Video calls are a regular part of life for millions now, giving many motivation to upgrade and improve their webcam and video setups so that they look as good on camera as possible.
The same is true if you want to use your enforced domiciliary life to start creating videos for YouTube, TikTok, Instagram or any other social media. Improving your lighting is one of the first things to consider and the addition of a ring light can be a quick fix that brings instant results. We show you how to set up and use these great accessories that will make you the envy of your dimly lit colleagues.
What is a ring light?
As the name suggest, these are lamps whose bulbs (well, LEDs) are arranged in a circle. The advantage of this approach is that you get an even spread of light across your face, making it much easier for the camera to focus and balance both the exposure and colour temperature.
The ring shape is deliberate as the idea is that you place your phone, webcam or other camera in the middle and provide an even spread of light. Basically, using a ring light can make the colour and quality of your videos really pop.
If you’re into photography, then ring lights can be very useful tools and they also find favour with makeup artists due to the even distribution of light.
How much do ring lights cost?
Like most products, prices depend very much on the quality and features you require. Some light rings offer variable settings for colour temperature and brightness (this is a key one), colour filters, remote controls and a range of other accessories. They can cost upwards of a hundred pounds or dollars.
However, you can get many of these features for around £20/$20. One model that we’ve found particularly good value is the 10in LED Light Ring that’s available for £21.69 on Amazon UK and $21.99 on Amazon USA.
How to set up a ring light
Here’s our top tips for getting the most out of a ring light.
1. Use mains power
An important thing to establish before you plug in a ring light is whether they are recommended for use with a laptop. Due to their high brightness, the power draw can exceed what most USB ports can deliver, and could potentially damage a laptop or PC if plugged directly into a USB port. We recommend using a phone charger or even a USB power bank if you need to be mobile.
2. Place the camera in the middle of the ring light
If you’re using a smartphone or digital camera for your video, then the ideal placement is at the centre of the ring light. Most models come with tripods and holders that will allow this, but if that’s not the case you can always fashion a stand out of books or any other stackable items you may have handy.
With the camera in the middle, and the lens close to the light source, it will practically eliminate shadows and give the best results.
3. Using a ring light with a laptop camera
Obviously, you won’t be able to place a laptop in the middle of a ring light, so if that’s the camera you’re using just try to position the light above the upper edge of the screen so that your face is illuminated properly.
4. Check positioning and reflections
Before you settle into the position you’ll use on your video, try placing the ring light at different distances away from you to see which gap works best with your surroundings. Not all rooms are the same, and where a light source is placed can have a sizeable effect on the finished video.
Naturally, you’ll want to avoid reflective surfaces in the shot, which can be tricky if you wear glasses. If you do, then try angling the light so that it isn’t shining directly onto the lenses. The same is true for picture frames or other shiny objects in your room.
While you’re at it, consider ‘dressing’ your room. This involves carefully choosing objects and furnishing that will be in shot so that they create a mood that represents your taste. Some other lights in the background can be cool, but it’s usually best to choose softer, muted tones so they don’t glare into the camera.
5. Set the colour temperature
While we’re talking about the tone of the lighting, you’ll find that some ring lights also come with controls for the colour temperature. This is essentially how warm or cool the light is. High colour temperatures lead to harsh, bluer whites (which can be appropriate for making it look like daylight, while lower temperatures are softer and more forgiving, like candlelight. Spend time playing with different settings to see what you like.
If your ring light doesn’t have a colour temperature control, you can still alter this setting by using filters that clip onto the light itself and act like sunglasses to change the whiteness level. If you don’t have filters, you can always go old school and drape thin cloth over the light to alter the brightness, just remember not to obscure the camera or let the cloth get too hot!
6. Change the brightness to suit your needs
Most ring lights have adjustable brightness controls, which can be very useful depending on what kind of footage you’re shooting. A good rule of thumb is that the brighter you set the light, the more accurately the camera will capture colours and the sharper the feel of the footage. So, if you’re after that vibrant look then turning up the brightness will help.
The main point is, don’t just switch on the ring light and leave it at that setting, instead try experimenting with brightness levels to see which one best suits your style.
There you have it, some simple ideas on how to use a ring light to improve your video quality. If you’re interested in working more with moving images, then take a look at our roundups of the best free video editing software, best microphone for streaming and podcasting, and best camera deals.