Ring Light vs On Camera Flash vs Popup Flash...

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by michael_s|10, Apr 9, 2010.

  1. One of the first things I read about lighting was to not use the pop up flash on the camera.
    So I got an SB-600, and started bouncing it. Photos definitely got better.
    Then I read that I should get the flash off axis. Which I did. And photos got better.
    Then I read I should diffuse it. Which I did. And photos got better.
    Then I read about ring lights, which puts the flash back on the camera, on axis, undiffused. Only the good ring lights cost $$$ :)
    The only difference I can see is the wrap around the lens, which, at distance, I can't imagine is all that much different than just an sb600 mounted on the camera itself. Both sources would be relatively small compared to the subject (person).
    So, my questions is...
    Why does a ringflash produce a result that people like, and an on camera flash does not?
  2. There's a fine point that you are completely missing about the ring flash. From the camera's-eye view, the ring flash does not create any visible shadows. It fills in all the gaps and creases from every possible angle. True, it does this in a very in-your-face, harsh, non-diffuse way. Not too harsh, because the ring light is a little diffuse. But the effect it creates has sort of a "light source is everywhere, but nowhere all-at-once" feel to it. The real problem with direct strobe flash on-axis, bare-bulb, on top of your camera is that it creates visible, harsh, and ugly shadows under everyone's eyes, nose, and chin. But imagine if you had a matching flash mounted UNDER your camera to fill in all those shadows. All of a sudden the hot shoe mounted flash wouldn't be so bad. In fact it would be great. This is what the ring flash does, but from all 360° at the same time. It's like having a hundred lights from different angles all hitting your subject in the same place. It's pretty cool, really, but works best as a fill light, meaning that your main key light is still coming from off-axis somewhere. The ring light doesn't really work all that great as a 1-and-only light, because it creates a sense of incompleteness in the lighting scheme. The light source becomes so hard to identify that it looks unnatural. It also creates a halo around peoples' heads. Also, you wouldn't want to use it for event photography, where a bounce flash can really shine, as its effect is lost on the background elements. It's really for portraits and head-shots, that kind of thing.
  3. Ringlights - except when used clinically (as in, for medical photography) or for macro-ish stuff - are a style thing. The light they produce (and shadows they cast, if the subject is near background that will catch them) have a very distinct look. Presuming you're referring to the high-powered ringlights as used by fashion photographers (or even the modestly priced Alien Bees ABR800 monolight), the look is most often used when the subject has perfect skin, or the photographer wants that flatly-lit appearance with the shadow-halo that so characterizes the results.

    It's a specialty item. The low-power ones are used to get light into tight spaces (like an insect shot where the camera's lens might itself cast a shadow, or when photographing someone's molars). The high-power ones are used to create a stylized, intense look. They also produce nice fill light out in the sun, if you use them right.

    I happen to use a Zeus Ringmaster on occasion ... but most of the time, it's configured not as a shoot-through ringlight, but as just another strobe, shooting through or out of an umbrella or diffused through Buff's rather ingenious Moon Unit modifier. Once in a while I take advantage of its ringlight properties, and I'm glad to have the utility/style of it for some things - but it's not to be confused with being "better" than other lighting techniques.

