Have you been all around your house and not found that lovely soft light we all crave – light that is bright enough so you can be seen but not harsh so that every nook and crevice stands out with its own shadow? Or do you need to take photos and video regularly at all hours and in any weather so you want a reliable light source that will give you consistent results?
To create lovely light in the studio I use one or two powerful light sources inside large soft boxes which are reflective to the back and have a diffuser on the front. They basically soften and increase the size of a the light source. They are not super practical to have setup near my workspace! Enter the ring light which casts an even light from a single compact source without the need for large and potentially more expensive equipment. So I headed online and ordered the Kmart selfie ring light (in 3 sizes) to see how it compared with the studio lights.
6″ Tabletop Selfie Ring Light: Cost $4 on clearance. This guy has a USB cable, 10 light levels, 3 light colors and a small tripod but no way to attach to your laptop and you’ll need a separate tripod to hold your phone aligned through the ring light centre. I was taking my photos hand held in the garage/studio and didn’t setup a bench or table and it was hard to get the phone and ring light aligned and press the button!
10″ Tabletop Selfie Ring Light: Cost $10 on clearance. This guy also has the USB cable, 10 light levels, 3 light colors, the same tripod PLUS a phone holder inside the ring and remote. Much, much easier to use!
18″ Selfie Ring Light: Cost $65 on clearance. This guy is much larger and has it’s own adjustable floor stand so you’ll need to factor in a bit of floor space. It’s got a dimmer switch for light brightness and a dimmer for the warm to cool colors also but they are hard to reach on the back of the light. There is a phone holder and the same remote and it plugs into mains power but note the cord is quite short.
These three shots were taken with two softboxes for light (pic below) – using my ‘proper’ camera, using my phone’s default setting and using my phones live bokeh setting. The first shot just shows how the location looks with no artificial light. On my proper camera I choose to use a small f-stop aka have just my face in focus and the background gets a little blurry which makes me stand out. I’ve got a Nokia phone so using the bokeh setting mimics this (you can see the messy garage shelf above me is much less distinct and some of my sticky-outey grey hairs have gone fluffy!) and to get the same effect use portrait mode on the iPhone. Oh and I’ve not edited any of the photos taken on my phone, in hindsight I would increase the exposure or brightness a little.
And here are the three ring lights in action versus the studio light using my phone – again not edited. The 10″ shot has a much brighter background which you would not expect so either a) my phone compensated more on this shot for whatever reason its algorithm felt like or it was a bit sunnier when I took this shot because I did have the bottom of the garage door open which was a mistake. You can also see more shadows under my eyes in the 10″ shot which I don’t attribute to the ring light. We should probably exclude the 10″ shot in the comparison (or I need to redo it!) but I think it provides a good contrast on how I’d look without the artificial lighting (aka tired!!).
You can adjust how bright the light is on each ring light or move the light closer or further from your face. The small light is obviously more limited on how bright and far away it could go before it didn’t light my face. Meanwhile the large light I found was too bright to stare into at its highest setting so reducing the brightness and bringing it closer was a solution. (Let me know if you want me to blog the effects on photos for brightness versus distance.)
I don’t feel any of these ring lights could provide the same type and size of soft light the studio lights could (as you would expect) however I do think they provided an affordable and easy to use option to create better light than might naturally be available.
You either love or hate the little circle shaped catch lights in your eyes that you get using a ring light. I quite like them but did not like the warm light from any ring light. Perhaps if I was pretending to be in front of a fire?!?
You want a phone holder (the 6″ light was just too hard to use) and the biggest ring light you can afford (as the larger the light, the softer the output and the further you can have it from your face!). I think the ten light levels were fine but the dimmer switch might be nice on the light color if light color is important to you. If you need to stand or want a heap of flexibility positioning your ring light, then the stand for the larger light is well worth it.
These ring lights are not going to produce the same large, soft light you create with studio lighting but they do have a noticeable impact compared with ambient light and will level up your selfies, FB lives and zoom calls. Would highly recommend when you can’t rely on natural light.