Homemade Ring Light Using Plywood

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.

Materials

Tools

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.

Other Materials

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.

4. Wiring

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.

wiring3

5. Improvise

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:

tripodmountillustration

Here is a photo:

tripodmountphoto

tripodmountphoto2

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.

That’s it!

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:

painted_finished

jobwelldone

 

 

35 thoughts on “Homemade Ring Light Using Plywood

  1. Craig Marston

    That’s fantastic!

    I’ve been thinking of doing something similar myself for a while, but with white LEDs. Your approach is much simpler and much much cheaper – and after all, the final result won’t show the dodgy wiring and jigsawing..! Ace.

  2. Tommy McGlynn

    It took me two days and three trips to home depot but I did it. It only took so long because I have a box for every light to hide the wire hookups and I had a problem with the provided screws. I have never done anything like this before so I’m sure anyone can do it and I highly recommend they try. I have never used lighting before and I am excited by the pictures I can produce in just a few days of using it. Thank you so much for the idea. I can’t wait to learn more from your site and progress my home-made lighting. Keep up the good work.

    p.s. I used Phillips brand “Natural Daylight” bulbs and they produce a slightly less yellow exposure, but is there any solution out there to get closer to day light temp with home depot products?

    Thanks again

  3. Joseph Gurney

    Nice one, But way to much heavy duty D.I.Y!

    Can be done way easier, just use that foam board stuff!
    I’ve done this for ages:
    Cut out a big circle and a smaller circle in the middle SO YOUR LENS FITS TIGHT.
    Then get some christmas tree lights.
    Poke 1 hole thru for each bulb, going round the circle.
    Poke the lil’ lights thru the holes from behind…

    PLUG IN AND PLAY!

    This way the lights go where the camera goes.
    This way its cheaper, SO MUCH SAFER and much more light weight to move and store.

    Try different size circles and patterns for different effects in the modles eyes.

    Digital cameras allow you to pre calibrate the white point so you can use what ever colour or “temprature” lights you want!

    MAKING KIT IS THE WAY FORWARD – VIVA LA D.I.Y!!!!!

  4. stevo

    i’ve actually done this better with a flourescent ring light…it creates an even smoother/whiter lighting.

    plus it only requires one set of wires if you buy the ones that plug into a regular light socket. just mount a socket directly underneath the ring.

    anyways, thank you for the idea !

  5. Tony

    I tried it with large Christmas tree lights, each about the size of a 40 watt vanity light, and mounted it on a circular piece of cardboard with a hole in the middle. I was really suprised when it worked as well as it did.

    as soon as i have the time ill be trying your method, thanks for the guide!

  6. Gary

    I just built one with a ring made of plywood and clip-on home depot lights clipped around the edges. This gives you more freedom as to how many lights to use and to where they’re positioned. Plus if you don’t like it, you’re only stuck with a ring of plywood and a bunch of useful clip-on lights. I used a flexible flag wall mount to connect it to a microphone stand.

    See this pic:
    Picture of my friend Jeff taken with homemade ring light

  7. Chris Rojas

    crazy, someone online just sent me a link to this, I had a completely different idea on how to achieve a similar effect using a fashion mirror, you know those 2x/4x mirrors for applying makeup…with a ring light around it, after a little modifying and rewiring I got almost a complete ringlight, but with a lot less power than seen here. you can see my version of the light here: http://www.deviantart.com/view/18232494/

  8. Loren Lloyd

    Great plans, I have looked at many different plans for ring lights and yours is the most straightforward and should be a snap to build. Now I have my September project all cut out for me to build. Thanks for posting this one!
    Cheers

  9. Rog

    Please folks be careful. The exposed wiring is going to really get someone in trouble. this design needs to be enhanced to enclose the wiring to make it safe. A second ring with some spacers to leave 1/4 to 1/2″ between the rings will cover the connections and make this actually safe to be near.

  10. Tony Latino

    **** SOLUTION TO “EXPOSED” WIRING ****

    You can get what is called a junction box – in this case, you will need about 8 of them – get the smaller ones. Screw a junction box to the back of each wiring section i.e. – the back of the lights. – this is will make it “safe”. The wires running around the sides can be encased with a material called conduit. This is a flexible metal sheath that you thread the wires through.

    I understand people thinking this is not “safe”, but I do want to point out the fact that this is not a permanent light fixture that you would leave on while you went out and bought a subway sandwich. :) If the photographer is the only one getting near it, they know not to touch it…. I hope.

    I hope that helps.

    PS – I may seem like an idiot here, but what did you mean when you said you “mirrored” the image in photoshop (deviantart.com)? I assume you mean you flipped the image vertically?

    PSS – Great DIY guys – keep up the good work.

  11. Craig McCollough

    Great post – I’m going to try this next weekend. I’m going to use some LED bulbs from superbrightleds.com – expensive, but the low power consumption, long life, and low heat seem to be worth the expense.

