Super-Cheap, DIY Ring Flash

UPDATE: Since this post was written, we have also featured a Ring Flash Week, with everything from a resources page to a tutorial on how to make a high-output, DIY ring flash adapter that can overpower sunlight. Ring Flash Week begins here.

If you are like me, you want to experiment with specialized lighting techniques. But those "looks" sometimes remain specialized because of the cost associated with the gear.

Ring flash is a good example. The 3-d, shadow-wrapped look is unmistakable. And darn near impossible to duplicate without liberating a few hundred bucks from your wallet for a ring flash.

I'll be danged if Strobist reader Jedrek hasn't circumvented the photo gear mafia industry completely with some plastic bowls, scissors, foil and glue.

So, for just a hour's work (and some mysteriously missing spousal tupperware) you can be getting those edgy photos that look like they came right out of a fashion mag.

There's not much to it, technique-wise. Just stick someone up against a colored wall and nuke away.

The kissy lips are not included in the kit. (And your subject probably will not have a set like these.)

Fire a test shot, adjust your exposure - use the flash on manual for repeatable results - and you are good to go, my friend.

Or, you can always go TTL if you are a noob. (Better yet, click here and learn how to light light a real photographer... )

Click here for a more readable version of these instructions, and you'll be on your way to building one for yourself.

There is also a full discussion on the project on the Strobist Flickr group. (You are a member, right? It's free, you know.)

So make it a weekend project and stick your stuff up in the thread.

Here's a quick lighting hint: While this light looks great with someone plastered up against a wall, you can really amp it up with some added rim light to create three-dimensional lighting tension.

Or an easier tweak: Position the bowl where the strobe is entering from the top. The light is hotter at the entry point, so the vertical portion of the shadow would be more pleasing.

You could also work it against a sunset. Heck, go nuts with it. We are only talking some bowls, foil and glue here, people.

Thanks much to Jedrek for the tutorial!



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Anonymous Charles said...

Oh man! I've been working on my own set of ringflashes myself, alas all of the designs that iv'e made are failures, either the output light is too weak or the design wasn't portable enough... I wonder how many stops of light you lose with this, and I noticed that his pictures are shot fairly close to the subject, can you throw the ligth farther than that?

September 30, 2006 1:52 PM  
Blogger David said...


Because of the look of the flash, there is not much point to working with it at much greater distances than head-and-shoulders with a portrait lens.

The look is determined more by the lens (normal vs portrait) which will determine how rounded or foreshortened the head is.


p.s. I am gonna make one of these for myself!

September 30, 2006 2:54 PM  
Blogger jedrek said...

I've tested it at distance and it worked reasonably well, but you do lose a lot of light and I have neither want nor need to actually go out and measure it. :)

ETTL2 works surprisingly well with this if you're on the Canon system, BTW.

September 30, 2006 3:31 PM  
Blogger kwongphotography said...

Great idea! Funny, I went searching online to see what the actual costs of a ring flash are, and found this other article on building your own rig out of styrofoam, cardboard, aluminum, tape and a lens hood.

September 30, 2006 10:59 PM  
Blogger superstar said...

good picture

October 02, 2006 5:32 PM  
Anonymous Aaron J Scott said...

The new ish of ReadyMade has plans for a ring flash, made out of a fluorescent ring lamp.

October 02, 2006 8:31 PM  
Anonymous ChadS said...

I've been trying to come up with a similar design using the silver reflector of a grow/flood lamp. However I havent actually gotten around to making it yet. My issue was how to attach the aluminum dome reflector to the strobe. I may have to give this version a try.

I'd like to see the article in Ready Made. Does anyone know if it is available online?

October 03, 2006 1:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ReadyMade magazine article here.

October 03, 2006 5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about a second flash inside the bowl ? More power for those who want it...And I'm going to make one as well :) Will definitely post the pictures.
Great blog, great site, great ideas. What would we do without the internet ? Come up with it ourselves ? Yes but when ? :)

October 05, 2006 11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The paint on mine is drying right now (painted the inside with chrome, and the outside black). Somebody mentioned two lights. I was thinking about maybe cutting a hole for the pop up flash on my D200 to make up for some of the lost light in the top of the rig. Oh yeah and for my outer bowl I used a tupperware bowl that came with a thin white rubber lid that I cut a hole in and can use as a diffuser (haven't tried it yet but it looks awesome).

November 21, 2006 6:26 PM  
Blogger Arian Stevens- Greenwoodimages said...

I had to get one of these together asap..
I used a tupperware bowl, A PVC pipe fitting and a lot of aluminum heating and AC tape.

here's the result..

December 17, 2006 8:07 PM  
Blogger dennison said...

Wow, great article. I saw someone already mentioned it above- the Ring flash by Deninson Bertram. Well, that's me anyway. It's great to see other people building these things, and I have seen lots of different versions posted by people! Besides the ringflash I have a few other camera projects on my blog that people might find interesting, so here's the link!
czech fashion photographer

December 21, 2006 3:20 PM  
Blogger Tommy Huynh said...

How I made a portable and collapsible ringlight, works great and fits in my bag.

May 23, 2007 3:26 AM  
Blogger Carver Thompson said...

at fashion week in NY I believe. Interesting contraption.

June 11, 2007 8:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmmm i bild one but i don't know it does not flash all around ...... i work wit the 550ex should i buy a 580 II??? and will it work better??? thanx!! sam

August 08, 2007 10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

has any body used the alien bee ring flash. it is only 400$ and can be used with an umbrella and a moon unit softbox.

December 18, 2007 12:30 AM  
Anonymous ivan said...

thanks for the sharing. May I know what makes the ring flash appeal to people? I mean, I don't find it particularly attractive in the sense that I would be spending money on an adapter or time on DIY one for myself. Unless someone could kindly show me nice portraits or fashion photos that were shot through ringflash...

May 12, 2008 7:29 PM  
Anonymous DIY said...

It does look good. I'm looking for some ideas, so thanks for sharing.

June 02, 2009 11:51 AM  
Blogger AnitaM said...

i really have to try this one out over the weekend ... sounds easy enough to DIM ;)

July 31, 2009 11:01 AM  
Blogger PuroClean said...

Thats looks great - what a great way to frame your subject :-)

January 21, 2010 6:22 PM  
Blogger David.Capino said...

So I saw the positive reviews on the Orbis ring flash, so being cheap, I decided to see if I could make a cardboard copy of the Orbis. Here is what I got.

January 29, 2010 2:41 PM  

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