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Author Topic: Ring flash for portraits  (Read 25724 times)
feppe
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« on: December 06, 2006, 10:00:17 AM »
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I'm a total ignoramus when it comes to arranged lighting as I've always worked with available light. I'm also very new to portrait photography. Although I have no plans to get studio time in the foreseeable future I have started thinking of investing in a ring flash unit.

I'm a big fan of the classic, dramatic Hollywood look on facials but I'm doubtful anything like this could be achieved without strictly controlled lighting. I see lots of beautiful celebrity posed portraits shot outside the studio with the tell-tale circular reflection on eyeballs. While I'm sure there are reflectors galore outside the frame, would a ring flash be useful outside the studio in general?

As I've never owned an external flash, what are the things I should consider in buying a ring flash? Are they compatible with different cameras or lenses (I'd be using it with the Canon 30D with a 85mm EF f/1.Cool? Is the relatively long "actual" focal length of  ~135mm a limiting factor with the power of the flash or should I get a 50mm lens for portraits? Is there a good reason to avoid the cheaper units? I will get the most expensive one I need as I'm poor - this means I can't afford to replace a cheap one with a more expensive one if it doesn't do it's job.

And perhaps most importantly, do you think a ring flash would be a good investment for an intermediate serious amateur getting into portrait photography? I have seven years of experience with SLRs and consider myself technically competent outside portraiture.

Thanks a lot for help!

PS. I'm not going to do any macro work with it.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2006, 10:14:58 AM by feppe » Logged

howiesmith
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« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2006, 10:25:55 AM »
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A ring light would provide very flat fill light outside.

The main lighting provides the lighting pattern.  Hollywood classics were butterfly (for women), a main light over head.  If the lighting ratio is high, the shadow under the nose is very dark and not especailly flattering.  A good flat fill would help a lot.

Samr is true for Rembrandt lighting, but a darker ratio (used for men mostly) is OK.  But a fill is still needed to lighten shadows.

A major factor in classic Hollywood portraits is retouching - heavy retouching.  The skin is flawless beyond reality.  The negatives were retouched, then contact printed onto another negative and retouched again.  This process was repeated as often as the image required.

Bottom line, a ring seems like a good choice for fill lighting for protraits.
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Jonathan Wienke
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« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2006, 03:41:35 PM »
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I have 2 550EX and 2 420EX flashes, and the while the lot of them together aren't really powerful enough for group portraits, they work pretty well for solo portraits like this:



This was shot with a 550EX and 420EX on stands, firing into silver umbrellas for diffusion. The 550EX was on the right, acting as the main light, and the 420EX was on the left, acting as fill. The Canon ring flashes are less powerful than the 420EX, and may be useful for fill for individual portraits, but would not be powerful enough to use as a main light. For group portraits, you'll be much happier with studio strobes like Alien Bees; reasonably powerful, but not too expensive for what you get.
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David Anderson
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« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2006, 05:16:48 PM »
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The Canon MR14EX is a good portable ring flash, as Jonathan says it's not very good for groups though I have used itwith a 28mm lens for three at a time.
The best thing about it is you can carry it around all the time and with a bit of care get almost studio quality light anywhere, I use mine when I'm not getting any time with the artist.
Here's a quick one with the Mr14EX:
( Eos 1V - 100 Macro on Kodak 400CN )


Red eye is a problem with the little rings, but isn't to hard to touch out .

The big ring flashes cost a lot more then the little Canon, but have much more power and will cover much larger areas, the Pro Photo has a limit in the number of frames you can do per minute without blowing the tube and is fragile, they need to be packed and used with care.

I use a Pro Photo ring flash when I have more setup time or am working in a small space, they're very good for bringing detail out in the clothing, and the shadows around the subject stand them out of backgrounds.

Here's a shot done in a small room on a small background:
( Eos 1DSII 50Macro )


I think ProPhoto have just put out an updated model that has no limit on flashes per minute and also a modelling light..
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pss
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« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2006, 06:47:02 PM »
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used as a main, a ringlight has very distinctive look, even as a fill one has to be careful (depnding how far any your subject is from the background)...if oyu are just starting out with flash, the ringlight alone might be a bit limiting....i have tried most of the small ones, (the sunpack? has the highest guidenumber which is still nothing compared to the profoto, hensel, broncolor,...ones) they only work within a very limited range, pretty much unseable for anything over a 60mm (35mm) and they are not really all that cheap either....they are made for macro work....
for flash equpiment, the best way to start is one of the hensel kits, 2 550ws monoheads with softbox, umbrella, bag start at 1000$....of course that won't let you go off the grid....the hensel porty series starts at 2-3000, add 1000 for a ringlight....you get the point.....
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feppe
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« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2006, 06:58:00 PM »
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Thanks for the pointers. Seems that my budget can't fit such an expensive setup at the moment so I'll stick to available light.
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DiaAzul
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« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2006, 08:18:16 PM »
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Thanks for the pointers. Seems that my budget can't fit such an expensive setup at the moment so I'll stick to available light.
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

If you are just starting out there are a number of manufacturers that produce kits with two monoblocks, stands and umbrellas/softboxes. This gives you a good flexible starting point that you can expand upon as you get more budget. Try looking at the Bowens range of flashes - I think they are sold in the US under the Calumet brand (Calumet actually own Bowens). The kits start from a couple of hundred pounds/dollars - though I would suggest trying to aim for two 500W monoblocks and adding to the kit as required. The Bowens also have the advantage that they can be driven from a battery pack as well as mains giving flexibilty in where you can use them. When you do get round to purchasing lighting look for equipment where you can adjust the power by 6 f-stops or so - you will need this to give flexibility in lighting ratios. Using traditional camera flash is IMHO a false economy as you have neither the power or control over the lighting.

