Learn How to Make a Cheap Ring Flash with this DIY Photography Tutorial

Page content

Ring flashes are responsible for many of the more dramatic lighting effects, especially in portrait photography. That ring of shadows around a face, bringing everything into a snazzy 3-D feel? That’s a ring flash at work. However, despite the simplicity of the concept, ring flashes are also one of the more expensive pieces of equipment to purchase—like with most things, ring flashes aren’t nearly as complex a piece of photography equipment companies might like you to think. This article will show you how to make your own cheap ring flash out of materials from around the house.

Supplies to Make Your Own Ring Flash

  • 1 largish bowl or pie pan. This will be the exterior of your ring flash, so make sure it’s the size you want.

  • 1 cup or small bowl. This will be the interior of your ring flash. It can be any size, as long as it fits inside of the pie pan and over the end of your camera lens comfortably. The closer the two diameters are to each other, the more contrast you will get in your lighting. An easy-to-cut material will make later steps less of a hassle. It’s best if the two containers are of approximately the same depth.

(Nesting Tupperware dishes are a great way to get same-depth, easy-to-cut containers of the right size.)

  • Aluminum foil. Super reflective, cheap, and easy to work with!

  • White fabric. A lot of things can be substituted in here, even tracing paper, as long as it is translucent and noncolored.

  • Tape, preferably duct – something strong and at least slightly reflective.

  • Glue. I’m a fan of Gorilla Glue, but anything stronger than a mere glue stick will do.

  • Scissors. Make sure they can cut aluminum and plastic without getting too dulled.

  • Pen. Make sure it can write on aluminum and plastic.

  • External flash. This will be your light source.

Steps to Make the Ring Flash

Step 1: First, trace the bottom of the smaller plastic container onto the bottom of the larger plastic container. Make sure it’s properly centered! Then, cut it out. The smaller plastic container should be able to fit snugly into this space.

Step 2: Cut out the bottom of the cup so that the lens of your camera can fit inside it. Again, be careful that it’s centered!

Step 3: Now, in the side of the bowl, carefully mark out an outline of the top of your flash centered between the top and bottom edges, then cut it out. Again, the flash should be a snug fit.

Step 4: Now, line the inside of the bowl and the outside of the cup with aluminum foil, gluing and taping where appropriate. If you’re using an expanding glue, make sure to flatten the foil from time to time.

Step 5: So that you don’t damage your camera with sharp plastic and metal edges, line every edge with tape.

Step 6: Now, place the cup within the hole in the bowl, centered and straight, and glue it in securely.


How to Use Your DIY Ring Flash

This ring flash is pretty straightforward to use. Your external flash (should) fit into the hole in the side of the bowl. Depending on the design of the external flash, you may have to place it at different depths within the bowl. Varying this depth, as well as angle, will create different lighting effects that might be worthwhile to experiment with.

If you’d like the lighting to be softer, yet still with the ring effect, you can place that white cloth or paper over the gap between the two containers, fastening with tape. Here’s another place open to some interesting experimentation – try varying the texture and color of the cloth.