How to create the ring flash look without a ring flash.
Guest Author: Blair Bunting
In this lesson, Blair Bunting demonstrates how to use an extra small OctoDome®, which is available at the Adorama Photoflex Store, to get the look of an expensive ring light. Ring lights create a soft shadow around any raised feature on the subject including the nose, eye lashes, chin, buttons, and collars.
The original use of a ring light was to get bright light onto the subject while doing an extreme close up where the camera would normally cast a shadow. Blair also gets close to his subject, but solves the problem of casting shadows in a clever and elegant way. Check out his approach and see how you can get a ring light look without having to buy a ring flash!
Camera/Media available at Adorama
• Nikon D3X
• Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4
• Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8
Lighting Equipment, available at Adorama
• LiteStand: medium
• Photoflex OctoDome® NXT Extra Small Locat5ion Kit
• Nikon SB-900 speedlight
My name is Blair Bunting, and I am a commercial photographer based out of Scottsdale, Arizona. From the time I started seriously shooting at 19, I've worked to develop my own photographic vision and style through lighting and photographic techniques. My work essentially has a contrasty, edgy, specular look that has found some popularity in recent years.
The Ring Flash
This in-your-face look, which has gained the attention of fashion and commercial photographers, is typically created with a ring flash (you can buy ring flashes at Adorama). What most people first notice when they start to analyze the effects of this light is the actual ring of light that is reflected in the model's eyes. But what I like more about this type of light is its high degree of contrast, which can really make your subject's face pop when it's placed at close range.
Yet, as engaging and effective as a ring flash is, it's also pricey and can set you back thousands of dollars. Many don't realize that this type of lighting can be achieved on a shoestring budget without having to use a ring flash. In this lesson, I photographed my friend Kendall in front of a simple white backdrop, and demonstrate how to achieve nearly the same quality of light, but with much less expensive gear.
The Alternative to a Ring Flash
For this shoot, my lighting consisted of a Photoflex Octodome® nxt: extra small kit, which you can buy at Adorama. I started by attaching the extra small OctoDome® softbox to the basic metal OctoConnector (speedring). I then mounted the Adjustable ShoeMount Hardware to the OctoConnector and then mounted the Hardware onto the HeavyDuty swivel.
All these parts are included the kit, which Photoflex® put together for photographers who already have their own shoemount flash unit and LiteStand, but who need everything else to utilize an extra small OctoDome®.
Finally, I mounted the HeavyDuty Swivel to a LiteStand and attached my shoemount flash to the Adjustable ShoeMount Hardware. Here's a rear view of the kit set up and positioned close to Kendall.
Positioning the Camera
Next, I simply positioned my tripod-mounted camera in front of the face of the OctoDome® to mimic the lighting characteristics of a ring flash. I made sure to leave as little space as possible between the face of the OctoDome® and the back of the camera.
Since there really was no way for me to look through the viewfinder with the camera nestled up against the OctoDome®, I attached a cable release to the camera in order to fire off frames.
With the light and camera in place, I had Kendall stand with his back right up against the white seamless paper backdrop, approximately two feet away from the camera and OctoDome®.
Camera and Lens Settings
For the first series, I shot with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens and with my camera set to the following:
• Exposure Mode: Manual
• Shutter speed: 1/200th of a second
• Aperture: f/2.8
• ISO: 1000 (for a grainy look)
• File Format: Raw
• White Balance: 5200K
For this shot, my focal length was set to 52mm.
Here, I zoomed out a little and had the focal length set to 31mm.
Framing and Texture
I immediately liked the quality of light I was getting from the camera placed in front of the OctoDome®, as well as the film grain texture I was getting with the high ISO setting. Of my two test shots, I preferred the selective detail in the one shot at 52mm, but I also liked being able to see more of Kendall's head in the one shot at 31mm.
To have it all in a single frame, I simply rotated the camera 90 degrees to a vertical position, which would allow me to come in tight and not have to crop too much. I also decided to substitute the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens with a fixed Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens, which you can buy at Adorama, and shoot wide open at the f/1.4 setting. This would give me that super selective focus I was going for.
With the lens opened up to f/1.4 and the power on the flash dialed down a bit to compensate for exposure, I was ready to take my final shots. Here's a raw frame with Kendall looking away from the lens.
In reviewing this result, I really loved the limited depth of field, as well as the quality of light. As you can see, the lighting is almost identical to what you would get from a ring flash.
Simple Adjustments in Post-Production
Afterward, I opened the file up in Nikon Capture NX2 software, available at Adorama, applied a tonal curve to increase contrast, and ran it through a channel mixer to alter and de-saturate the colors somewhat.
Here's another favorite with Kendall looking straight into the lens, processed similar to the previous shot.
As you can see, the lighting, the camera position, the lens choice, the high ISO, and the tonal and color adjustments all helped to create this specific look I was going for.
Now It's Your Turn
Don't be afraid to get creative with the equipment you have, as you can get results you didn't before think possible. For me, I find the extra small OctoDome® to be an extremely versatile lighting tool. It can be used with speedlights, studio strobes, hot lights, as well as to mimic a ring flash. Be sure to buy the extra small OctoDome® at the Adorama Photoflex Store.
The biggest piece of advice I have for aspiring photographers is to get out there and experiment with what you have, particularly with lighting and subject matter. Finding your photographic vision can be challenging at times, but it can also be a whole lot of fun. So don't forget to enjoy the process!
Written and photographed by Blair Bunting.
Assistance and setup shots by Paul Morton
Modeled by Kendall