Friday, March 26, 2010

How to Get a Ringflash Look Without a Ringflash

Ring lights, aka ring flash, have been popular and in style for years. They offer a nice soft quality of light and when your subject is against the background you get a shadow around your subject.
These were originally designed for macro and medical photography, but these days are used in fashion photography as well as general people and portrait situations.

I like the ring light look but also feel it is trendy and will fall in and out of style. Both Canon and Nikon make ring lights as well as some third party manufacturers. There is also the Ray Flash which works with your existing flash unit.

These small units have small guide numbers and are not very powerful making them good for fairly close-up subjects. Several major lighting manufacturers make ring lights, such as Calumet, that have substantially more power. The prices are around $2700 and I don’t feel I would get the use from one at that price. Here is how I lit my Santa with a ring flash look.

In the case of this photo I set out to simulate the ring flash look with my monolights. The reason you get the shadows completely around the subject is because you are in a way cross lighting in a circle. The ring flash is your key light casting a shadow on the side of the subject. But because the flash is circular the bottom of the flash casts a shadow up, the right side casts a shadow left, the left side casts a shadow to the right and same with the bottom.

The ring flash acts like a key and fill light as each side of the ring creates its own shadow and the opposite side of the light fills in that shadow.

To simulate the ring flash look I got to thinking that if the key light is right below my lens and as close to the lens axis as I could get it, then a shadow would be cast upwards and on each side as well. What I did was place a mono light with 7” reflector right below the lens.

I tested with just that light on and sure enough it worked but was to contrasty. It needed a fill light. So I added my 22” soft beauty dish and placed it just the opposite side of the lens as the other unit. I set it at a metered difference of ½ stop with the beauty dish -1/2 below the key light.

The shadowing I got from this setup was not as perfect as a commercial ring flash, but was close enough.

One thing however, that I did notice was that if I moved close to the subject that shadow would be wider on the left and right. This was shot at about 100mm. But if you move in closer with the two strobes that will send the sahdows left and right a bit more.

For the Christmas lights I used a shutter speed of 1/4 second and had the lights in the studio turned off.

Overall it was an experiment and as you can see here it worked pretty good.

Take my class: Portrait Lighting


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