Aring light is a simple lighting tool that is commonly used for beauty shots, portraits, and macro photography. It features a number of small bulbs forming a circle or just one circular fluorescent bulb. When used in photography, it creates an attractive catch light on a subject’s eyes. At the same time, it emits even, diffused lighting, similar to a softbox,that helps eliminate shadows. You can position this light in front of the subject, with the camera situated in the middle of the circle.

Smaller ring lights can also be mounted on the camera lens for macro photography.

What is a Ring Light Used for?

Model in front of Ring Light

Ring lights can be used for a variety of purposes in photography and videography. They also provide plenty of light for other professional uses. Here are some of the most common uses and considerations for the best ring light use.

Portrait Photography

Professionals in portrait photography absolutely love these lights. They offer more diffused, soft light on the subject, while reducing the appearance of harsh shadows. Those functions alone make this a popular lighting choice for close-up portraiture. Ring lights can make your subject “pop” without washing out or changing the contours of the face in a way uneven lighting would. That makes these lights the perfect selection for portraits and selfies.

You’ll know if a model is facing a ring light by the appearance of circular catch lights (or eye lights) in the subject’s eyes. These spectacular highlights instantly make the portrait more attractive and engaging, as they instantly draw the viewer’s attention.

Circular Catch Lights on Eyes Using Ring Light

Macro Photography

For macro photography, these lights offer a slightly more front-focused lighting compared to a lightbox. Simultaneously, they distribute light around a small subject well enough to hide shadows and bring out more detail. With the right color temperature, a ring light can supplement natural light seamlessly. Kits are commonly used for floral and insect photography.

Video and Social Media Content Creators

Because ring light kits are often very affordable, they’re a great choice for content creators who maintain a vlog or do live streams on TikTok, Twitch, and other platforms. If you’ve ever wondered why someone looks well-lit even when using a webcam, they’re probably using a ring light. The best ring lights are arguably the top lighting option for YouTube videos, especially for vloggers and product reviewers.

You can use clip-on selfie ring lights even when recording with a cell phone or tablet, making them a great inexpensive and portable option.

Makeup Artists

Virtually every serious makeup artist on YouTube uses a ring light kit for makeup tutorials. These lights instantly enhance facial features and help show the true colors of the skin as well as the products. Artists simply place their makeup ring light in front of their cameras (or camera phone) and record away. Makeup artists also use ring lights while preparing models and brides for photoshoots.

Makeup Ring Light

How to Choose the Best Ring Light

Ring lights can be purchased as existing kits and fixtures, but there are also many tutorials on how to make your own DIY ring light. Ring lights are generally available in two formats, strobe and constant. Strobes are usually used for still images, while constant lights are the best ring lights for video content creators.

circular light on black background

However, keep in mind that if you’re making a constant ring light, you’ll need to brush up on bulb types and use the right materials. That way your DIY version will be safe for repeated and prolonged use.

A constant ring light is easier to adjust, because what you see is what you get as far as power and quality of light. Strobe ring lights that flash with every click of the shutter can help you save power, but may involve a steeper learning curve.

Another thing to know: the power and size of the ring light does make a difference. If you want visible catch light on your subject’s eyes for portrait photography, you’ll need a much bigger ring light. However, smaller ring lights will give you the same effect if you’re going to do a lot of close ups. As for the power, it’s usually best to get one that has a dimmer. You will be able to easily adjust the power depending on the distance between your ring light and your subject.

Lastly, take note of the color temperature. Even if you decide to use color gels to temporarily create more fun colors with the light, you’ll want  a natural default color. Ring lights are often best in fluorescent, warm white, or even stark white lighting — instead of warm yellow or bright white.

How to Use A Ring Light

Ring Light Stand
Ring Light Photography Behind the Scenes

Once your subject is ready, simply place the ring light in front of your camera. Whether you’re using a camera phone or a more professional camera — like the Fujifilm X100V, Leica Q2, or Nikon D780 — make sure you position the lens right in the center of it so you get even lighting on your subject every time. Use a clip or even a stand or tripod to hold your camera and ring light in place.

If you’re using constant light, you can easily adjust the power and your distance from the subject. This will get you your desired effect before clicking your shutter. If you’re using a flash version, you can do several test shots to determine the changes that you need to make. Think: distance and light strength.

Finally, start shooting through your ring light and enjoy perfect, evenly distributed lighting with every shot!