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HD RingFlash: Test Drive / Q and A

I have not had much time to play with my new ring flash yet, but I can already see that it produces light that is soft, even and strong enough for the kinds of photos I want to learn how to shoot. Click on the pics for larger versions.

I made this photo at the Patapsco meetup, just starting to experiment a little with still life photos. The leaf was frontally lit by the ring flash, with additional light coming from the top of the frame in the form of an SB-26 lying on the ground firing directly.

I like the ring-light-against-hard-light look very much, and I hope to be experimenting more with it soon.

(More sample photos after the jump.)

Everyday objects take on a whole new look when shot with a ring light as the primary light source. These leaves on the ground -- only lit with ring flash -- have a weird, Photoshopped/HDR look to them. This is right out of the camera, with just the one light. Definitely seeing possibilities there for experimentation.

Also shot at the meetup was Andrew N., the youngest photog present (sporting a modded Poverty Wizard trigger, no less!)

This is done outside in hazy daylight, with the ring flash overpowering the ambient sun. Just a straight, up-against-the-wall shot. And this wall really does not work well for showing the ring shadow, which is subtle with a light source this big.

Victim number two, Justin, shows how the look changes with the addition of one back/side light, which is positioned to miss the background. As with the leaf, this is a look I prefer to the one-light ring shot. With a ring and one or two small accent flashes, you could create a cool painted backdrop and do a neat, themed portrait series.

In fact, being assigned such a series would be a good excuse to build something like this. Or anything else that can give a disparate group of photos some continuity. (You listening, Dana?)

Pathetically, I can report that I have now shot with a ring flash everything in my house that I could find to shoot. This shot of a pair of jeans is ring light only. While I like the 3-D-yet-flat look, I will probably be more interested in shooting against raking lights for most stuff.

Getting in this close, the ring light is really big enough to be considered a "ring soft box" and the light gets flatter. But it is powerful enough (certainly up this close) to be made smaller and harsher with a mask made out of cardboard. That's on the list to try, too.

I was down in Charlotte, NC last week, doing a workshop at The Observer where my friend Bert Fox is the new Director of Photography. During a break I drug out the ring flash and set up a quick, triangle-lit portrait of Shawn, one of the the shooters for the newspaper group.

This is the first chance I have had to set up a couple of additional light sources, and I really like the possibilities I am starting to see with the ring flash as a component of an overall lighting scheme. The background is a white wall in a studio (could be anywhere) and the grey tone comes form the distance ratio (light-subject distance vs light-background distance) which we talked about earlier in Lighting 102.

This is ring flash in front with two gobo'd SB-26's coming from the back/sides. Check it out larger to see the detailed look of the light.

The goal in experimenting is both to start to explore the possibilities and to get the ring flash out of my system, so I will be likely to pull it out at opportune moments instead of on every single shoot for the next six months.


Questions and Snarky Comments Dept.

You guys aren't exactly the shy type, so I thought I would bring some of the comments and questions from the "how-to-build page" up for all:

So the camera resides inside the tube? Do your arms not hit the sides of the tube when in use? Is the reason for this to keep the lens from vignetting?

The lens is in the PVC tube. The camera is just behind it. The tube, being just a little wider than the shade, can stick out a little bit without vignetting.

How are the flashes triggered? Are rf-triggers required or is it enough to just use the camera's master-trigger (via flash)?

I have triggered several ways so far. PW's (all internally placed) Nikon CLS with the pop-up flash (on TTL and on manual) and PW'ing one flash (either an external rim light or one of the two internal flashes) on manual and slaving the other(s) in SU-4 mode.

The three questions that arise for me, is why the notch in the pvc tube? just for grip or does it serve another purpose? You mentioned that you wanted to do ttl, how can this be achieved accurately with the strobes pointing forward but sensors pointing inwards? Lastly what method did you use to connect the strobes to the camera (main reason for that question is because you said you could do ttl) love to finally see a nicely designed ring flash though.

1. The two notches allow for zooming of the lens with my fingers (side notch), and the top notch allows the pop-up flash to pop up with the body stuck as far as possible into the PVC tube.

2. TTL, when used, means everything comes through the lens before it is measured. Flash/sensor position is very flexible for that reason.

3. See above.

Can't wait to see your pictures (and possible arrest stories) with that thing.

