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Ring Light vs Softbox: A Detailed Guide on How to Choose

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Both ring lights and softboxes can be useful accessories to have on hand in the photography studio.

But for setting up your perfect photo shoot, is the ring light or the softbox a better choice?

As you’ve probably already guessed, the ring light and the softbox both have their uses so the best option depends on the situation. The ring light creates a strong beam of light highlighting a subject’s features, while a softbox disperses the light gently.

Getting the lighting right is half the battle when it comes to capturing the perfect shot.

Any professional photographer will tell you that it’s one of the most important aspects of any photoshoot, whether it takes place outdoors or in-studio.

But with so many different types of lights out there, it can be tricky to ascertain which one fits the bill for the type of photoshoot you want to do.

Comparisons are often drawn between the ring light and the softbox light, but yet both bring something different to the table and affect the way light hits the subject in unique ways.

Whereas the ring light shines bright and aims a directed beam towards a subject to accentuate certain features, the softbox is meant for diffusing the light to imitate natural lighting.

To give you an idea of which is best for you, we’ll first explore each type of light on its own, and then pit them against each other in a direct comparison.

Ring Light

A ring light is self-explanatory, really, as it’s a light in the shape of a ring.

From this ring, you can expect a circle of light that excels at highlighting a subject evenly, as well as accentuating prominent features such as eyes. There should be no shadows cast with this type of light, which can be perfect for taking a professional headshot or portrait where the goal is to create clarity.

To shoot photos with a ring light, you simply have to position your camera in the center of the ring.

What are the Main Uses?

Typically, ring lights are used for several different purposes, which include both photo and video capturing.

Clear Photography

One of the main reasons photographers reach for the ring light is to take clear photos that have evenly distributed lighting to draw the viewer’s eyes to the subject.

The ring light can give a photo a professional edge, without the need for an expensive camera or other equipment.

Recording Video

If you’ve ever watched a YouTube vlog or makeup tutorial, you’ll notice how clear the vlogger’s face is.

This is likely due to the presence of a ring light illuminating them.

Ring lights can cast a halo-like shadow which brings the subject to center stage in a dramatic way, which makes for professional-looking footage.

Highlighting Detail

Another popular reason to use a ring light is if you want to bring out certain details in your photos or videos.

Since your camera will slot in the middle of the ring light, you’ll be able to hone in on specifics that are made clear from the even diffusion of the light.

Adding Color

If you’ve ever been curious about experimenting with color and lighting, a ring light provides an easy way to give it a go.

Say you want to create an eerie all-red glow for a Halloween vlog or a green glow for alien talk, you can do so by switching out the bulbs of the ring light for the respective color.

Unlike other lights, the ring light will spread the color around the room and evenly across the subject’s face in a way which makes for professional-looking photos and videos.

Softbox

The softbox is a type of light you’ll see in many photography studios.

It’s a simple piece of equipment which affects the way the light is cast over a subject by diffusing it.

The light from a softbox is softer or gentler, hence the name, which provides an effect similar to light flooding through a window.

What are the Main Uses?

Softboxes are versatile light diffusers with several uses.

Control The Light

First, softboxes can be used to manipulate both the direction and shape of the light, while simultaneously preventing light spill.

Mimic Natural Light

The most popular reason softboxes are used is to mimic natural light.

Given their rectangular shape, softboxes do an impressive job of accurately imitating the way sunlight comes through a window.

Close Range Photography

If you want to take close-up shots, a softbox can come in handy since it spreads the light softly over the subject however close they are to you.

A Comparison

Now let’s take a look at both types of light head-to-head so you can get a clear idea of which will better serve your photography goals.

We’ll explore various types of photos and video, giving reasons for why the softbox and ring light would or wouldn’t be suitable for each, as well as assessing other important factors such as cost.

Portraits

If you’re looking to take portrait photos, you’re going to want clear lighting and the best quality possible.

Hands-down the ring light is the better choice for taking a flattering portrait.

Due to the even light and the space in the middle of the ring for your camera, you can take a crisp portrait or headshot with no shadows using a ring light.

Group Photos

For group photos, which are common at events like weddings, you’ll want to have a softbox in your photography arsenal.

The softbox is ideal for dispersing natural-looking light across two or more subjects, so it can create the perfect group photo.

Video

For video, you can go with either the ring light or the softbox and enjoy great results.

However, depending on the type of video, one light might be superior to the other.

For instance, ring lights are much better for makeup tutorials and vlogs where clarity and detail are key. Softboxes are better, though, for atmospheric videos where you might want to include shadow for a dramatic effect.

Cost

Whereas ring lights are affordable and easy to get hold of, softboxes are much more of an investment.

With that being said, you can get both ring lights and softboxes for around $50 or so if you want the best deal.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ring Lights and Softboxes

Which is better ring light or softbox?

Neither one of these lights is better, as both serve a unique purpose and illuminate the subject in different ways.

While the softbox will diffuse the light across your subject similar to how the sun comes pouring through windows in the morning, a ring light will provide detail-emphasizing clarity to your subject’s features.

The former can be used for spreading light around a room, while the latter is more focused and better for videos and photos that require greater clarity.

Do ring lights make you look better?

Whether or not they’ll make you look better is debatable, but ring lights will certainly present you in photos or videos with a greater level of clarity.

The ring light will highlight detail on your face and bring out features such as your eyes, which is why it has become such a popular choice for make-up tutorials and vlogs.

It’s also an excellent option for taking portrait photos or headshots, since you can see the subject’s face clear as day without any shadows in sight.

Are ring lights good for photography?

Rings lights are absolutely good for photography.

Specifically, they can be the best choice for illuminating products, a subject’s features, and picking out details.

You won’t get any shadows with this type of light, which also makes them a good choice for vlogs and other video content.

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A Final Word From Run Gun Shoot

Both ring lights and softboxes have their uses, so do your best to determine which is best for your setup.

While ring lights offer a lot of clarity and detail, softboxes provide a gentle diffusion of light which can seem a lot more natural.

Article by:

RunGunShoot Team

Our detailed review has been contributed to by multiple members of the Run Gun Shoot Review Team to ensure the best research and highest standard of quality. Have a good or a bad experience with one of the products? Please let us know, we love the feedback!

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