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correct use of a ring flash?
Old 12-06-2006, 07:27 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Having read RG's review of the Alien Bees ring flash, I began to wonder in what situation is a ring flash the tool to use. I know that ring flash units are popular for fashion photography, but not sure why they would be any better than a standard flash. And, I'm not sure what other situations they are used. I know about the ringflash look when the subject is close to the background. Other than that, I'm clueless on ring flash.
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Re: correct use of a ring flash?
Old 12-06-2006, 07:53 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Thanks for your post. First, my article in the "articles" section is not a review of the AB unit, though in other posts it's turned out that way. My main point, which your question is a good example, don't buy anything you don't need, especially with marketing hype and in "beta" production.

Funny thing, I was looking at some things on the AB website and now notice they did away, at least with their ringflash, the "effective" watt seconds verbage--thank goodness. Now they have to work on labeling it an ABR320 not an ABR800 so folks won't confuse the model number with the power output. Again, it's an "interesting product" but not my cup of tea for many reasons.

Now, back to the ranch, there is no real reason other than it's a "cool" light when it first came out. It does provide it's own unique quality of light and depending on which brand and what modifiers you use it can vary. The original concept, which is faddish at times, would allow the photographer to shoot through a "ring" thus creating a shadow outline of the subject. If you read my article, Outside the Ring—Watch Out for Novelties you'll find there are many other methods on using any ringflash.

I use a special attachment on mine called a SunHaze adapter where it allows me to add gels as I shoot, and to shoot outside the ring. It's a sweeter quality of light I enjoy, however, I'm sure very similar qualities can be achieved with a Chimera Soft Strip and a 40-degree grid with the same gels.

It's developed more into "my style" and it works, again, I didn't just run out and get a ringflash, it came to me and I've enjoyed using it. Would I have purchased it down the road, probably, when I could afford one, mainly I say that because when I first used one it was the "cliche" way, through the lens.

You however are correct in saying for some it will be basically the same as an "off/on" camera flash unit. In the case of the AB unit you mention, big and bulky and if that's what you like, go for it! Will it make you a better photographer, no ringflash will, it will however give you the opportunity to experiment and work it into your style, some will like it, some will not.

It is actually a specular light, without any light modifiers, which doesn't make it a flattering light. Don't be fooled by images shot outdoors where the sun is darkened by using an exposure technique called "overpowering the sun with flash." I use that technique often, what makes those photos effective is the contrast between the underexposed background and the properly exposed subject, though this can cause washed out foregrounds too. If you took the background out, it's simply another "studio lit" image. As you said, you could use about any flash--it's up to you to weigh ruggedability of the equipment, size, weight, power, etc. The right tool for the right job.

Below are some ringflash photos that if I had not mentioned that, anyone would have thought they were taken with a standard flash unit, off camera, enjoy, rg sends!
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Re: correct use of a ring flash?
Old 12-06-2006, 08:19 PM   #3 (permalink)
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One other brief note on ring flash is that is primary purpose is probably not for glamour photography, anyway. I've used ringflash many times over the years and 90% of the time it was for product shots. Since you often want basically shadowless shots of products, a ring flash is a good way to go.

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Re: correct use of a ring flash?
Old 12-08-2006, 05:20 PM   #4 (permalink)
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It all depends on what you want to achieve.
I LOVE the look of the ringflash in both fashion and glamour, however some people think it's a wonder device which will give you instant results like the pros, well that will be a big disapointment.

Mastering the ringflash can be the most challenging task you will ever face, but after mastering it it will give you indeed a wonderful look.

I love using it in the studio as a fill in flash for fashion, but I also love it in glamour on location and the studio.
When using oil/water on a model it's in my opinion something magical.

You can indeed over power the sun which will give you very nice effects

The ringflash comes in and out of fashion, for me it's always handy.

I use a profoto version because I also use the softwide adaptor, I also work with the Elinchrom often and this one handles a little bit better.
The AB I have never seen but seeing the design I have some serious problems with it when using my setup (5D with Wifi and 70-200 f2.8)
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Re: correct use of a ring flash?
Old 12-08-2006, 06:36 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Often people want to use ringflash to get shadowless lighting. It will work for that but I always found that the Peter Gowland technique that he called Poster lighting works very well for the shadowless lighting effect in Glamour.

Essentially you have two big walls of light on either side of the camera. Each wall of light was made from 2 square 3" Umbrellas (they were called reflectasol and could open up all the way to flat if desired) one above the other and a flash head pointed into each one. All of this was of course mounted on one light stand. So that makes a 3" x 6" light source. Now do the same thing again and place the two walls several feet apart to the front of the model. You will shoot in between the two units. Now put 2 or more lights on the background (usually a white seamless) and evenly light it at about 2/3rds stop more power than the main light.

When shooting this way you'll get basically no shadows and it works very well for posters. You also get a different type of catch light than from the ring light.

The following shot of Haley is more or less an example of this.

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Re: correct use of a ring flash?
Old 12-09-2006, 03:27 AM   #6 (permalink)
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You can also use a giant umbrella or softbox like the Elinchrom 1.90 octa from behind you to get the effect, but it will NEVER look like a ringflash.

The ringflash as Rolando already explained is a very specular lightsource, it has tremendous contrast and popping colors, a giant umbrella or softbox is too soft for this effect.

Some ringflash ideas:


As a fill







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