I can assure you that the ring light will only be incidental in the arrest report...

Ummm, how much does this thing WEIGH? How much extra time am I going to need in the gym, training to use it? :-)

It is, shall we say, substantial. Rough guess: 10 lbs, fully loaded.

I'm sorry, the quality of posting on this site have gone way down. I'd pay $400 to not have to carry this thing around.

Your refund is in the mail. As for the size, nothing smaller really solved my design criteria. I wanted to create something that would have the power to use in more real-world situations. It is much lighter than an ABR800 and a Vagabond battery, FWIW.

Could you cut the length in half by turning the flashes around and bouncing into reflectors? Here is a sketch.

I have thought about that, and might play with that a little in further revisions. Nice sketch.

how much light is wasted, bouncing backwards out of the flash, right back into your face, I wonder? Could the back of this be sealed up, and line it with silver tape?

You need easy access to adjust the flashes. But if you wanna try it, knock yourself out. Please send pictures.

Cool design. Is it powerful enough for a sunny day? A little black paint and a Nikon sticker, and it would look almost professional.

It will overpower full sun at modest portrait ranges. And if anyone reading this works for Nikon and has access to Nikon stickers, hook me up and I will pimp it out after painting...

Can't... stop... laughing.

But you're laughing with me, right? Right? Hello?

At least it wont get stolen.

Dunno... I would not leave it alone at a Strobist meetup, I'll tell you that much.

What level of SPF do you recommend for the model?

I generally only photograph models in full burkas, just to be safe. But I do put sunscreen on my face when I use it.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK I wanna build one! Anyone know a UK supplier for the concrete footer tube? Our UK equivalents of HD (B&Q, Wickes, Screwfix, Homebase) certainly don't have anything like it, at least not near me (Leeds).

Would be very grateful if anyone finds a confirmed, cheap supplier :)

November 16, 2007 2:39 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

"I'm sorry, the quality of posting on this site have gone way down. I'd pay $400 to not have to carry this thing around."

Twophat, I totally agree! I remember the beginning of this blog when David told us about using cereal boxes as snoots and rubbing alcohol containers as a replacement to a sto-fen. BUT MY GOD! Now a DIY ringflash consisting of the same "use what you can find cheap" mentality?


How can he dare give us ideas on how to use our brains instead of just telling us what gear to buy like every other photo site!? How dare he tell the masses, for FREE (what a COMMIE!), how to save $350 dollars for those who look at photography as a hobby and don't mind a DIY project!

Besides, what could those guys possibly use $400 for? A car/house payment? Food for their family for a month!? PFFT. Let their families starve, for what is truly important is a circular light bulb! Let us not forget that these fools will be missing out on the cool little bumble bee painted on the back of their ringflash like the one I have has. That adds $100 right there, I assure you. And that crappy camera mount made of cheap plastic NEVER makes me check to see if my camera is secured properly when I step away from it! Never ever!

All in all, fantastic comment! I agree 100%! I never graduated Middle School either!

- Sorry for the personalized California sarcasm but I haven't surfed in a while. Also, last time I checked, there's no course fee here so there's no right to bitch. Just my two cents.


November 16, 2007 2:56 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

I'd suggest you try a sheet or 2 of White Diffusion or Heavy Frost gel for your front panel, instead of the huge slab of plexiglass. It'll do a better job of diffusing, assuming thats what you want, and it'll save significant weight.

November 16, 2007 8:50 AM  
Blogger kuster said...

You were in Charlotte??? Damn, the one time you're in my city and I had absolutely no clue. I'd at least have bought you a drink, haha.

And as for your uber-ringlight, many kudos on the idea and implementation of said idea. It's definitely a bit imposing, but if it gets the job done, that's what matters. One question though, would it be lighter to use an aluminum or tin barrel on the outside instead of the concrete deal you've got? I don't know how heavy those are.

November 16, 2007 9:26 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Hey Ken (and the other TwOPhat police from yesterday's comments),

While I agree with your sentiment that the posting quality has *not* gone down, it seems TwOPhat's main point is being ignored in the name of DH-bodyguarding. I'm pretty sure Mr. Hobby's skin isn't as thin as your zealous defense would suggest. I think he can handle a little bit of criticism - isn't that the spirit of shaking things up and looking at things differently that we love about this site?

