Ring lights have long been a popular and easy-to-use lighting option in portrait photography. When deployed, ring lights provide flattering, balanced light on your subject while virtually eliminating shadows. But many people might be familiar with ring lights these days because of how they can make you look more attractive on a Zoom webcam call.
And the great thing about ring lights is they can be used for several different scenarios: portrait photography, video conference calls, or for vlogging or live streaming to a YouTube channel. There’s just something about the circular glow that ring lights produce that makes people look better. Also, when used up close, ring lights create striking catchlights in your subject’s eyes.
But as with any photography product, there are so many ring light options out there, it’s hard to know which one to buy. That’s why in our new “Good, Better, Best” product guide on ring lights, we have picked our three favorites at different price levels so you can find one that best suits your needs. If you want to learn the basics of how to use a ring light, check out this easy tutorial.
Editor’s Note: Good, Better, Best is a new product guide series on Digital Photo where we suggest three buying options for our favorite photo gear. A product qualifies as “Good,” if it’s affordable yet still offers decent quality for the price. “Better” means it’s a solid medium-tier choice that we think will appeal to most photographers both on features and price. “Best” are top-tier photography products that offer the pinnacle in quality but also the highest price.
GOOD: Raya Bendie-Brite Folding USB Bi-Color LED Ring Light
The Raya Bendie-Brite Folding USB Bi-Color LED Ring Light ($49) is great for shooting portraits of friends, for vlogging, capturing selfies, video conferencing or just chatting with family members over Zoom. It’s ten inches in diameter and has a unique, bendable design that allows it to fold into a 5-inch semi-circle for use in tight spaces or for packing in a bag for travel. The Raya Bendie-Brite Folding ring light has a color range of 2700 to 5600K, which makes it easy to balance with ambient or room light, and a variable intensity knob so you can choose just the right amount of brightness. We also like the included smartphone holder on a flexible arm with a spring-loaded clamp that will fit smartphones up to 3.25 inches wide. Combine that with the included ball head and built-in cold shoe to add a microphone, and you have everything you need to live stream yourself and look good while doing it.
BETTER: Neewer LED Ring Light with Stand and Accessories Kit
If you’re looking for something a bit more serious but still under $100, the Neewer LED Ring Light with Stand and Accessories Kit ($69) has everything you need to create studio-like lighting to capture gorgeous portraits. The beauty of this LED ring light kit from Neewer is that it can also be easily adjusted to capture small scale video, whether you’re shooting an interview or vlogging. The Neewer LED Ring Light kit includes a 14-inch ring light composed of 180 individual LEDs. It’s dimmable from 1 to 100% with a fixed color temperature of 5500K across the full range to match daylight-balanced light sources. The light’s impressive CRI rating of 83 means color accuracy will be spot on. The Neewer ring light comes with its own carrying bag, an aluminum alloy stand that’s adjustable between 29.5 and 61 inches in height, and two sets of color filters (white and orange) to diffuse the light with different looks. A soft extension tube lets you articulate the light to different angles, while a ball head lets you mount a DSLR or mirrorless camera to shoot through it for optimal portrait results. There’s also an adjustable smartphone holder that clips to the ball head and a Bluetooth remote if you want to go with a more mobile set-up.
BEST: GVM LED Ring Light Soft Light 600S
The GVM LED Ring Light Soft Light 600S ($169) has one of the more unique and versatile designs of any ring light we’ve tried. Featuring a 7.5-inch ring light in the center with six detachable 13-inch LED light bars surrounding it in a star-like pattern, the GVM LED Ring Light Soft Light 600S can serve a variety of lighting purposes. Set you camera or smartphone through the center of the light with the bars attached and you have a wide 120-degree rounded beam that’s perfect for individual or even group portraits. Or remove one of the bars and hold it to the side of your subject to add side light or hair light, or to create a sense of depth. Color temperature is adjustable from 3200 to 5600K and dimmable from 10 to 100%. CRI rating is 97+, so color accuracy is going to be far and away the best of the three in this guide. For shooting video, remove all the bars and just use the central ring light for illumination; or detach one or more of the bars and place them out of the shot for on-screen accent lighting. The GVM 600S is equipped with 480 SMD LED lights and comes with an adjustable (32-87 inches) aluminum stand, making this the most professional looking lighting set-up of the group. The best part? The flattering light looks professional too.