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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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