The Mighty Ring Flash

– above photo courtesy -nikkon- @ flickr.

I’ve had this quirky little piece of kit in my bag for months now, but it’s use has been irregular at best. Which is a shame; the light that this cheap little gadget fires out is consistently fantastic.

For those who have never seen or used one of these draconian flash attachments, they may seem somewhat beguiling. Popping a flash into your hotshoe makes any camera enormous; attaching a plastic rig that extends from the top of the flash and encircles the lens barrel is exceptionally ridiculous. If you don’t believe me, try meandering through a busy market with one on. If you have enough fingers to count the questions you’ll receive I’ll be impressed.

Anyone that understands a little about light knows that flash that originates from the on-camera position is usually less-than flattering. But when the light comes from many directions at once and wraps around your subject it carves out even, soft shadows and drapes light over your model like a warm sheet flipped out of the dryer. Seriously.

The light in this portrait is soft and even; it wraps Greg’s face and carves him out of the scene, as if he’s just stepped onto a stage with lights firing through softboxes in four directions. And that’s the simple beauty of the ring flash; even light done quickly.

Amarisse_20716-2 copy

One of the advantages of the ring flash is the unique catchlight it throws into a model’s eyes. It was missing in my shot of Greg because there was a bit of distance between us, but in these shots of Amarisse your eyes are drawn right into her glasses and the reflection. Different ring flashes will give a different effect; mine give back a little horseshoe action.


The ring flash is great when your models lack a pulse, too. I don’t always want to lug a monopod into the field with me (despite popular opinion to the contrary); the ring flash makes creating good/unique light simple without having to wield the Staff of Ra in what should be my free hand. That hand is for the mandu madness.

I love the unit because it’s light, portable and straps onto any of my shoe-mount flashes in seconds. But it’s also limited in a lot of ways. First, because I’m throwing light from a shoe-mount flash into plastic tubes and bouncing it around the ring I lose a lot of power. Whenever I use this thing I’m blasting away at 1/1 or 1/2 power, even when using a large aperture (remember that using a large aperture usually means you can get away with using a lower power setting on your flash). Using one of the big, battery-powered units alleviates this problem… but means you’re lugging a battery pack with you. And you’re tossing your wallet into the sea of extremism. I’d love to have one of the Alien Bees units with me all the time, but I don’t have a big enough van for the power source.

Because of the issues with power noted above, I can’t really use this unit in anything but subdued light. There’s no overpowering the sun at noon with this thing on. No chance of blasting someone at f/8 and creating a crisp frame front to back. But that’s alright. It’s a portrait tool, the way I see it, and great for macro photography, too; you can shoot at f/22 and have plenty of power because the subject distance relative to your light source is so small.

The biggest issue I have with using this as a creative tool has nothing to do with the unit itself; it has to do with the limitations on my digital camera. Using a D90, I don’t have a sync port that allows me to trigger my remote flash units by anything other than hotshoe connection. This is a bad thing; it means that when I’m using my ring flash on a flash in the shoe-mount, I can’t trigger anything else. That being said, one light is often plenty.

Until I’m holding a svelte, sexy D800 in my hands next month… come on, baby, come on!


For the unit I lug around with me:

Also: The Orbis strobe attachment is now being sold in Seoul at Korea Photo.
5F, Hyunjung B/D
515-9 Sinsa-dong
Seoul, Korea
Phone: +82 2 3442 4283


3 thoughts on “The Mighty Ring Flash

  1. have you tried connecting your flash trigger to the sync port of the [on camera] flash? might sound goofy but it works for me. i’m also able to use the optical slave on my sb26 to trigger other stuff this way.. if you’re using your flash in manual, that should work for you too


    ps. never say you’re limited by your equipment, blast your iso if need be 🙂

    • Allan,
      thanks for the tip! I had never even thought of that, but tried it when I got home and sure enough… magic!
      I’ve never had a problem getting what I wanted out of the ring flash before as a 1 light setup, but this opens up a few new things to try. Cheers partner!

      • you’re welcome. i should blog about it. i couldn’t think of a practical use for that discovery (with the flash on camera) until your post, so that’s a big thanks to you too. 🙂

        i wouldn’t mind a ring flash myself.. i admire the unique end result from the simplicity of using only one light. i have a question about your ring flash… is the power output the same if your flash head is zoomed at it’s max setting vs widest? if that helps with power output, you could also shoot wide and correct distortion in post, use it in a shadowed area outdoors and/or create your own shadow (with an umbrella or something?)

        i’m also canadian and in korea. 🙂 i’ve been following your blog and photostream for a while. it’s great to see all of the photo ops you’ve had. it’s allowed you to travel, meet a lot of people and see a lot of different places while picking up experience and having fun with your gear

        happy flashing!

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