DIY Ring Light
Mar 13, 2017
Grab some scissors and a cardboard box, y’all. You're about to save yourself a ton of money in exchange for a little sweat equity.
You see, I'm a very passionate hobbyist when it comes to photography. Unfortunately, passion doesn't cut me a check for my equipment, so DIY hacks are often necessary. Today, I'm going to show you how to make your own ring light for about $30. It won't be fancy, it won't have bells and whistles, but it will add a pretty little ring around your pupils in photos—and that’s the goal.
To get started, you’ll need the following tools:
-Tin foil (regular or heavy duty)
-20-inch wire wreath frame. Michael’s carries these for $2-$3.
-20-foot LED rope light. You can find these on Amazon for $25-$29.
-Thick cardboard box
-Box cutter or scissors
Note that Michael’s was out of 20-inch wire wreath frames when I went there, so I had to choose between an 18" or 24" wreath. The larger and brighter the ring, the more wiggle room you’ll have with distance, but then you’ll need a longer rope light. I ended up going with the 18" because I thought the 24" would be overkill.
The light is a 20' LED rope light. It's waterproof & constructed to be used outdoors so this thing is super rugged. This particular rope light lays flat and doesn't coil on a circular axis, so you'll have face it to the inside (or the outside) of the wreath frame in order to get the correct shape. It has a 180-degree reach, so it'll work just fine.
If you can find an LED light constructed in a tube that’s bright enough, feel free to try it. I went with this one because it was 5200 lumen and I wanted a BLAM IN YOUR FACE light. That, and I didn't bother shopping around.
Start by drawing out the inside and outside diameter of the frame. Be generous and make the circle slightly larger than the actual size. Now grab that box cutter and cut the circle out. You should end up with a cardboard steering wheel.
Next, zip-tie the end piece of the light (the end without the plug) to the inner ring of the wire frame. Follow along the ring and zip-tie at each anchor point. By the time you make the first loop it should look something like the photo below, and should be completely solid and stable enough to pick up by the light without it moving out of place or flexing. Continue this pattern until you’ve wrapped the entire frame. (Figure 3)
Once you complete the ring, add a zip-tie at the very end for security. (Figure 4)
Back to the cardboard steering wheel, tear off some large pieces of foil and begin wrapping it. Make sure the foil pieces are large enough to wrap the cardboard a couple of times, since foil isn’t exactly the strongest material. Wrap the entire wheel. (Figure 5)
Next you’re going to align your light frame on the cardboard and make pilot holes for a few more zip-ties. I found that using one sheer from a pair of scissors makes perfect pilot-hole slits. (Figure 6)
Loop the zip-tie through the pilot holes and make sure the nub is to the back. I placed two zips at every other cross-brace of the frame. You could just zip-tie everything altogether at once instead of making them two separate pieces. But cardboard and foil aren’t exactly designed for longevity. On the likelihood that the foil piece wears down, all you’ll have to do in the future is snip those anchor points & cut a new shiny steering wheel. (Figure 7) (Figure 8) (Figure 9)
Voila! By now you should have a fully-functional, DIY ring light. Now wasn’t that easy?! It’s light enough to clip to or hang from almost anything, or if you want to go the extra mile, try this: cut a foil square off the back of the new light.
I grabbed some industrial strength Velcro strips from Home Depot for a little over $2 and placed a fitted strip directly to the cardboard where the foil was removed. I placed several more pieces of Velcro to various tripods around my studio. You know those crappy little “table mount” tripods that vendors give away for free as bundles? We all know they don’t support a DSLR camera! Throw a strip of Velcro on one of those and you’ll have a handheld ring light at your disposal.
Isn’t she pretty?! Sorry for the choppy background, my backdrops didn’t want to roll up and my chair was missing from my studio. Try not to go cross-eyed.
I mean really, this thing is so much fun and so easy to make.
At this point we know that it resembles a ring light, but does it work?
Drum roll please...
EXCUSE ME WHILE I BREAK INTO MY HAPPY DANCE! And strike a pose. AND jump for joy over the amount of money I just saved!
A few extra tips and pointers–
The remaining tail of the light becomes part of the cord/plug. I wrapped mine with black electrical tape. It’s not very long, but this isn’t exactly what these lights are designed for. I use extension cords in my studio so it’s not a problem for me. Use your imagination to make it work for you!
A light diffuser can be made to fit around the ring if you so desire. Try wax paper, or grab an old sheer nighty, cut it up to size, and throw a strip of elastic around it. There are so many tweaks you can make to customize this light to your liking—you just have to engage the creativity inside of you. It’s there. I promise.
Written by: Emily Yasuda