Building a Ring Light for Portrait Photography

Here is a full-blown confession of mine. Photography isn’t just what I do when I strap a camera around my neck and snap away at fascinating people and awe-inspiring scenes.

Yes I do that in plenty as I work as a wedding photographer, portrait photographer and senior photographer for Milwaukee and all of southeastern Wisconsin.

However, I do also find myself from time to time being just a plain nerd about photography. When I’m not shooting or editing photos I also like just reading up on photography, what’s new in the industry, new gear I haven’t heard of or used and different photography techniques and methods to get better or just more interesting shots.

I love it and therefore I watch plenty of videos on YouTube.

As such I see my fair share of Do It Yourself photography projects, ways to save money but making devices that can give you a lot of interesting and intriguing effects popping out of your photos.

The latest project was a ring light.

Basically the principal of a ring light is that it creates a main light source which illuminates and shines in a square pattern. Portrait Photographers use this to create a beautiful circle of light in a model’s eyes, reflecting in the pupil and back at the camera.

I have never heard of this technique before and hadn’t paid attention to certain portraits to catch the fact that this circle kept showing up, but once I saw the tutorial I was intrigued enough to try the method.

As far as DIY projects go, this was relatively quick and cheap.

Other than the normal items you have around the house all I needed was four sheets of foam board, binder clips and a plastic table cloth.

For the items around the house, I needed a knife, tin foil, duct tape a yardstick or ruler or just something straight and scissors.

Now, for the building.

First you take the foam board and score it into three long sections and bend it so it forms a u-shape. Repeat this with all four foam boards and then duct tape them into a square with the hole in the u-shape pointing in the same direction. Cut out a squared section in the ends of the boards so the u-shape has a continuous opening or as I thought of it so a mouse could complete the maze if the boards were laying down.

Once done, fill the u-shape with tin foil you first crumpled then smoothed out again (this makes it more shiny and therefore more reflective for light).

I duct-taped some of the ends down, so it would stay more flat.

The final part of the project was making the diffuser.

Lay the plastic table cloth over top the foam boards and cut out a model of the ring light leaving a 1-inch extra layer around the outside of the plastic.

Then stand up the foam boards and put a flash on the bottom corner and then another atop the opposite corner.

I use remote triggers on my flashes, but others may have different methods.

Once I set my flashes I clip the plastic table cloth using the binder clips in place over the ring light to act as a diffuser.

I then stand on the non-hole side and shoot through the hole in the middle of the flash at my subject on the other side, using the remote atop my camera to fire the flashes.

It then creates a perfect square in the eyes of my model. It’s easy and it’s a cool effect. As a bonus it casts even light on my subject giving them a flattering look, which works great for portraits.

For those of you, that want to see the source of where I found the instructions. Here it is on petapixel. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed making.

Here are a couple portraits I got using this at my home in Milwaukee.

Mina dutifully posing for the ring light effect.
Mina dutifully posing for the ring light effect.
Mina enjoying the model life.
Mina enjoying the model life.
A close up of Mina's eyes, which shows the reflection of a square beam of light.
A close up of Mina’s eyes, which shows the reflection of a square beam of light.
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