What is a “ring light” and why (or why not) should I use one?

Mar 2, 2021 | Ask Alfred

Dear Alfred,
What is a “ring light” and why (or why not) should I use one?
Cheryl Rubin, Cincinnati, Ohio

Dear Cheryl,
A ring light is just what it sounds like; it’s a light for your camera that is shaped like a ring. You’ve probably seen them on TV if you watch any police procedurals. The crime scene photographers often have them on their still photo cameras as they provide a direct, even light on the subject. This is especially important on close-ups where the light from a flash mounted on top of the camera may not get close enough to illuminate the object properly.

Of course, the pandemic changed all that once everyone started living their work lives on Zoom (or other video chat platforms). Home lighting and bright windows create a huge challenge when it comes to creating a good lighting setup for your webcam. A ring light can provide consistent, smooth lighting to vastly improve your video image. You can find them at prices ranging from less than $15 to more than $100. So what should you look for?

First, bigger is better. If the ring gets small enough, it’s no different than just about any other light source such as an LED bulb. You need a larger ring to provide an even light without deep shadows. And if the light is further away from your face, you’ll need an even larger ring.

Next, lights come in different color temperatures. Some people want the cooler colors that you get in daylight, while others want the softer, warmer look of incandescent lightbulbs or candles. Some LED ring lights will give you a choice of different color temperatures so if you’re not sure what you want, you might want to look for this feature.
Finally, some people should not use a ring light at all. If you wear eyeglasses, a ring light will give you “Cheerio eyes” with a bright white circle reflected in your lenses. If you wear glasses, go with a pair of lights arranged on each side of your camera to get even lighting without harsh reflections off your lenses.

Alfred Poor, Technology Editor

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