Shortly after posting the DIY Ring Light article, things got real quiet on this blog. I went M.I.A..... So a couple of friends came by and we decided to spend a few hours whipping one up. This is a very old DIY Photography project, but not something every household wants to have laying around the bedroom. There's no way to really break this thing down any smaller than it's designed, but since I have a bit of space in the warehouse, I thought it would be a handy thing to have around. Just another budget light to add to the collection of things, that throws some very interesting catch-lights. When i'm ready to use it next week, i'll share some of those examples.
Depending on how you plan to set this up, it might not be as cheap or be completed as fast as you think. So here's some things we did, tips for making it better than we did (the first time), and things to know:
This video that re-inspired me to tackle the project used a 2x4 sheet of wood. Since the ring itself was only going to be 2ft. round, we decided to start out with a 2ft. round table top. It was $16 dollars as opposed to an $8 dollar sheet of wood, but it was thicker, better wood, and already the perfect size with a rounded edge. The depth of the table also helped to recess the wiring which you want to make sure you cover the terminals up well, and prevent people from touching it. It was also a better quality wood with a smooth sanded finish.
We laid out 12 basic Light Sockets and figured out how much of the inner circle we needed to cut out. It's a fairly large hole in the center, and if you want a perfect circle, you'll need a better saw than a jig. If you don't mind the unevenness of the cut, then a simple Jigsaw would do fine, with some further sanding. We used some decent gauge solid core wiring connecting each light socket in parallel. Might be over-kill but you want to make sure there's the least amount of resistance from lighting up 12 bulbs. We ended it with a 16 gauge pig tail (extension cord).
Dimmer switches? Different dimmer switches are rated to safely carry a certain amount of watts. If you plan on running 40-60watt bulbs, remember that you'll be running 12 of them. Higher wattage Dimmer switches aren't super cheap. Now some of you might be thinking about going Fluorescent with this ring light to generate less heat, draw less watts, but not all FL's are dimmable. If you decide on using the dimmable type of FL's, each bulb can run about $8 dollars, and you'll need to buy 12 of them. Most LED Bulbs should have no problems being dimmable, but those can be fairly expensive in the hardware stores too.
So we started out using 12 tungsten 60 watt bulbs and although we had a dimmer, we didn't throw it in. After lighting the unit up, we found that 12 x 60watt bulbs weren't really as bright as you'd think. Even if we had a dimmer in place, I'm not sure I would use it. I do plan on switching to the more expensive dimmable FL's, and can probably run some brighter bulbs. With brighter FL's drawing less power, I can throw in the dimmer and see if it needs to be used. With the Panasonic GH2 doing the photos and video, I found when the aperture was set to F/5.6 the Auto ISO wanted to be at 800. That might give you a better idea of how much light output you'll get from 12 x 60watt bulbs. If we were shooting at F/2.8 we could probably be down to about ISO 200 or better.
Paint it before attaching everything. Although the ring light adds a nice effect and an interesting reflection, when we tested the ring light against a pair of sunglasses, you can clearly see the wood table. Again, this doesn't show up with simple eye reflections, but will show up if you decide to use this against a pair of tinted glasses. You would need to paint the wood a flat black, and you should do this 'before' wiring things up. It's going to just take you more time if you have to take it apart and do it after everything is mounted.
This 2 foot round ring light works best if your subject is close. The further the subject is from the ring light, the smaller the catch light is. If I were to use this, I would have the subject about 2-3ft away and shoot through the ring using my 70-200 lens. Once you have it built, you'll test a few things out and find what works, but if you want it to be noticeable, you'll move the subject closer.
Wiring was the most tedious part, not difficult at all, but was slow moving. We had to cut, strip, bend, and screw the wiring in place and when dealing with solid core, it's time consuming. Don't expect to have something like this all put together in 20 minutes - especially if you have to let paint dry. This project will easily take you a few hours, but well worth it. This is a different kind of light with a look and an output that would be hard to replicate. We had a lot of fun building it, and even more fun drumming up new ideas and sparked some creativeness. Definitely something I suggest every creative studio have, as you'll find plenty of uses for it.
The video below shows an example of how this ring light was used. Notice the catch light in the eyes of the artist.
So what's next? How about a 2ft round 'Ring Flash'?? One very very large studio strobe. Now that the foundation is built, it would be easy to swap the continuous light bulbs to these special inexpensive 'Flash Bulbs'. This would provide a very nice soft even flash from a fairly large ring light source..