Homemade Ring Light Tutorial For Mobile Photography
If you are like me, you don’t have a bunch of expensive equipment at your disposal for shooting the quality portraits you want to. A professional ring light for instance, can cost anywhere from $100-250 on Amazon.com. I’m shooting on a phone, so I don’t want to invest as much money in a single light as I’ve spent on my phone. There are some great do it yourself tutorials on how to make professional ring lights. This one on 500px is one of the best for creating a professional ring, for the budget price of $70. That is still quite expensive in my view, and still altogether too time consuming for my mobile photography needs. I went with a superbudget version, using your standard IKEA flexible LED tape lights. The lights themselves are really the only cost, running at about $40. You may be able to find a cheaper variation, as I did, at a generic department store. Mine, being cheaper, doesn’t vary in color 🙁
Ring Light Ingredients
– A salad bowl,
– An empty cardboard box (mine was formerly filled with chocolates),
– A scissors,
– A piece of sturdy wire,
– Flexible LED tape lights (the only real cost of the equipment)
How To Make The Ring Light
Take a large salad bowl, about 30cm in diameter, and place it upside down on your piece of cardboard. Draw a circle around it on the cardboard. Cut that circle of cardboard out. You don’t have to be so exacting when you cut. Then cut out the middle of this piece of cardboard, so that you have roughly a 5cm or 2inch wide ring. Note in the image that I don’t bother to make nice smooth cuts.
Take your sturdy wire and bend it into a circle is about 28cm or so in diameter, bending the two ends around one another and down into a handle. Tape that together, and then tape this to your cardboard ring. This gives it some sturdy support, and also something to hold on to or attach to a stand. Me, I just hold it, since a mobile photography ring light is a bit smaller than a professional ring, and you need to get in close with your phone in any case.
Turn the ring over. Simply pull the protective film off the tape side of your flexible LED strip and begin taping around the piece of cardboard. Make sure the spot where the cord ends and the lights begin starts at the base, where the metal ring or “handle” comes down from the cardboard ring.
Make sure when taping the LED strip around the ring, that you bend the strip portion in between the LEDs. The LEDs themselves should be flush so that you get them all shining straight outward from the ring. In my first trial of the ring, I taped the LED lights around the outer edge, and went around four times until I was done. This turned out to be surprisingly and extremely bright! So I removed one row of lights after another, testing brightness, until finally, I came to one row of lights around the outer edge. That was enough. Look closely on your flexible LED light tape. There is a cut line every three or four centimeters. Simply cut your LED tape so that it ends at the base or “handle”.
That’s it! You’re done! Mine took about 20 minutes to make, once I had all the materials.
Ring Light Construction Tips
There are a few things to keep in mind with your mobile ring light. First, it needs to be slightly smaller than a professional ring light made for DSLR shooting, if you are going to be shooting portraits. With the phone you will have to get closer than with a DSLR, and so, a smaller ring will prevent the light from reflecting in the eyes quite a ways out on the subject’s iris. The best result, in my view, is if the reflection of the ring light in the person’s eyes is roughly the size of their pupil. Thus, a ring about the size I have described it in this tutorial.
Avoid overdoing it. You don’t want too much light. One ring of LEDs will do!
Shooting Mobile With Your Ring Light
– Your ring light is not a flash, and is constantly on, so with children, you need to be certain to instruct them to not stare at the light. I found it was best to ask my children to close their eyes while I turned on the light, then to open them and look through the ring and into the camera.
– Leave White Balance on auto in your phone camera settings. Your LED lights may be slightly orange or blue in hue, and so you will want your phone to compensate for this naturally. This is of course more important if you are not going to convert to monochrome. Though I have converted all of the images shown here to monochrome out of preference, the color versions are bright, vivid alternatives that work equally well. The skin has such rich variations noticeable closeup, that you may want to capture these in color.
– Shoot with a dark background. I tried a white background, as I had hoped to add the portraits, hair and all, to a texture background. However, the ring light pushes even my Galaxy S5 to its limits, so that large portions of the white background ended in large blotches of grey. The phone couldn’t handle the difference. The still life of a flower in this series has as a background the sky, which I later erased.
– Lower your phone’s ISO as low as it can go. This will eliminate any pixelation. The drawback is that if you are doing portraits of youngsters who move around a lot, a higher ISO might prevent a lot of blur.
– If photographing youngsters, you might also want to put your phone on burst mode to get a number of quick shots in succession. I have Debashish Samaddar (say hi to him on Google+) to thank for this tip.
– Use your Ring Light for still life shots as well as portraits!
Share Your Own Ring Light Images
If you do decide to build your own ring light, share your results with me by mentioning me and tagging #RingLightMobilography
Ring Light Gallery
The following images are of me and my son using my ring light, all of which were shot in a darkened room. I used Camera FV-5 pro to shoot them, and HandyPhoto to do the Black and White conversion.