    Thanks!
    craig

  12. Walt Sorensen

    Great design, I will build one myself for my studio. I agree the design needs to be made a little safer. exposed wiring is never a good working solution. I agree with the post suggesting a second ring with a spacer. I would suggest using 4-5 sheets of plywood. one for the front two-three to create a 1/2+ inch spacer/enclosing and one for the back. the back would also be used to mount the dimmer switch. or use two sheets and use a router to cut paths for the wires.

    Still one of the simplest and smartest designs and ideas I’ve seen.

  13. Shaun Williams

    Great plan/idea!

    If people are concerned about the electrical connections at the back of the lights, just cover the entire back with black electrical tape (easily obtainable from your local hardware store). Risk gone!!

  14. Bob

    I keep coming back to this and like the idea. In fact, I’m thinking of trying to make regular studio lights the same way. Yeah, they’d be heavier than regular lights but a lot less expensive too. I’m thinking a couple pieces of square ply with 4 sockets attached and maybe a longer, rectangular piece of ply with four sockets attached to make a light strip. Shouldn’t be too hard to figure out a way to fit a homemade softbox over top of the lights for diffusion. You could even figure out a way to fit a circular diffusion fabric over this ring light and turn it into a beauty dish.

    I’m also thinking that putting something like a 120mm computer case fan in the centre of the wood squares that would blow air out the back might be a way to help keep the whole thing a bit cooler when you’ve got a softbox or umbrella over it.

    As far as the wiring, simple junction boxes are all that’s required. Don’t even need to enclose the wires in between the boxes as long as there’s no bare wire showing, the Nomex casing protects from shocks. Add dimmers and you’ve got the same ability to vary light output as with the ring light.

    Buy a battery and inverter or power pack that can handle up to about 800 watts and you’ve got a somewhat portable studio kit. 800 watts would give you enough to power 2, 300 watt lights (4×75 watts each at full power) and a single 200 watt light (4×50 watts each at full power) or 4, 200 watt lights. Not bad.

    Anybody who’s made one of these want to chime in on roughly how much it weighs?

  15. Bob

    I wish my brain and fingers worked together better. I meant Romex, not Nomex. Nomex is what fire suits are made of. Might work alright in this case though.

  16. anon

    If I were to build this, I would wire 2 or 4 bulbs per dimmer, for a total of 4 or 2 dimmers, respectively. This will allow you to adjust lighting ratios, which might be useful for tabletop work.

    For quick and dirty diffusion, use aluminum foil and parchment paper, both of which can tolerate high temps. A few wraps of foil around the outer ring, and a few wraps on the inner ring. A few layers of parchment paper and you’re in business.

    Or you can make a more robust diffuser with thin sheet metal. Just get a couple strips that are wide enough for the total depth. The length of one strip should be the circumference of the outer ring — the length of the other strip equal the circumference of the inner ring. Paint the inside white or silver (or line with foil), and add some heat resistant white fabric to the front.

  17. Isis

    Wonderful tutorial, this is a really cost effective way of making one of these. And let me tell you guys I love this site so much for all this DIY stuff :)

    I bought all this stuff a while ago for it, just waiting to find someone with a jigsaw

  18. Hunter Gayden

    This looks awesome but why was it painted black? Someone just yell at me if i sound stupid, but it seems to make much more sense to paint it white and get a more even light distribution (at least in portraits where you can see individual lightbulbs in the subject’s eyes), unless you want the starry-eyed effect?

    Also, a piece of fabric nailed or stapled to the back of the inside hole (the one for the lens) made with a piece of elastic in yet another hole in the middle of the fabric could be stretched around the end of the lens, making for a nice snug fit that can accompany a few different lenses of differing sises.

  19. Jong

    I also thought of something like this. I like the basic idea. I just want to add the following:

    The wood panel should be covered with aluminum foil. This would:

    (1) allow more light for the subject.
    (2) softer lighting of subject.
    (3) most importantly the foil would NOT ADD to the yellow color temperature of the incandescent light.
    ===
    Another idea is that hardware stores carry Styrofoam based insulation boards. DOW corp. makes them under the name THERMAX (http://www.dow.com/styrofoam/na/thermax/). They are about 1/2 inch thick and extremely light. Maybe best to sandwich thin Styrofoam insulation board with thin Plexiglas (for structural backing). The best part is that it is already covered on one side with aluminum reflector material. Given the material is essentially Styrofoam, you won’t be able to use wood screws. Instead use nuts and bolts with washers to spread the pressure where the bolt (nut) presses up against the foam board / Plexiglas. Also tape the “exposed wiring” so they don’t get shorted by the aluminum surface.
    ===
    It would have been safer NOT to create smaller (8) holes. The wires would be on the same side as the bulbs but the connections would be protected between the light sockets and the wood panel.

    OR

    Drill small holes (1/8 to 1/4 inch hole) just large enough for the wires to enter from the back of the panel. There no reason for the holes behind the light sockets to be so large. This will make the setup safer and EASIER to make.
    ===
    8 x 75 watt = 600 watts. That’s a lot of current. Make sure you get heavy gauge (thick) wires. I’ve created something similar for my winter SAD light box. But instead I used CFL (compact fluorescent light). I’ve used for video and the color was good (your mileage will vary with CFL). Could be better if manual white balance is used. Some of the CFL are in COOL daylight (I haven’t tried these). Using only 1/3 the current I can get 600 watts of light using only 200 watts of electricity. Also significantly cooler to operate.
    ===

  20. Terry

    tim Says:

    Your set up is dangerous! You have exposed wires that could potentially shock and electrocute someone.

