Video Essentials

The Many Uses of a Ring Light: Video 101

The following lesson was created by Vimeo for its Vimeo Video School. It’s used here with permission. Look for a new lesson each week.

A ring light is a handy multi-use tool for all types of shoots, from a sharp music video to a portrait of a ladybug. They provide uniform light coming straight from the camera’s point of view, which is great for even light, and helps eliminate shadows. You’ve seen the results, but you may not have known what was behind — or should we say “around” — the lens!

Images courtesy of Stellar Lighting Systems.

Images courtesy of Stellar Lighting Systems.

The most recognizable use of a ring light is as a catch light. Catch lights (sometimes called eye lights) cause a specular highlight in the subject’s eyes, helping to draw attention to them. A ring light, when attached directly to the lens, acts as a catch light, causing those neat donut-shaped reflections. This style is popular, and typically used in commercials or fashion spreads, but this definitely isn’t the only way to use a ring light! There are plenty of reasons to use (and/or make) a ring light, especially for video:

  • Fill light – since the light is coming straight from the camera, it provides a nice wash of light pointed evenly at the subject. Like using a bounce or lanterns, ring lights can provide soft, diffused lighting.
  • Detail – if you’re shooting something with lots of hard lights, ring lights provide a fill for the detail you may have lost in the shadows.
  • Halo shadow – If it’s your only light, you’ll get a “halo” of shadow outlining your subject (a signature ring light look):
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

  • Macro – shooting through a ring light provides perfect, even light from all sides of a small object.
  • Color effects – using different gels on different parts of a ring light creates color washes in all kinds of directions.
  • Catch Light – to see the stylized catch light in the subject’s eyes, the camera needs to be pretty close. A bigger ring light means the catch light will show up from further away, but you also get a brighter, softer light!

Vimean Tom Antos shows us an example of a music video shot with a ring light, and tells us how to create it using multiple bulbs in his tutorial video:

You could also use a circular fluorescent lamp instead of individual bulbs, but make sure you get the right ballast for the bulb. Brush up on bulb types with the Light ‘Em Up lesson, and with any bulb, pay attention to the color temperature. I’m sure I’ve only grazed the surface of possible applications for this one light, so go and get creative!

Ready for more? Learn how to make a connection between your TV and computer or view more lessons at the Vimeo Video School.


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