[a href=\"http://www.bowens.co.uk/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=259]Bowens Studio in a Box[/url]

A good ring flash is perhaps something to aim for later. They are expensive, specialised pieces of equipment and you will have better success starting with 'regular' lighting setups to get the basics of portrait lighting sorted out and then working out what additions you want later once you have more experience.

The following picture was my first outing with my studio flash - two bowens Esprit Gemini 500W one with Softbox as main light and one with an umbrella. If you like working with people and enjoy portrait photography then investment in a lighting setup is worth the money.

« Last Edit: December 06, 2006, 08:19:36 PM by DiaAzul » Logged

David Plummer    http://photo.tanzo.org/
gewitterkind
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« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2006, 09:15:48 PM »
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you might want to have a look at the alien bees ringflash. 399$, 300ws, and i've read good things about it. the battery to use it outdoors is another 349$.
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mikebinok
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« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2006, 09:34:50 PM »
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http://strobist.blogspot.com/2006/05/round...off-camera.html

I don't know enough about studio flash to have an opinion, but I have been reading this fellows blog, and it is pretty good.  He recommends this budget kit for $200 or so.
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howiesmith
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« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2006, 05:39:47 AM »
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A ring light is as on-camera as a light can get.  Except for mug shot lighting patterns, a ring can be useful as an on-camera fill only.  You might be better off with an external flash on camera for fill rather than a ring.  It could serve the same fill function and provide greater flexiblity off camera if you choose.

Battery powered lights will give greater portability (no power outlet required) but generally less power (light) than a plug-in mono or power pack lighting system.

For cost and portability, it is pretty hard to beat reflectors.  Reflectors can be as cheap as a piece of cardboard or more expensive flexible/foldable cloth in a frame.  A mirror (near perfect reflector) is useful as a strong light source but glass is fragile.  You might consider a thin piece of polished metal - doesn't break.

Consider natural reflectors such as walls and natural soft boxes, like the sky.  And remember that light control can include subtracting light with a black "reflector."
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eronald
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« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2006, 09:11:28 AM »
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A ring light is as on-camera as a light can get.  Except for mug shot lighting patterns, a ring can be useful as an on-camera fill only.  You might be better off with an external flash on camera for fill rather than a ring.  It could serve the same fill function and provide greater flexiblity off camera if you choose.

I think much of the confusion here stems from the fact that studio ringflash is large-diameter backed by a reflector pan, while on-camera ringflash is a small diameter macro tool.

I believe a big ringflash eg. Elinchrom is a no-brain portrait tool - but a small one would just add some on-camera fill softening.

The same phenomenon can be seen with softboxes - a 6 foot softbox like I use needs no special care or feeding, while a small softbox requires careful positioning ... size matters.

Edmund
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Edmund Ronald, Ph.D. 
kaelaria
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« Reply #11 on: December 19, 2006, 02:52:32 PM »
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I'm eyeballin that new Alien Bees ringflash myself...
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K.C.
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« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2006, 12:42:04 AM »
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I think ProPhoto have just put out an updated model that has no limit on flashes per minute and also a modelling light..
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=89095\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Yup, compatible with the 7 series pro packs and a steal at only $2200.  
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nemophoto
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« Reply #13 on: December 21, 2006, 01:24:57 PM »
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I've used ringlights for over 20-years. I've owned several as well as used the light from most major vendors -- I personally love the quality of light for many things. I just bought the Alien Bee ringlight. Cheesy unit, but cheap and decent power. It's great with the Vagabond battery pack. It has a few design flaws, but puts out a lot of light for the money, fairly fast recycle and the best thing -- actually has model lights. It's the first ring light I've ever used that figured out a way to use a model light. I've used on a couple of catalog shoots for a little fill where I couldn't do a good job with a reflector, and as the main/only light source on a recent editorial. It did a very nice job.
« Last Edit: December 21, 2006, 01:26:12 PM by nemophoto » Logged

pss
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« Reply #14 on: December 21, 2006, 02:23:47 PM »
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i have the hensel porty with the ringlight....works great and fits into the rest of my portys and other hensel stuff....no modellight, but 1200ws and unlimited shooting with fast recycle....
just checked out the alien bees ringlight....looks very nice! very inexpensive and some options....they list 2 different heads...i am not sure the 300ws head really gives enough power (let's say you want to use it for outdor fill, so in order to work at f11 or 16 @ 100asa to keep the sky blue, the 300ws probably won't do it) and the larger head can only handle 10 pops/minute on full power...i guess you get what you pay for...
but still an interesting alternative...nice accessories too....
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mahleu
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« Reply #15 on: December 22, 2006, 03:00:33 AM »
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Build your own ring flash
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