studio lighting: ringflash as a single light-source
I have a confession to make about ring-flash, especially when it is used as a single light-source. I’ve never been a fan. I’ve never liked the stark over-lit look that it produces. Even in images that are supposed to be edgy and trendy.
I’ve seen some incredible examples where the ringflash is part of a multi-light setup, with the ring-flash doing a just little bit of the work. But I haven’t yet seen an image where the ring-flash was the only light source (or dominant light source), where the photo has set my world ablaze.
I’ve taken flack on some of the photography forums for that view – it’s as if I am attacking someone’s religion by offering a non-conforming viewpoint. But I really don’t like ringflash. But, you know, as the saying goes – don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it. So when I met up with Morgan Joyce, I thought her heavily tattooed appearance would make her a good subject for this style of lighting – something modern and … well, edgy and trendy. (Check her Model Mayhem page.)
A few observations about using ring-flash in the studio:
- That shadow around her, is typical of ring flash, and because it is so distinctive, it is often used as part of the image. In other words, it is distinctly shown, as opposed to being hidden by adding additional light on the background.
- The light is very hard on the model’s eyes. You’re blitzing your subject directly in the face with a lot of light coming from the lens’ axis. So all my test shots were done with her eyes closed. I ended up shooting about a dozen images, and then went on to something else. I can only imagine how tiring it must be to have this flash go off directly in your eyes.
- Unlike other studio lighting, which are fixed on light-stands and such, the ring-flash is attached to your camera. So if *you* move, your exposure changes. Remember, manual flash exposure is dependent on distance. So for a few of the shots where I moved closer, I had to rely on the extra data of the RAW file to pull down the exposure a touch.
- To not trip over the power cable from the Profoto Acute B2 600 W/s powerpack (vendor) to the Profoto Acute 2 Ring-Flash (vendor), I had the Power Pack slung over my shoulder. The cable was also coiled loosely over my shoulder. I felt a little like Indiana Jones.
- edited to add:
The one limitation in how I used this ring-flash is perhaps in that I didn’t use it with a modifier like the Profoto Wide Soft Reflector for Ring Light (vendor). This would’ve turned the ring-flash in a kind of beauty dish that fits around the lens. And it would appear that the nuisance value to your subject might be reduced with this.
So there it is. I still don’t like the look. The subtleties in light that generally appeal to me, are gone since the ringflash is purposely such a stark flat light. My tendency is still towards softer light, as shown in a previous article where I used Westcott Spiderlites to photograph Morgan.
But before I am forced to hand in my Cool Photographer card, I am still open to persuasion. If anyone has examples that I should see where the use of ring-flash enhanced the subject in a way that no other lighting setup could’ve … let me know. I’d love to see.
equipment used during this photo session (and equivalents)
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G AF-S / Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
- Profoto Acute 2 Ring-Flash
- Profoto Acute B2 600 W/s power pack
or alternately, the Profoto B1 500 W/s AirTTL battery powered flash