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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in May 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Shooting good video content requires more than an awesome script and a video camera.
Lighting sets the mood and tone of your video and literally helps to make you look good. More importantly, good lighting makes you stand out as a professional video creator and an expert in your niche. Good lighting will help you attract larger audiences and more buyers for your products and services.
Why many creators choose ring lights to light their YouTube videos
Here are six simple reasons why YouTubers choose ring lights as their number one light source when shooting YouTube videos.
- Ring Lights are easy to use by any beginner, straight out of the box.
- Ring lights enable YouTubers to produce beautiful professional-looking shots.
- They take up much less space than almost any other video lighting kit.
- The lights produce a wash of even and shadowless soft light that wraps around the subject and helps hide any skin imperfections.
- The lighting looks great, even when the camera gets close to you.
- Ring lights produce distinctive circular catchlights in the eyes, that many people regard as being both attractive and desirable.
- They can be used at any angle, ideal for piece-to-camera, make-up, and flat-lay videos.
- You can use them with phone cameras or mirrorless cameras.
What is a ring light?
As the name suggests, a ring light is a light in the shape of a ring. The light source is usually either a circular fluorescent tube or hundreds of surface-mounted LEDs.
The light source, either a fluorescent tube or LEDs, sits in a circular housing. At one side of this circle, or ring, there is a control box/panel. At the bottom, there’s a mounting point that can be slipped onto the spigot of a standard light stand, then secured with a thumb screw. The mounting point usually has a tilt-head or gooseneck incorporated into it, so you can adjust the angle of the light. The control panel will house the on/off switch and other pieces of electronics, depending on the cost of the ring light, this may include an LCD display plus brightness and color temperature controls.
Circular lights with fluorescent tubes use electrical power directly from an electrical outlet, so work at mains voltage (a ballast in the control panel regulates the power to the lamp). DC electricity is used for LED light rings, so they can be powered either by rechargeable batteries or by a DC power adapter.
What is a ring light used for?
Ring lights have become popular with many digital content creators, especially beauty and hair vloggers. Many will use a ring light for makeup tutorials because of the shadowless soft light they produce. Because the ring light and camera can both get close to the subject, this allows the viewer to see every detail of a makeup tutorial.
They are also extensively used in fashion photography, music videos, and entertainment videos. The nature of the light and those distinctive catchlights help to add a bit of glamour to the look of the video.
Ring lights can be useful for flat-lays when demonstrating a product or project on a tabletop. This can include crafts, cookery, repair project videos, and photography. The light is rotated through 90 degrees and the camera is pointed downwards through the ring.
How do you use a ring light for video?
The light is mounted on a stand and usually placed directly in front of the subject. The camera is then placed either in the empty space within the ring or slightly further back from the ring so the lens pokes through the ring space. In this arrangement, the light seems to come from all directions around the camera’s lens. This produces a pleasing shadowless soft light.
Most often a ring light will be used for a close or medium shot of the subject.
If the ring light is used on its own, and the subject is close to a backdrop or wall, they may appear to be outlined by a halo shadow around their edge.
To create an even more interesting effect, place a pair of bright lights behind the subject but off to each side, so they are out of shot. This will produce a nice hair-light or rim-light effect, which can be improved further by using a colored gel.
If you have a particularly powerful ring light and your walls are painted white, why not turn the ring light around and bounce the light off the wall and ceiling. This will produce an even softer light, although you may also need some other light source in the room to boost the light level.
If you are using your webcam to record your video, take the ring light off the light stand and place it on your desk. You will need to prop it up, so it is secure. Another solution would be to get a stand with a boom arm and then hang the ring light from that.
When the ring light is directly in front of the subject, they should not wear glasses. Ring lights are famous for the “doughnut” catchlights they produce in the subject’s eyes. If you wear glasses, the bright ring of the light will be reflected by the lenses.
However, there is a way to use ring lights if the subject wears glasses. You need to adjust the position of the light or use a pair of ring lights. The basic principles are outlined in my article, How to avoid glare on glasses in Zoom Video.
Producing catchlights with a ring light
If you like catchlights, the specular highlight reflected from the subject’s eyes, you will probably love ring lights.
If the ring light is large, or you can get the ring light close to your subject, you will find it easy to record videos with bright doughnut-shaped catchlights. They are usually reflected from the subject’s eyes, but you can see in the image below there is a reflection of the circular light on the tip of the subject’s nose.
