Ring Flash Education

I’ve learned a great deal about the ring flash…how to use it…how to build one (DIY)…the pros & cons of various ring flash products, and so on.

The use of the ring flash is very finicky. Because you can only use a ring flash at a particular distance from the subject (once you identify the proper lighting condition), you (and your subject) must remain stationary. Most photographers therefore choose to sit down at that one location where he will shoot most of his pictures. (And, of course, the subject or model must also not move too much.)

The direction at which you aim the ring flash is also critical to avoid uneven lighting. In other words, the ring flash is highly directional.

YouTube has a large number of DIY ring flash videos. It’s almost a cottage industry! I guess most people don’t want to spend a small fortune on ring flashes. I find this a little curious because there are 2 ring flash products available that are quite affordable. Is $250-300 really that much money? Photo nuts spend a LOT more than that on bodies and lenses.

There are 2 types of DIY ring flashes:  one that connects to your existing external flash unit (and is sync’d with your camera), and one that operates from an external power source and is on continuously. I surmise that the latter is not desirable for photographing wildlife in macro. A continuous light could scare off frogs and insects.

Most DIY ring flashes, with one exception, are hand-held (ie, not integrated with the camera body). The construction methods are quite inventive, and in some cases, quite involved. Frankly, I’m 2LAZY2.

The 2 affordable ring flash products are the Ray Flash (CAD$280) and the orbis (CAD$250). The Ray Flash attaches to the hotshoe-mounted external flash unit which therefore makes for an integrated setup, ie, the camera and ring flash move as a single unit. This is desirable, but there is a major caveat (can anyone guess what it is before reading any further?).

The orbis is intended to be held with one hand while your other hand holds (and shoots) the camera. This sounds rather awkward, but it can also be advantageous. (Can anyone guess why before reading any further?)

The major caveat with the Ray Flash is that connection to the hotshoe risks damaging your camera body. Why? Because the hotshoe is designed to be sacrificial, ie, it will break off easily in the event of over-stress. This is for your equipment protection. If the hotshoe breaks off, that’s the end of your shoot until you have the camera repaired. For this reason, I favour the orbis.

This video of the orbis in action demonstrates that it really isn’t *that* awkward to use. Shooting my 40D (with 17-85mm) with one hand is possible (and not too uncomfortable) because it is not too heavy (unlike something like the Nikon D700).

The hand-held orbis has a couple of other advantages:  1) it won’t obstruct the sensors on the front of your flash unit (used for important functions such as Focus Assist); and 2) you have much more flexibility in how you aim the ring flash (this is my guess).

Note that, in conjunction with the orbis, I would need an off-camera shoe cord such as this one:


It adds cost, thereby conferring to the Ray Flash a price advantage. Oh well.


One Response to “Ring Flash Education”

  1. I may build my own ring flash to save money. Here’s a very useful resource:


    I’m not the handiest person in the world but this could be a great learning experience.

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