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Ring Flash Week: Getting Past Cliché

Nothing I blog about, save maybe Jill Greenberg, is as polarizing as is ring flash. You either love it or you hate it.

(The haters are in the minority, BTW, as the RF posts are consistently among the most widely read pieces on the site.)

That said, I'll play Devil's Advocate for a moment.

(More after the jump.)


Little Tommy G., of Burtonsville, MD, (USA) writes in to say:

" ... I just don't like the look of ring flash, and I'm not sure why all your readers are so excited about this terribly unflattering and uninteresting form of light. Granted, it's new and trendy, but it's not much better than the "3-stops overexposed direct flash" look that was big in all the fashion mags 2-3 years ago.

And it's neat to build stuff, but it doesn't seem worth the time investment to create something that so limits your shooting flexibility. ..."

Well, Tommy, your problem is simply that you are 100% wrong.

(Kidding, of course.)

And I only did the "Little Tommy" thing because this particular person used to rule over me with an iron fist as my assignment editor at The Sun. Actually, those are all valid points, even if coming from a guy whose idea of "shooting flexibility" used to be asking for a weather feature squeezed in between assignments at 2:30 and 3:15.

I digress.

And I'll admit to being a little schizo about the whole ring flash thing. For me, it comes down to how the thing is used.

I think the "up-against-the-wall" one-source ring flash shot is overused and pretty one-dimensional. (That said, I never do get tired of that Lenka photo...)

But I'll admit right here and now that after I finished building my ring light a few days ago, I shot darn near everything and everybody in the house that was up against the wall with it. The cat won't even stay in the same room with me these days.

But the new car smell wears off pretty quickly on that look. Although it is always there to pull out if you need it once in a blue moon.

What does interest me -- fascinates me, actually -- is the idea of a ringlight as an on-axis, secondary light source. And to be honest, I plan on using it more for still life than for people. I like the idea of hard edge light, filled by that 3-D, wrapped light coming from the ring flash.

I start to get more excited when I think of color contrast between the frontal and edge light, too.

More than anything else, the work of Dan Winters has gotten the ring light stuck on my brain. He uses it in a variety of ways -- as a sole light source, a primary source in a multi-light setup, or as subtle fill.

I could look at Winters' photos for hours on end. (And I have.) I would really like to be able to experiment with some of his techniques on the cheap. A DIY ring flash is not gonna make me Dan, of course. But it will allow me to play with some of his methods and see how I can apply them toward my own style.

If you are into really cool, quiet, cerebral photos, I'd highly recommend a walk through his site, BTW. And if you are a photo editor, you should hire this to shoot something for your mag in every issue. He can make anything look interesting.

Closer to home, for example, reader Michael Hui is doing some neat stuff, too. He is playing with an Alien Bee ABR800, which he uses both alone and in conjunction with other light sources. In the photo at left he used an additional bare Vivitar 285HV from camera left.

It's the latter look that I am drawn to, and I sometimes have to keep myself from faving Hui's pix automatically, as soon as they appear.

In addition to combining the RF with a hard sidelight, Hui is also using it with a multi-source, wrap-lighting scheme that is totally working for me, too.

In short, where some people see a one-trick-pony light, I see a jumping-off point for more creative looks that I simply cannot get with any other light source. So, to that end, I want to learn as much about it as a possibly can.

For now, I am a total newb. But I hope to be doing cool stuff with it soon.

NEXT: Designing the DIY HD Ring Flash


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