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Tips On Taking Photos With A Ring Flash

Joe McNally asks: straight flash be ugly, right? Well here he demonstrates how this isn't always true.

|  Portraits and People
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Sketching The Light Book CoverThis article is an extract from pages 223 – 225 of Sketching Light – An Illustrated Tour Of The Possibilities Of Flash by Joe McNally, published by Pearson. For more information, visit the Pearson website.

Ring flash time is a time for experiments in exposure, tonality, and posing. This isn’t Rembrandt lighting, and it certainly doesn’t produce a three-to-one, classic portrait ratio. It’s not a light most photogs will trot out every day, and it could be construed to be so exotic that a shooter might not bother owning it outright, and just renting one occasionally to experiment.

I’ve already shown the feel of the ring for a subject in a relatively sedate, clinical fashion (see the book for this). But given that there’s a get-yer-ya-ya’s-out feel to this light source, here are some notions and examples.


Shoot High Key

It’s a personal preference, but I like the exposure expression of the ring to be more in the high key realm. Hot, straight, and bright seems to be a good way to go. Vanessa’s always been one of my favourite models, and out against that white wall, in hot pink, with the outlandish head gear and the "Who, me?" kind of expression, the ring style of light is definitely working. She has the feel of a diminutive, innocent waif. By contrast, the light’s got the trapping power of a police cruiser searchlight in an alleyway.


Get Goofy

Get Goofy!

Ring light time is party time. A perfectly outrageous light for the outrageous face. Bang! Hello! A good light to use for grunge bands, a portfolio of WWE headliners, or, perhaps, a roller derby star who goes by the approachable, pleasant moniker of Pistol Whip.


Work It!

Bleu is an amazingly beautiful lady—cool, and elegant to a fault. She’s also so limber, and unabashed in front of the lens, that she can take on an otherworldly persona and become a female version of Mr. Fantastic. Here, the combination of outrageous makeup and in-your-face physicality morphs her into an X-Lady, fully deserving of one of those cool, evil, comic book nicknames. I’m not going to light this with an umbrella.

Damn the Reflections! Full Ring Ahead!

School’s out with the ring flash—so, all the care we usually take to hide our flashes and all evidence of their hits and reflections is out the window, too. Go for it! I find some of the best iterations of a ring can occur when it’s used bang on to something highly reflective. The wash of the ring around the subject almost creates a halo, or aura, of reflected light which, again, is not a feel they teach in the basic textbooks of lighting, but it can be fun and effective. Put somebody up against something that will bounce the light right back at you and try it. And make sure they’re wearing a hat.

Hard light from the camera. Who knew straight flash could be this much fun?

This article is an extract from pages 223 – 225 of Sketching Light – An Illustrated Tour Of The Possibilities Of Flash by Joe McNally, published by Pearson. For more information, visit the Pearson website.

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