    Certainly, when you're talking about using your SB-600, there's no comparison. No camera-mounted, battery-operated ringlight is going to be better for general photography.
  4. Craig and Matt -
    Thank you for the info!
    I think Craig was reading my mind when he mentioned putting another sb600 underneath the camera.
    I have studio lights on order (Einsteins - thanks to all who helped me figure out what to buy). That leaves me with 3 SB-600s that will probably start collecting dust.
    Since I have a little free time this weekend, I was thinking about building a sort of ring flash, using three SB600s mounted around the lens axis. (10:00, 2:00, and 6:00)
    While it's not as powerful as the zeus (which looks pretty darn cool!) - if I do it right, it would be iTTL compatible, which I think gives me a little more freedom to change distances relative to the subject.
    Is this an waste of time/impending train wreck? I'm certainly a little worried that 3 lights is not 100 as Matt noted.
  5. Not a waste of time at all. There are already commercial "macro" mounts that put 2 flashs on the camera, at the 3:00 and 9:00 positions. Your idea just takes it 1/2 step farther. I would expect that you'll see some results not unlike the ring light.
  6. If you're wanting to make a DIY ring light using a few flashes, be sure and do a web search for the terms "DIY", "ring", and "light" together to get some ideas. This has been done before, so you might as well benefit from the experiences and ideas of others.
    As for the quality of ring lighting, Craig and Matt hit most of the points. I'll also point out that, in a 3-d situation where you've got subject and background at varying distances, the ring light falls off with distance exactly like an on-camera flash does. Because that's what it is. It eliminates only one of the objectionable aspects of on-camera flash (the harsh shadows), while maintaining the flatness of lighting and the light falloff with distance.
    On-camera flash doesn't look natural because, unless we're spelunkers, we don't walk around with a light on top of our head. Ring flash doesn't look natural because even if we ARE spelunkers, we don't walk around peering at the world through a ring light. Ring lighting is a specialized technique that has its occasional uses I suppose, but if you've already mastered diffused off-camera flash, I suspect you're already producing results that, for most purposes most of the time, look better than what you'll get with a ring flash.
  7. Well, "mastered" is way too strong a word. I can get some reasonably consistent results with the SB600's off camera - some things are out of my reach because of power (like where to place the subject in the fall off curve - sharp fall off is in general my only option because I need to place the lights so close to the subject. That's why I'm moving up to some Einsteins.
    The ring flash is a way (I hope) to produce some different looking images that still have some aesthetic quality, and will also, as a lighting technique, fit well in environments where setting up lights on light stands is impractical.
    If all goes well this weekend, I'll be sure to post some sample shots!
  8. Here's how to make a ringflash for macro & small object use:
    Ringflashes, as pointed out in prior posts, have distinct signatures and can be useful within a limited range.
    There have been other things done with ringlights, some quite interesting. Lots of room for creativity still left there.
    Three flashes will not give you a simulation of a ringlight, but it's certainly an experiment well worth doing.
    As with so many other things in photography, sometimes you just need the right hardware to do the job, and in this case, for use in studio or location fashion/portrait use, they're pricey.
  9. "Why does a ringflash produce a result that people like, and an on camera flash does not?"​
    1. Even illumination eliminates shadows from the camera's point of view
    2. Round catchlight (subject's eyes)
    3. 'Signature' ringlight halo shadow around the subject (this is probably the main reason)
  10. Michael, dont retire those speedlights. Its hard to carry a studio light in your camera bag. I also mix them with studio gear when dont want to run a power cord, or need to hide something small, or god forbid, I think I need more than 4 lights. Matt and I have commented before on the fact the AB isnt a one note sonata. shoot it through an umbrella, grid it for an accent/hair or bg. use it for fill, or as Matt has done purchase the softbox like attachment. Then, when you want the ring effect, you have it too. Many models I shoot really like it. It comes with a diffuser that helps soften the light when using as fill. It doesnt get more on axis fill. Less wind resistant outdoors as fill than a large modifier. Its just a tool. If you want the ring light look occasionally, great, you can still use it other ways
  11. Well, I did some experiments with 3 SB600's arranged around the lens axis in various configurations (everything on tripods/lightstands/etc).
    Using three flashes slightly off axis did create even lighting, however, the shadows on the background were uneven. Basically, there was a shadow per light source, and the size of the shadow was affected by how far off axis the flashes were.
    I definitely didn't like the way the shadows came out. I'm going to experiment a little more however....
    Thanks for all the pointers & advice!
  12. Michael,
    i got Ray Flash some time ago after reading some very positive opinions about it on here and a few other websites... strobist has great comparison between RayFlash unit, Orbis unit and AB, links below if you interested:
    1st part - http://strobist.blogspot.com/2009/10/ray-flash-vs-orbis-vs-alienbees-abr800.html
    2nd part - http://strobist.blogspot.com/2009/11/ray-flash-vs-orbis-vs-alienbees-abr800.html
    what i found after i got it, is that even though i like the effect it creates, it's too limiting for me... i'm using canon gear and i wanted ring light for event photography (mostly weddings)... i've done some testing using a few lenses (that was were the problem started appearing) - 24-70mm f2.8, 35mm 1.4, and 135mm f2... all 3 lenses are pretty big and i always shoot with hood, and it was the hood that created the problem. there is nothing wrong with ring light (at least RayFlash) when you shoot without hood... with hood you have to have your camera and lens leveled parallel to the ground or you get shadow below, over or on the side of the image. i didn't have a problem when used with 50mm f1.4 or even 85mm f1.8 - but they are a lot smaller than the other lenses. so after having it for about week and half i returned it...
    btw on top of everything the light loss is too great to overpower the sun on bright day unless you raise your iso...

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