I'm sure the HD Ring Flash design will be tweaked, but as it stands you've got to admit that is one huge-ass piece of lighting equipment. The results may be spectacular, but the size had me checking my calendar that it's not April 1st. After all, doesn't Mr. Hobby normally adhere to the mantra of "travel light and small"?

November 16, 2007 9:34 AM  
Blogger Max said...

Dumb question: couldn't the image of Shawn have been made just as easily by standing in front of a large umbrella (in place of the SHDRL*)?

(*Strobist Home Depot Ring Light)

November 16, 2007 10:17 AM  
Blogger wayne said...



I am a Canon shooter and assisting in Minneapolis. Yesterday I was working on a magazine shoot with a big local fashion shooter. I was in charge of lighting and she is a Nikon shooter.
She had an SB 800 and SB 26 so I took some time in the morning to learn how to slave them up since they are different from the Canon system. Thought there might be the chance to use them in a strobist type manner.
Sure enough we were behind on time and had to nail a quick shot on the downtown streets. I decided we would slave a strobe and bounce it off a gold reflector into our subject to resemble store window lighting. It worked great and I was the hero of the day.
I have played with a couple portraits on my own using the strobist way, but this is the first time I ever used it professionally. I can't tell you how excited I am being able to pull this out. The photographer had never seen anything like it and was amazed that it worked as well as it did.

THANKS again for making me look great!


November 16, 2007 12:14 PM  
Blogger Will Kronk said...

This thing is truly compact if you think about it. Though it's large in physicl size, it's easier than constantly moving around a light stand and repositioning additional equipment for a shoot. It's like having the lightstand right there.

Also, the drum case idea I spit out was just for the light. David came up with the idea to get an even bigger drum case and fit additional camera gear in it for when he's flying and restricted to a certain amount of bags. That's actually keeping it easy to travel imo.

You could essentially have one large case to carry everything you would need for a shoot. I'm wondering if you could get a shell made out of plastic for the ringlight itself. That may help keep the weight down a bit.

November 16, 2007 12:32 PM  
Blogger scubajunkie said...

@kuster 1. The concrete tube is actually thick cardboard. it's no heavier than a tin or aluminum cylindar, cheaper, less likely to dent from incidental contact, and practically invisible to police radar and military magnetic-anomaly detectors. 2. I'm using a wire antenna on my poverty wizard until my order from Digikey arrives and I can try your detatchable antenna mod.

I like the subtle shadow halo in the picture of Andrew. It's not the gaudy overdone shadow halo you still see in some fashion mags. It separates Andrew from the background and adds a pseudo-3D quality while keeping the background relatively in focus. It allows you to use a tele lens on a subject without making the image look flat.

What I don't like in the picture of Shawn is the pinpoint of light in the center of his eyes. Fortunately, the pinpoint of light isn't as pronounced as it could have been if the ring-flash were the only source of light.

I really like the idea of using the ring flash in combination with other light sources, a point that seems to get missed by a lot of people who play with RF. (Like the girlfriend I had in college that RFed me to the point that I saw little white circles everywhere I looked for about a month)

November 16, 2007 12:46 PM  
Blogger efrudd said...

I dare you to try to get that thing past airport security.


November 16, 2007 1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did notice that this setup is cheap (relatively) if you already have the required flashes and Pocket Wizards. What would you recommend if someone who is starting out wants to build w/o buying everything you have in your current setup for this light cannon? Not trying to debunk your gear, but more interested in how to modify it to my tax bracket...

November 16, 2007 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Arthur said...

Long-time reader, first-time commenter...

Great stuff... and partly by way of a neat idea for such a confined space, and partly because I just ran across them looking for a camera waist pack that doesn't look like I'm shop-lifting throw pillows, have you seen


Not cheap, but certainly small and lightweight.

Keep up the great work!

All the best,


November 16, 2007 2:37 PM  
Anonymous Jared Guess said...

Bert Stephani has posted a new video on his blog, Its a cool video about a concept that turns into a photo with plenty of off camera lighting. Check it out.

November 16, 2007 3:34 PM  
Anonymous crsaze said...

Okay, to the Anonymous person a couple comments back, a good, cheap alternative could be this one.

