What Is Ring Flash Used For? Advice From a Decade of Using Ring Flash

There aren’t many reviews of flashes out there. And there are even fewer reviews and sensible tutorials on how to use ring flash. But ring flash is a favorite technique of mine and I’ve used it for years. Some folks like to just blast their subjects with direct flash, but this is different. Also, ring flash and its use have evolved over the years. So we’re going to talk about how it’s different and how photographers should be using it these days.

At One Point, They Were Great for Macro Photography

The origins of ring flash start with dentists. When they had to photograph someone’s teeth, they used it along with a macro lens. That evolved into being used for macro photography. The reasoning here is that macro lights were bright and highly capable. So they gave a lot of nice, even lighting on something from the front. It stayed this way into the early 2010s. Anyone who wanted to shoot macro photos would be told to go buy a macro lens, macro flash, etc. But then things changed.

There Are Better Ways to Do Macro Photography Now

For what it’s worth, I never liked the look macro lights gave for macro photography. It lacked character and seemed incredibly sterile. It’s much better to use an off-camera flash or studio strobe with a diffusion of some sort. If you’re using an on-camera flash, just use a Rogue flashbender. We’ve got a tutorial on doing this here.

Ring Flash Is for Portrait Photography

These days, the ring flash is much better suited for portrait photography. Just think, everyone shoots selfies with a ring light LED. People geek out about it. Women and men will stop what they’re doing just to stand in front of a ring flash and shoot selfies. Let’s face it, it makes sense to use ring flash for portrait photography.

“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.” – A tutorial for new photographers

There are various options. You can spring for a dedicated ring flash (I use the Flashpoint RF-400). But there are also great items from folks like Neewer, which are versions of the Roundflash diffuser that manipulate on-camera flash lighting. Almost a decade ago, there used to be more flash modifiers on the market. But they all disappeared more or less. There was the Orbis which really needed the exposure compensation cranked up. And the Ray Flash was similar. Since then, the ring flash craze kind of died down, and brands started working on making other things instead. 

Otherwise, you’d need to spend a ton of money on options from brands like Profoto. And honestly, I don’t recommend it. Some might tell you to just use an LED ring light. But there are tons of problems with LEDs and constant lights just don’t really do what strobe can do. Maybe I don’t want to shoot a portrait at ISO 1600. And maybe I also can’t see what an LED could do for me that a ring flash couldn’t! 

Here are some tips:

  • If you’re using a flash modifier, then crank the exposure compensation up by an extra stop of light or so.
  • Ring flash is meant to give a sparkle in the eye, even lighting overall, and the full-blast look on someone directly. But still, it’s all about the poses.
  • Traditional photography would scoff at the look ring flash gives. But in truth, it does everything you want much easier.

We’ve got more tutorials on using a Ring flash right here.

Chris Gampat

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