If you are using a fluorescent ring light, or a ring light with a diffuser, the catchlights will appear as bright circles. But if you are using uncovered LED lights, the catchlights will be a circle of bright points of lights, which are reflections of each LED.
These circular catchlights have become extremely popular, probably because they help to add a little glamour to any video.
What to look for when choosing a ring light for YouTube videos
Broader lights produce a softer light. So, if all things are equal, a larger ring light is better for your video production. Common sizes on Amazon are 12, 14, and 18 inches, and they all perform well. The 12-inch is best when you only want a headshot. If you have the budget get a 17 or 18-inch ring light since this will give you more flexibility in its use, and more light.
The size numbers normally refer to the outside diameter. If two numbers are quoted for a light, say 18 and 14 inches, the smaller number will be the inside diameter of the ring. In this case, the ring containing the tube or LEDs is 4-inches wide.
If your light is dimmable, you will have more control over how much light you will cast on your subject. If there is no dimmer you can only adjust the level of illumination by moving the light further from your subject. By choosing an LED ring light you will get more flexibility when it comes to being able to dim the lights.
Older ring light designs may only offer preset brightness levels while more up-to-date designs will provide many brightness levels from 1 to 100%, often in 5% steps.
Adjustable Color Temperature
Do you need a light where you can adjust the color temperature? If so, look for an LED light with this feature. For many creators, a variable color temperature feature isn’t necessary, and most of their videos are shot with a daylight color temperature.
However, if warm skin tones are important in your niche, or if you want to find a way of being a little different from other creators, you may wish to warm things up a little. I would avoid changing the color temperature by attaching orange diffusers since this gives you little control over the color temperature. Instead, choose a light where you can change the color temperature gradually from a cool blue to a warm orange.
High Color Rendering Index
The higher the CRI value of your light the more natural and vivid the colors will appear. Look for 90+ or better still, 95+ or 96+ CRI values. If the listing does not mention the CRI value, it may be because the lights use lower-quality lamps or LEDs. In the case of ring lights with fluorescent tubes, these usually do not have CRI values that are as high as good LED.
Having power options may be a good thing for you. Although there is nothing wrong with a ring light that business an AC adapter, it does impose limits on how you can use the light. Ring lights that include rechargeable lithium-ion batters improve the versatility of the light, allowing you to shoot images and videos almost anywhere, including outdoors. Also, if you have one less cable to trip over.
Power Bank Options
Battery technology has advanced allowing a higher power density. This has allowed some manufacturers to incorporate rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that have enough power that they can be used as a power bank as well as powering the LEDs. This means you can charge your phone at the same time as using it to record.
Whether you choose fluorescent tube ring lights or LED ring lights, ensure you use any clip-on diffusion that is provided. The more diffusion you have, the softer the lighting will be, and the more flattering it will appear.
Most ring lights include a 1/4″-20 screw so you can attach a mirrorless camera or phone holder. However, better designs include one or two cold shoe mounting points. These allow you to mount an external shotgun video mic, and possibly a small panel light if you need a brightness boost.
Battery Life Display
Many lights will include the standard battery icon that displays up to three bars to give you an idea of the remaining battery life. However, it’s far better to have the remaining battery time displayed in hours and minutes, which will intelligently adapt according to any brightness changes you make. When done well, this is an incredibly useful feature.
Flexible Neck or Tilting/Rotating Ring Light Head
The ability to rotate or tilt the ring light head can be especially useful, even if it is not absolutely essential. A tilting ring light will allow you to increase the height of the light, so it is a little above your subject, and then angle it down slightly.
If the ring head can rotate or tilt 90 degrees forwards or backward it can be used to bounce light off the ceiling or light a subject who is lying down on a couch or reclining seat.
Some ring lights do not have a tilting or rotatable ring head. This can often be overcome by getting a light stand adapter that can rotate, allowing the ring light head to tilt. However, this solution may not be ideal and is an added expense.
Should you get a fluorescent or LED ring light?
Although fluorescent lights are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs, LEDs are even better at converting electrical power into light. So, from an environmental perspective, LED ring lights are a better choice.
LEDs are less fragile than fluorescent tubes and are likely to survive some rough handling. If fluorescent tubes break, the mercury they contain, which is toxic, will be released and can be a hazard.
If your home studio gets hot easily, or you don’t want your aircon to work any harder than necessary, choose LEDs. They run cold or warm at most, whereas tube lights with fluorescent tubes will get hot.
If accurate color rending is important to you, say if you want vivid colors and natural skin tones, LEDs may be a better choice. Check for the Color Rendering Index (CRI) value of the lights. To get vibrant colors and natural skin tones you should look for a high CRI of at least 90. But a CRI of 95+ will give you the best results. This is more common with good-quality LEDs than fluorescent tubes.
LEDs last much longer than fluorescent tubes. However, you can replace a tube. You can’t replace LEDs. Depending on the length of use and handling, a fluorescent tube may last for months, whereas an LED light may last years.
Aging fluorescent tubes may flicker, produce less light than when new, and even develop a buzz or hum. However, LEDs are normally flicker-free, and I have not come across any that make a noise.
Fluorescent tube lights need a mains outlet. But, many LED ring lights can be used with an AC adapter or internal lithium-ion batteries. If you plan to use your lights outdoors LEDs offer an easier and safer option.
If you want a light with variable color temperature, from 3,200 to 5,500K, LEDs are again the best option to choose.
For most people, LED ring lights tend to be a better option than those with fluorescent tubes. The LEDs last longer and do not visibly get dimmer with use. They are also more robust than fluorescents when moved or transported. Provided you get an LED Ring Light with a high CRI value, it should make you or your subject look great. Also, look for one whose construction is robust, so that you can enjoy trouble-free service. If you can afford it, buy the larger models, such as an 18 or 20-inch ring light. You will find the larger ring lights not only give you better results but also allow you to shoot more than just headshots.
My Ring Light Recommendation
There are two ring lights I recommend, the one that’s right for you depends on your budget.
If you want a top-class ring light that offers everything you need, then the hands-down winner is the Lume Cube Ring Light Pro. I think it is a superb LED ring light, which is why I now use it myself.
You can control the Ring Light Pro from the control panel on the back of the light or the faultless Bluetooth wireless control. Although it can be powered using the included AC adapter, the Ring Light Pro includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that allows you to record videos anywhere for 70 minutes at full brightness or 120 minutes at 50% output.
Furthermore, the internal batteries can also function as a power bank for your other devices. So, if your phone or camera can be charged while recording, you can keep on recording without worrying that your phone’s battery will die on you.
The color temperature is fully customizable. If you want any color temperature from a cool blue to a warm amber, you can have it. Dial in the perfect light for the mood you want, or keep skin tones looking true-to-life skin.
- 17″ LED ring light
- Bluetooth wireless remote brightness, color temperature control, plus color and brightness presets
- 256 high-quality LEDs
- Color temperature fully adjustable between 3200K and 5600K
- Built-in defuser
- Lume Cube phone holder that includes two cold shoe mounting points for other devices
- One 1/4″-20 and two cold shoe mounting points
- Battery life indicator and battery life estimate
- Lume Cube’s new light stand design
- Power bank feature
- 2x USB outputs to charge your devices
- 19″ square padded carry case included
If your budget can’t stretch to the Ring Light Pro, don’t worry, there are more basic ring light options. If you’re looking for a budget ring light that’s in the same size category as the one above, the Neewer 18″ is the one I’d recommend.
The Neewer doesn’t have a built-in battery or a built-in defuser. Nor can you fully adjust the color temperature, it’s a choice of daylight or orange warm light. But for a basic ring light, it does a good job.
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Last update on 2023-09-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
The 18-inch Neewer LED ring light is a good choice if you have limited space in your studio space. Instead of setting up a couple of softboxes the Neewer light ring will provide you with even soft light across your subject’s face.
The small footprint and affordable price make this an ideal choice for anyone starting out, especially in the beauty or makeup niche.
Click here to read what buyers on Amazon think of the Neewer light.
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Tosh Lubek runs an audio and video production business in the UK and has been using the Canon EOS R since it was released in the Autumn of 2018. He has used the camera to shoot TV commercials for Sky TV, promotional business videos, videos of events and functions, and YouTube creator content. He has also won international awards for his advertising and promotional work. You can meet him by visiting his “video booth” at HashTag business events across the country.
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