To David... oh, god please don't take this as a criticism... I don't really understand the advantage of this ring light that requires such a long lens... as one person commented on another shot, the catch lights in eyes are very small.. they almost look like a light with no diffuser... I know the shadows are nice and soft, but as a person who strives to do headshots, it seems that the purpose (for me) of a ring-light is somewhat defeated by the distance of the light from the subject. Again, please don't take this as a heresy, Oh Great Hobby.

November 16, 2007 3:40 PM  
Blogger Greg Mills said...

I'm with Kuster, you come into Charlotte and fly right back out again without any heads up for the local strobists? Geez, are you making so much off Honl and MPEX ads that a free dinner means nothing to you anymore?

November 16, 2007 6:47 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Instead of using the cardboard tube for mounting the strobes on the outside, could you mount the two strobes on the inside PVC tube?

This would free up the outer tube from being so heavy and you could replace it with a lighter or different material... example: black fabric? Cone shaped?
That would shave a couple pounds off.

November 16, 2007 7:27 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Instead of using the cardboard tube for mounting the strobes on the outside, could you mount the two strobes on the inside PVC tube?

This would free up the outer tube from being so heavy and you could replace it with a lighter or different material... example: black fabric? Cone shaped?
That would shave a couple pounds off.

November 16, 2007 7:32 PM  
Anonymous whereswade said...

would it be feasible to put two extra angle-iron mounting brackets close to (on?) the inner pvc tube and add cold shoes so oyu could mount the flashes to them, not ball-bungee to the outer ring? They would then be placed normally (as if on camera - shooting forward, bent). I see a couple bennies - ability to change manual light levels without having to un-bungee and it could possibly be a shorter lens barrel (significantly? not sure). A thought.

November 16, 2007 7:33 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan Irwin said...

"OK I wanna build one! Anyone know a UK supplier for the concrete footer tube?"

Back when I wanted to build a Dobsonian telescope somebody pointed me to these guys - Essex Tube Windings who I believe supply the "Sonotube"s. They're not really a consumer supplier though.

For the US readers - these cardboard tubes are not very easy to obtain in the UK, or at least they weren't when I lived there.

November 16, 2007 8:22 PM  
Blogger Antti said...

what if the internal reflector (rebounder) was done like this? It would provide space for speedlight handling, yet bounce back the most of the otherwise lost light.

November 17, 2007 7:50 AM  
Blogger Mikhael said...

Matt said "After all, doesn't Mr. Hobby normally adhere to the mantra of "travel light and small"?

Matt, thats what his setup is, light!! That's the whole purpose of it. Mayhap it isn't small but it do put out light! It outshine the sun!

November 18, 2007 9:55 PM  
Blogger Mikhael said...

Matt said "After all, doesn't Mr. Hobby normally adhere to the mantra of "travel light and small"?

Matt, thats what his setup is, light!! That's the whole purpose of it. Mayhap it isn't small but it do put out light! It outshine the sun!

November 18, 2007 9:56 PM  
Anonymous Michael Bennett said...

Here's a low cost alternative for the studio, you can get most of this stuff quite cheaply and probably gives you the same look as a kinoflo....

November 20, 2007 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Michael Bennett said...

A studio based alternative ringflash is here on flickr, Its not so portable but probably works similary to a very expensive kinoflo sans the ballast...

And good for the environment too.

ciao and aloha!

November 20, 2007 11:17 AM  
Blogger Matt Gholston said...

I think that this is a neat idea, and I can't wait to see the crop of DIY versions that pop up after the initial article...

I have to say, I wonder what would happen if you silvered the inside surface with a sheet of Lee 271 "Mirror Silver" Filter Material that you put down with Spray Adhesive...

If the reflection was too hard, you could cover that with a Layer of Lee 270 Silvered "Scrim" that would break up the mirrored reflection.

I would even do like the one poster above said and make a slide in back panel that also had the silver material on it.

It would be easy to have (2)panels cut from half-inch plywood in a semi-circle so that it would fit to the PVC pipe and the inside of the tube... and you could glue rubber or felt strips to the edge of the plywood to make it stay in place while you work... Just cut a little finger notch in the outside edge of the plywood so that you can take it out easy when you need to adjust the strobes or put a little handle on the back if you'd rather not have a notch at all.

Just a thought,

April 29, 2008 1:46 PM  

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