Glamour Photography with a Fluorescent Ring Light

by | Jul 14, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Portrait Techniques Week continues today with…

In 1952, Lester A. Dine invented the ring light to make dental photos but today people use them for other kinds of photography too.

A ring light is a circular light source that typically surrounds the optical axis of a lens causing light to hit the subject from different angles, producing soft shadows in a similar manner as a softbox. When photographing people, the unique way a ring light renders light also produces a shadowy halo around the subject that’s much loved by fashion photographers. I use a small ring flash to photograph butterflies but if you want to photograph people, to paraphrase Jaws Chief Brody, “You’re gonna need a bigger light.”

How I made this shot: I made this portrait of aspiring model Laura Bachmayer using Flashpoint’s now-discontinued 14-inch Fluorescent Dimmable Ring. But there are many similar standalone ring lights available from all kinds of sources, including Amazon, many of them using fluorescent lighting. Why? Fluorescent lighting closely matches an imaging chip’s RGB spikes more than tungsten sources that end up producing 93% heat and 7% red light. And as with all continuous lighting sources you can use your camera’s built-in light meter to measure exposure. So it’s a good way to get started with ring lights without spending the money that ring flash typically cost. The Canon MR-14EX II Macro Ring Lite, for example, is $549.

For Laura’s portrait, I put the camera in Program mode, letting the camera determine aperture and shutter speeds and tweak with the camera’s exposure compensation control when needed. With the ring light placed at camera right, as shown in the setup photo above, it produced more modeling and less flat-looking light and because the placement was not too far off-axis, the subject’s eyes retained the ring light’s classic circular catchlights. Camera used was a Panasonic Lumix GH3 with a borrowed Lumix G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 lens (at 35mm) and an exposure of 1/40 sec at f/3.2 and ISO 640

The final expsoure might have been a bit overexposed, so I used the inverse of a technique I use for underexposed subjects. Tip: This trick doesn’t work that great for really overexposed subject because image data is lost during overexposure. The JPEG file (this was before I went all in on RAW+JPEG) was then tweaked with the now free PhotoKit 2.

If you have any questions about these high ISO’s used for these kinds of continuous light portraits check out my post, “Why Such High ISO’s for my LED Portraits?” And while this portrait was not made using LED’s but I’ve had similar experiences with all continuous lighting sources.


If you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to buy Joe a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.50), click here. And if you do, thank so very much. If you’re interested in shooting portraits and learning how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio or on location, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere that’s available from with new copies selling for $9.66. Used copies are selling from $5.57 as I write this, which is a heckuva deal for all of the useful information found in the book. The Kindle edition is $9.18 for those preferring a digital format.