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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)..
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
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.