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by evan-pak

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I have a Ray Flash ring flash that I got for macro work. Whenever I mention it to a photographer, they often say that they really like it for portrait work.

What are the advantages of using a ring flash for portrait photography?

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Some people like the look it gives, some don't. The highlights in the subjects eye can be attractive. It can be an easy way to somewhat attractively light a portrait session with minimal equipment. – dpollitt May 11 '11 at 14:30
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The advantages when used as a main/only light include:

  • your work resembles big budget fashion photography from the 80s (when ringlights were used extensively)

  • you get a crisp detailed look without the big shadows you'd get from a point source. By surrounding the lens you light from all angles simultaneously you eliminate strong shadows, leaving only a faint shadow which encircles your subject. Here's a comparison I shot between a ringlight and regular on camera flash:

  • you get cool circular catchlights

  • setup is easy with few settings to adjust.

There are disadvantages too, unlike a softbox the light is unforgiving of blemishes etc.

The ringlight can also be used more subtly in a multi light setup to improve definition by throwing light into shadow areas.

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Also worth noting that it often tends to produce rather washed out looking colors (an effect your example also shows quite nicely). – Jerry Coffin May 11 '11 at 17:07
@Jerry Coffin: you're right. Is that because of the lack of shadows? – Craig Walker May 11 '11 at 17:18
@Craig: no -- at least not mostly. Most of it is that with the light so close to the lens, you get a lot of specular highlights reflecting white light directly back toward the lens. Moving the light farther off-axis lets you see the diffuse light more. – Jerry Coffin May 11 '11 at 17:23
Do you just like grab a model and you're like "Hey, I need to take your picture two different ways for a website?" – rfusca May 11 '11 at 19:19
@rfusca Yeah, pretty much. – Matt Grum May 11 '11 at 20:57

Ring flash gives a very distinctive look. It virtually eliminates shadows on the face of the subject (ring flash shots are usually taken head-on) while leaving a soft, even shadow around the subject.

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