    Danger?? I looked over the shot of the finished light, I see NO EXPOSED electrical wires anywhere once the light is fully assembled. All connections are safe inside the UL Listed Electrical Wire Nuts, and the Wire itself is insulted by UL standards as all products used in this assembly are sold freely. Its not like he went to the black market and bought some copper wire and decided to apply electrical current… anyway, Great Idea for your own Ring Light. As you stated, “pro” manufactured lights are expensive and this is a less expensive way to Try… before you buy. But why buy if the one you make does the job already??

  21. Sean

    I’ve done similar to what someone else suggested ages ago: used a fluorescent ringbulb. Not being in the US, I’m just using whatever I can find, but Kino Flo bulbs were recommended to me.
    Here’s one I’ve done with it.
    To colour correct these quickly, use the WB eyedropper in Lightroom and click on the ring in the eyes.

  22. Bob Roszkowski

    I have a simple solution for all the problems with the exposed wires. I thought about this when I saw it. I plan to make one myself. I am going to construct it a little different, but the basics will be the same.

    First of all I have to say that Joseph Holst, the creator of the document did an excellent job on getting the idea out there. Then other ideas were brought up like using x-mas lights, LEDs, and I though of automotive tail lights. I will get into that one later.

    Solution to getting ZaPPeD!: TO solve the problem with the exposed wires, go back to where the plywood is being cut. When mounting the lights, I noticed that there were holes that were about 2 inches cut below the socket. Well, if you just drill a 1/4″ hole in the middle, you can pass the wires through and connect them. Now your wiring will be safer. I have mounted these lights flush with a wall not requiring any box or anything. Adding boxes and things like that will end up making it just heavier. We want light. Pun intended. ;)

    Another problem people mentioned was wiring. I have been doing electronics and electrical projects since I was 4 years old. (turning 37 tomorrow) Here is a simple way to explain how to connect all the lamps together. Since a light does not have polarity it makes things easier. The light socket has two terminals. Take a white wire starting at socket #1 and connect it from one socket to another. Only connect it to one terminal of the socket. This is known as a neutral. Some people refer to it as a negative. When you get to your last socket, wire that to the plug white wire. Then, take the black wire from the plug and attach it to one terminal of the switch/dimmer. Now, get some black wire and attach it to the other terminal of all the sockets and the last connection will be made to the other terminal of your switch/dimmer. The black wire is known as a HOT. Again AKA Positive. AC and DC are two totally different things. I would like to keep things simple here but if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me and I will try to help you out. Send message to (bob atsign mrwildbob dot com).

    Now for my idea I was going to work on. I thought about making one of these rings for quite some time. I will end up making a tutorial on how to make mine when I get to that project. I was thinking of using automotive brake lamp bulbs instead of house lights. I will start by getting a sheet of 1/4″ plywood, attaching many sockets in different patterns and wiring them all up. Then if I want to change the pattern, I can do so very easily by adding, removing or moving bulbs. You can then convert to the automotive LED White bulbs to make it cooler and take less power. Problem with LED is they are very directional and you will be able to see them on your subjects face with out a diffuser. I like the other bulbs because you can buy them in bulk from an automotive store cheap or even get them online.

    Here is the best part of using the automotive bulb method. You can get a Gel-Cell battery from places like Batteries+ and take it with you. Totally portable. Make sure you get some kind of charger for it. Cons, well, as your charge gets low, you will get less and less light. So putting a switch to preserve your battery would be best. I even though of using a foot switch to turn on the lights when needed and then turn them off when done.

    So there it is. My idea I had. Not saying that no one has ever though or built that idea, but I have not seen one yet. I will try to make a tut for it and give detailed information on how to build them and maybe even make a kit or sell them already done. It all depends on how many orders I would end up getting.

    I have always liked the idea to be a little more creative and take a problem and make it work for me. Some people said that all that needs to be done is put a diffuser. I see that putting a diffuser defeats the purpose of creating the Specular effect with a pattern. I have seen music videos with that in there and I think it is awesome instead of just one reflection. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

    boB

  23. YvettesPhotos

    AMAZING!! I am sooo glad i ran into your tutorial!! I have been so sad thinking how long it would take me to save up for an Alien Bees version but i know my husband would “love” to build me one like this!! You finally convinced me when i saw ur pic at the end! Thanks for sharing!

  24. Rossano

    Cool set up and results from set up……but as a Master Electrician myself……..your set up is unsafe.Your wiring is all exposed at the back of the set up.You should have uses “pancake boxes” (trade name for shallow type round boxes) and then use the wire (with wires still encased in the jacket to connect them all together.
    All it takes is the tape to come off the connection and ZAP! you get fried!………..lol


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