Ring lights are essentially round assemblies holding a light source, or multiple light sources, which encircle the camera lens. Small ring lights are used in macro photography for lighting objects very close to the lens. A large ring light, however, provides even, shadowless front lighting for a look that is common in fashion and glamour lighting. As commercial ring lights are quite expensive, this article details the procedure for making your own ring light.
You’ll need to be comfortable with basic hand tools and will probably need to work with a power saw and drill, unless you find a sufficient work around which is quite possible. Be ready to spend about $30-$40 and an hour or two.
Jigsaw, Drill, Wire Cutters, Razor Knife, Screwdriver
Stuff to buy
Left: Plywood. This sheet is 2′ x 2′ and is approx 3/8″ thick. Right: Wire, 12/2 600v indoor with ground. You could also purchase this stuff by the foot but then you have to wait for someone to come and help and that usually takes forever. This was around $10 for 25ft which is more than enough.
Left: I call it a light socket but Home Depot calls it a “Keyless Plastic Lampholder”. It was the cheapest socket available at $1.19 a piece. Right: Bulbs, any old bulbs will do the trick. I bought 60 watt bulbs (and I also bought some 100’s just in case the 60’s didn’t work.)
Left: I wanted to have the ability to turn the unit on and off so what you see is a junction box, a faceplate and some clamps. The clamps secure the cord that will come out of the junction box, this way if you trip over the cord then nothing comes loose and sparks and burns the house down. Right: A dimmer switch I got about 6 months ago in a dumpster diving expedition. I wanted to use a dimmer for more flexibility. Now I don’t have to change out the bulbs for a different intensity light. Dimmers usually run about $5-$10. If you don’t care for the dimmer idea then you can snag a standard switch for around 50 cents. *edit – The dimmer was in the trash for a reason, it overheated because it wasn’t able to handle the wattage. That brings up a good point, make sure the switch you buy can handle the juice you’re pumping through the bulbs. The one I bought goes up to around 800w.
Don’t forget the wire nuts and electrical tape, otherwise you risk one of your connections coming loose. You’ll want to get a cord and a plug so you can plug it into an outlet. For me, I cut an old extension cord I had laying around and that seems to work great. Again, make sure your cord and plug can handle the juice.
1. Mark and Cut Wood
You could always leave the wood square. I guess my thinking was; Since the lights will make a circle that the wood had to be circle too. Not quite sure why I did that but it’s done now. This is where that jigsaw comes in handy. Note: No perfect circles allowed.
2. Lay Out and Mark Lights
You can tell I’m taking the Git-R-Done approach with how unscientific my measurements are. Again we’re using the jigsaw here.
3. Cut Holes and Screw in the Lights.
This was by far the worst part for me. I’m no electrician and I didn’t pay attention in science class when we did the series and parallel circuits with the batteries and light bulbs. Incidentally this was the most time consuming part as well. This took about an hour to do. I ended up blowing a circuit because I messed something up. It’s one of those things where you look away as you’re plugging it in.
Unless you have someone that can hold this for you, you’re going to want to rig some type of deal that will hold it in place for you. Luckily I had an old wal-mart tripod laying around that I could butcher. Here is kind of how I rigged it:
Here is a photo:
5. Make it beautiful
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not winning any points for style and beauty. So while you’re at the Home Depot pick up some flat black spray paint. I got the paint that’s meant for the grill. It can withstand high temperatures which is perfect for this application.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. I think this is a project that most anyone can tackle. As I said before I’ve never actually seen one of these, so I may have totally missed the boat. Either way it was a good learning experience.
Here is the finished product and a photo taken with it: