Should I get a ring light?

I was hanging out with a friend who is in charge of social media for a local shoe store. In addition to figuring out inventory, stock, she takes the pictures for this store's Instagram and Facebook pages. Most of these are taken on a mobile device. So I got asked "do I need a ring light".

 

I don't do product photography that much so I figured this would be a good chance to practice. 

 

I started with this link for building a small set in my living room. One reason I don't do a lot of product photography in my  house... is... small children and shiny things. 

So here's the setup:

 

 ISO 3200 f6.4 1/30 18mm

ISO 3200 f6.4 1/30 18mm

Crate with a box on it. I used a sheet of parchment paper on top of the diapers box. I also setup foil a couple feet from the lens. For these pictures, no adjustments and only cropping on the last few to show the final look. This is with natural light.

 ISO 3200 f5 1/30 55mm

ISO 3200 f5 1/30 55mm

No flash. Zoomed in. Naturally cropped. This ... isn't terrible. It gets the background out of focus, has the lens in focus, has the parchment paper blurred out. I could likely boost exposure / levels a bit and make it look decent. I could also add a flash.

 ISO 3200 f5.6 1/30 55mm flash 1/128 power

ISO 3200 f5.6 1/30 55mm flash 1/128 power

This has the flash behind the lens pointed at the foil. In all of these, the flash was at its lowest power. I could have set the flash somewhere else, but I could also just add another flash.

 ISO 800 f6.4 1/125 46.3mm flash 1/128 power

ISO 800 f6.4 1/125 46.3mm flash 1/128 power

Both flashes are zoomed to 105mm. In this one, the flash is on the the foil and one to the right a few feet away. Changes I would have made to this would be to put a reflector on the left side and maybe mounting the flash on the right a little higher to wash out the parchment paper a bit more.

 ISO 800 f5 1/125 46.3mm ring: max power

ISO 800 f5 1/125 46.3mm ring: max power

Here, I put the ring over the lens and to the right. I really like this look because the foreground is bright and there is a quick falloff to the background. You can spot the LEDs thought, so there's that. Also note that the background still has a good amount of bokeh.

 ISO 800 f5 1/125 55mm flash 1/128 power ring in front of lens

ISO 800 f5 1/125 55mm flash 1/128 power ring in front of lens

Here, I used a combo of both the ring and flash. The flash made the background pop a bit more and I put the ring light in front of the lens (you can spot the shadow)..

 ISO 800 f8 1/125 55mm flash 1/128 power

ISO 800 f8 1/125 55mm flash 1/128 power

Here's the final of the lens. I used both the ring and the flash. I could have put a reflector in or fired the second flash (on the right). I then figured I'd take some pictures of a shoe to see what some of the differences would be in the type of product. 

For the shoe shots, they are all ISO 800 f9 1/125 flash 1/128 power and the ring light is generaly overhead. I changed crop a little bit and zoom as well. You can see my arm in one to get an idea of how far away I was putting the ring light.


Yes, I totally realized I could have done more either on editing... like making that foil a bit bigger, but that isn't really the point... getting to see the difference with the camera mostly set the same is.

Here's a version of the last one, edited:

So... back to the question 

Should I get a ring light?

If you are shooting with just your phone, absolutely. If not a ring light, an LED panel will make all the difference. If you are shooting with a dedicated camera, results will vary depending on what you are shooting. I generally take pictures of people and it has worked out very well for me. Here's an example of using the ring light on a person.