How to Use a Ring Flash: A Tutorial for New Photographers

The ring flash is one of my favorite tools as a photographer, and it can surely become one of yours too.

There used to be a time when I used a ring flash like crazy. I loved it, and to be honest, I still do. It gives the look and feel of the direct flash so many photographers love while adding more pop to the image. It provides a lot more even lighting too. And it’s desirable. I mean, look at how many people love taking selfies with ring lights. Why wouldn’t you like a ring flash? If you think it’s tacky, I’d recommend you give it a shot and embrace it for what it is.

What Makes a Ring Flash So Special?

Ring flashes were tools initially designed for dentists. They helped a dentist get nice, even lighting on a subject. Then it became popular with macro photographers. Eventually, it became even more significant and began to be used by portrait shooters. But it’s far more special than other light because it does something no other lights can do: it creates a ring-shaped catchlight in the eye. Arguably, that can be done with an octabank, an umbrella, or a beauty dish, but it won’t be as pronounced as it will with a ring flash. A ring flash provides a distinct look that’s very valued by folks.

Should you use it all the time? I’m inclined to say no. It’s best for portraits of a single person. But it could be used at a party for sure to achieve a particular look.

What Is Ring Flashes Used For?

These days, I honestly don’t see them used very often, but ring flashes are used to give a subject pop. The catchlight in the eyes is very attractive. Ring lights are used by influencers and by anyone that wants to take selfies often. The light is even and beautiful, and it helps remove flaws. And for you to use a ring flash, you can get a similar look but with a bit of pop and harshness. Imagine the Terry Richardson, American Apparel, Amy Lombard look to your images. (I hate putting wonderful Amy’s name in the same sentence as those other two.) Still, the aesthetic is similar when it comes to lighting.

How to Use a Ring Flash

Using a ring flash is pretty simple. Lots of photographers try to find a muted, shadowless look to the photos. That’s the more traditional approach. But the newer approach is to make the flash output a bit harsher and more direct. You want the harsh shadows. You also want that signature pop in the eye. Primarily, you shoot with it firing directly at your subject with the ring around the lens. And that’s it. You set the lighting output all by yourself. Dedicated ring flashes are much better than hot shoe flash modifiers. Don’t even bother with the modifiers these days.

The best part about using a ring flash is that your lighting will stand out. There’s so much of the off-camera light that’s used these days and not enough of something different. However, while most laypeople won’t understand an umbrella or a softbox, they’ll totally understand a ring light. If you talk to them about a ring flash, they’ll probably also be a bit more excited to shoot with you. Just be sure to give them breaks.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.