Photography Lighting is supported by readers. When you buy with our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more

This post was most recently updated on June 26th, 2022

When it comes to food photography, your food takes the stage and it’s literally in the limelight of your photo.

The wrong light could potentially make any food look inedible. But there is much more to the right light than bringing the taste of the food to an audience.

Light sets the atmosphere around the food. Whether you are shooting for a client who has clear ideas as part of their brand guidelines or you take a few snaps for social media.

You want the light to be spot on.

Ring lights are one of the many options to get the perfect light to photograph food but do they work? And what light do you need for your perfect foody shot?

Read on to find out.

What’s A Ring Light And What Does It Do?

A ring light is a type of lighting that uses multiple small lamps arranged around a central lamp. The main advantage of this setup is that it produces soft, natural light which can be used to illuminate subjects from all angles evenly.

This means that you don’t have to worry about shadows falling across your subject. This is especially useful when photographing people because it helps them appear natural and unposed.

Ring lights are also ideal for food and macro photography. They give your subject a bright and even look through, and they remove any shadows.

However, a setup with ring lights for food photography can be tricky. It’s best to work with a three-point light method working with modifiers.

This helps to soften the light around the edges of your subject and eliminate any shadows.

Types Of Ring Lights

There are two types of ring lights: hard and soft. Both produce similar results but each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Hard ring lights are generally smaller and lighter than soft ring lights. They are often made of aluminum and plastic. These tend to be cheaper and easier to set up.

They are great if you’re looking to shoot events where you will need to move quickly. However, they are not suitable for food photography because they create harsh shadows.

Soft ring lights are usually larger and heavier than hard ring lights. They are typically made of metal and glass and are designed to mimic sunlight.

These are better suited to food photography because they provide softer light that doesn’t cast harsh shadows.

But they aren’t always easy to use. You’ll need to consider how you plan to position the source of light. If you’re using a single ring light, then you must place it at the top of your camera lens.

If you’re using multiple rings, then you should arrange them so that they surround your subject.

If you are using a single ring light, you’ll need to use a modifier such as a beauty dish or umbrella to diffuse the light.

Find The Right Ring Light For Food Photography

Find The Right Ring Light For Food Photography

Before you go out and buy your ring light, let’s take a look at some of the factors that influence when you need to use the light, how to use it and what type of ring light to use.

Compatibility And Size

Choosing the right ring light for what you want to do needs a few decisions.

First of all, you need to check if your light is going to be compatible with your camera.

Ring lights come in different sizes and as they are circular, they are measured in diameter.

This portable light also comes with varying mounts, so check what mount you will need for your camera.

Once you have chosen your ring light, you need to ensure that it’s big enough for your camera lens to fit through the space.

However, it’s not all about the size of the ring light. The correct mounting onto your camera is equally important.

On-Camera Ring Lights

On-camera ring lights sit on top of your camera. A portable ring light is ideal for macro images or easily taking with you when you go on location.

You simply attach the ring light to the hot shoe slot of your camera, and it just circles the lens when you take your shots.

One possible disadvantage with on-camera ring lights is that they are strobe lights. This means that they produce a very bright light, which in turn can create dark shadows.

So these lights may not always be a suitable light in food photography.

Off-Camera Ring Lights

The second type of ring light you will find is for a setup on a tripod. Off-camera ring lights have a mount that holds the camera in place, so it can shoot through the middle of the light.

Off-camera ring lights offer continuous light. Continuous light generally isn’t as harsh as strobe, and it creates soft light with an even wash.

This is going to make your shot much easier as you will be able to see the result.

Continuous light is a great intro for anyone who wants to start working with ring light sources.

Strobe Or Continuous LED

However, on-camera and off-camera ring lights aren’t the only type of this artificial light on the market. You’ll also need to decide whether you want to work with strobe or continuous LED lights.

Circular strobe lights work similarly to a normal flash. They provide a single burst of strong light each time you press your camera’s trigger.

This is perfect for any action shot you want to freeze or any setups where you need plenty of light.

While you don’t have the freezing issue with food items, you may still want to consider a strobe light for food photography.

For the best food shot, you’ll need a powerful strobe light with around 500W. With most strobe lights, you’ll be able to adjust their power and warmth.

As a contrast to strobe LED lights, you may want to consider continuous LED ring lights. These lights provide a continually warm light source.

This makes it easier to adjust modifiers as well as tweak camera settings for the best shadow balance.

Another bonus of continuous ring lights is that they are much cheaper.

Final Thoughts

Ring lights are one of the most versatile lighting tools available. They’re easy to use and come in many shapes and sizes, as well as different mounting options for your camera.

Whether you choose an on-camera or off-camera ring light, strobe light, or continuous LED light, all this depends on how you plan to use them for your food photography project.