The Ring Light / by Nadine Shaabana

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This photo has gained an incredible amount of attention ever since I posted it on my Unsplash page. Raking in over 2 million views, 30k downloads, 735 likes and being short-listed for the Unsplash Awards within the Tech & Business category, this photo has far exceeded the reaction that I was anticipating. Biggest of all, this picture has been used as a cover for a single by one of my favourite electronic music artists on Spotify! So, I'm taking advantage of this blog post to give a little bit of background on how this photo was taken!

What You'll Need

What you'll need for a picture like this is a camera (duh!), a flash ring (which can be purchased from Amazon) and a mirror. Many people will be surprised to learn that this photo was taken in my bedroom and in broad daylight! The secret to this lies in the camera settings and post-processing (i.e., familiarize yourself with using Lightroom/Photoshop). 

Flash-Ring Woes

The major thing I learned about using flash rings is that they're incredibly easy to use and open up a lot of opportunities for creativity. However, in combination with getting your camera settings just right, they can also be a bit awkward to work with. For example, once the ring is mounted onto your lens, you will notice that there is only a specific focal length that you can work with comfortably before the flash ring begins to appear in the border of your pictures (however, this can also be used to get some pretty cool shots!). And if you're looking to incorporate your hand into the picture like I have, you will see that it is very difficult to place your hand close enough to the ring such that you will have a nice light/shadow effect, but far enough so that no part of your hand is covering the lens. However, once you get past these awkward issues, you'll find that they are quite fun to play around with!

The Settings

Your camera settings will much depend on the room's lighting situation. For me, I was in the bedroom of my basement apartment where light levels were quite fair. It may even be easier to take this picture in complete darkness, but this is an example of how this is doable during any time of the day, in any lighting conditions. Again, your camera settings will differ but mine were as follows:

I was shooting with a Canon EOS 1200D (or Rebel T5), with a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens, at a focal length of 20.0mm and standing approximately 1 foot from the mirror. Remember to always shoot RAW to avoid file compression and loss of image quality!

  • Aperture: f/8.0
  • Shutter Speed: 1/60s
  • ISO: 100

The goal with these settings is to allow your lens to gather as much light as possible from the flash ring, and leaving the surroundings as dark as possible. 

Extra tip: If parts of your body will be appearing in your shot, maybe wear some dark clothing to allow for easier editing later on!

Post-Processing

Once you've managed to take a photo that you're happy with, it's time to send that picture into Lightroom or Photoshop for some editing! Personally, I do the bulk of my editing using Lightroom, and then I open Photoshop when I'm completely finished with editing and need to remove any imperfections or do some basic-level effects (color gradients, masking, etc.).

Chromatic Aberration

Within night-photography or shooting in low-light settings in general (whether natural or simulated), your number one annoyance will be chromatic aberration. Simply put, this is the appearance of colour fringes in your image (you'll know it when you see it). This is where Lightroom comes in handy because it has a nifty setting that allows you to remove this effect (literally, a checkbox labeled "Remove Chromatic Aberration") and provide you with profile corrections for your particular lens. Note that these settings will not completely remove chromatic aberration, but they will do their best. Any leftover fringe will require manual removal through the use of brushes and sliders. 

Lights Out!

Once chromatic aberration has been removed to the best of your ability, it's time to black out your surroundings. You can do this using any method you wish, as long as you are careful not to lose image quality and introducing grain. Personally, I found it easy to reduce exposure levels completely and using the adjustment brush to have more control over the areas I wanted to black out. Furthermore, this can be easily done in Photoshop as well by simply using a black brush and colouring the desired areas (don't forget the center of your lens!). But if you use this method, you may need to adjust the tone curve to give your black a little less of a "painted" look! 

Finishing Touches

Once you've polished off those colour fringes and blacked out your surroundings, you can now edit your image as a whole and add those finishes touches! Other than adjusting the appearance of the black in your photo, there shouldn't be any extraneous editing. If you chose to incorporate your hand like I did, you'll want to some time to smooth out its appearance, adjusting the skin tone and removing any imperfections! Otherwise, you have free reign over what you want this picture to look like in the end, and it will take a lot of fiddling around in order to find out what you really want out of it!

And Voilà!