights ! i install a metal box with a dimmer
and make some big sheets of translucent enough to set color tone, difuse, tone, they work great, mount to tripods, floor brackets, some for shooting food shooting down from ladder, any ways, great video, very instructional, J R

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