How to Use a Ring Light

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Photographers, videographers, and social media stars alike benefit from creating beautiful and brilliant images. Their secret tool? The ring light, a donut-shaped lighting accessory. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the uses for a ring light and how to choose the best one for you.


What is a ring light?

Ring light set up with a camera in front of a deskLightField Studios/Shutterstock

A ring light (sometimes known as a “ring flash”) is a round, electronic source of light that sits around a camera lens and offers even, diffused, shadowless illumination of a subject. Additionally, they have several small bulbs (as opposed to one large bulb, like traditional flashes) that work to blur imperfections. While you can use a ring light for most types of photography, they’re more common for still photography of small products, portraiture, video tutorials, macro photography, and social media content

Why use a ring light?

Woman in front of a ring lightchaponta/Shutterstock

Ring lights are used in a variety of settings and for multiple purposes, although their primary purpose is to make photographic and videographic subjects “pop” without washing them out. Specifically, they help:

  • Highlight details: Ring lights’ design perfectly accentuates the smallest details in the most flattering way. The illumination makes subjects’ eyes sparkle with specular highlights or “catch lights.”
  • Balance close-ups: The balanced lighting provided by a ring light allows fantastic close-up macro images and videos.
  • Create color effects: Use ring lights with color modulation options or apply different color lenses on top of the light to produce color effects.

Ring lights are commonly used for:

  • Portraits: The soft-yet-bright illumination of a ring light captures the uniqueness of a portrait subject’s features while blurring blemishes and wrinkles.
  • Live and taped videos: Ring lights are beloved by YouTube personalitiesTikTok stars, and Zooming remote workers alike due to the flattering uniform light they cast on their subjects.

Most actors and creatives working from a home studio benefit from investing in a ring light. Whether filming a self-tape audition, crafting the next viral sensation, or taking selfies for social media, a ring light highlights that they are the gleam of the crop.

How to choose a ring light

Woman posing in front of a ring lightDean Drobot/Shutterstock

There isn’t one ring to rule them all when it comes to ring lights; the best one for shooting makeup tutorials might not be right for capturing portrait subjects. Consider the following when choosing your ring light:

  • Size: Ring lights come in a variety of sizes. Larger ones create softer lighting, so if you have the room for it and a full camera setup with a remote function, a larger (18 inches or above) ring light can create the perfect ambiance. If you’re only using the ring light for outdoor shoots, you likely want a portable 12-inch light. Most YouTubers use 10-inch “selfie lights” that clip directly onto laptops.
  • Coloring: Some ring lights offer adjustable color temperatures to set specific moods and tones. Keep in mind that colors appear more natural with a 95+ color rendering value. 
  • Dimmability: Dimmable light options allow better control over images. Stronger light creates clearer, brighter images that look like they were taken during the day, while dimmer light results in blurrier shots that have a nighttime feel. 
  • Power source: Do you prefer plugging into a traditional outlet, using a USB port, or inserting rechargeable batteries? 
  • Flexibility: A ring light that has a flexible neck or rotatable ring head lets you refine the lighting position and angle.
  • Lighting type: Fluorescent bulbs can provide stronger lighting than their LED counterparts. However, LED lights are easier to use and harder to break, while also providing better color rendering and light diffusing options. Unless you’re a particular fan of changing room lighting, LED is likely the way to go.
  • Budget: If you’re running a photography business or already have a successful channel, it’s worthwhile to make a larger investment in a top-of-the-line ring light. If you’re just getting started or simply want to snap a few selfies, a cheaper model will more than suffice.

How much is a ring light?

Woman posing in front of a ring lightVitalii Kuznetsov/Shutterstock

Ring light costs depend on the size, technology, and type of ring light you choose to invest in, but the general range is $15–$200. Generally, larger ring lights with more advanced accessory options will allow for the most professional images—but at a price. Some of the bestselling ring lights on Amazon and their prices are:

  • Neewer: This 18-inch dimmable LED model with stand and carrying bag is $113.
  • Kaiess: If you’re planning to use your ring light for phone selfies, this smaller model with tripod stand and phone holder is budget-friendly at $26.
  • Westcott: With LED and rechargeable battery options, this model for $180 lets you shoot indoors and outdoors with ease.
  • Nanlite: The Nanlite Halo comes in multiple options, but the 18-inch bicolor model creates studio quality lighting with dimmable and coloring options for $160.
  • Rotolight: Made specifically for video conferences and recordings, this bicolor, dimmable, battery-powered light costs $200.
  • Lume Cube: Fully adjustable and with multiple power options, the LED desk lamp promises to brighten your face for $120.

How to set up a ring light

Ring lightOlena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

Once you’ve decided on the right ring light for you, it’s time to set it up: 

  1. Power up: Plug the ring light into an outlet or USB port, or insert the appropriate battery type, and turn it on.
  2. Place the camera: Most photographers set up their ring lights by placing the camera directly inside the circle of lights so the light is aimed directly at the subject, illuminating them in a gentle yet vibrant light. To take your own images this way, place a smartphone or digital camera in the ring light holder, step back into the glow of the light, and use a timer or remote to snap some shots. Alternatively, if you’re using the ring light with a laptop camera, place the light just above the top of your screen and angle it toward your face.
  3. Test it out: Experiment with the different angles, distances, brightness levels, and coloring. You should notice a marked difference in how you appear on camera just from switching on the ring light, but remember to test different settings to discover the best shine and shimmer for you—and start shooting away.

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