BTS: Keeping it Simple with Firefighters and a Ring Light

BTS: Keeping it Simple with Firefighters and a Ring Light

One of my favorite things to do, when I'm able to, is to do pro bono work for local charities that need the help. There's something special, in a way, about not being paid: the "client" is usually a lot more flexible in their expectations and they allow you more leeway in your creative process. So when I got a chance to do some marketing material for a half-marathon that benefited local emergency services, I took it. A couple of years ago, my childhood best friend was a co-founder of a local race, the Hero Half Marathon, with the goal of all proceeds going to support our local fire department. The current mission statement of the race is "The Hero Half Marathon is a fundraising race and community event hosted by The Spark Foundation in partnership with Fayetteville Firefighters’ IAFF – Local 2866. Race proceeds benefit organizations that meet important community needs, increase fitness opportunities for the community, and make Fayetteville and Arkansas a great place to live, work, and play." They support local schools, the Arkansas Special Olympics, the Muscular Dystrophy Association Arkansas, scholarships for children of local firefighers, and more. Last year they donated around $20,000. That's something I can stand behind. So when I got asked to do some promo photos for the event, of course, I said yes.

This past year, I did a second round of photos for the organization. I came equipped with all kinds of things: multiple lights, stands, modifiers, reflectors, etc. But what I realized is that I didn't need any of that, and I took out just one light that I often forget about: the ring light. Generally, people either love or hate these lights, mostly because of the unique circular catch light and/or the generally flat lighting they give off. But I decided not to use it like ring lights are generally used. I didn't shoot through the light, as is common, but instead just used it as I would any other constant light, off to the sides, to create better shadows.

Instead of taking all of the other strobes, battery packs, stands, softboxes, and all of that, just putting the one ring light on a stand was really freeing. I got practice mixing that light with the golden light of the sunset and the lights on the fire trucks, and having that simplicity freed me up to interact with my non-model subjects a little more genuinely and with less stress.

Nikon D810, 85mm f/1.4, 1/100, f/2, ISO125

Nikon D810, 85mm f/1.4, 1/100, f/2, ISO125

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jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

It sounds rather like an application of the KISS principle, Stephen. A heap easier than carrying all your gear - and producing a result with a difference. Great shotsl.

gabe s's picture

Great images. I do kind of wish the flare trend would die though.

Thanks! But by flare trend, you mean...?

I just used the sun as a kicker in a few images, and didn't intentionally use the ring light to make any flares. Nothing added in post.

Terrific work! Thanks for sharing. I'm doing something similar for a Southside Chicago church. And in 3-4 weeks, I'll be going with members to photograph them reaching out at ground zero in the Southside's war zone. I confess I'm a little apprehensive as it will be in the evening and I'm not able to bring any lighting, other than an on-camera flash so I might even forego that... Oh, and I'll be the only white guy in a 3-square mile radius... in Chicago's warzone at night... yeah, a little apprehensive.

Anonymous's picture

Why can't you bring lighting?

I'll bring oncamera flash but have no idea where I'll be working and have to move quickly with the flow of people... seems impossible to shoot off-camera flash in an enviro that I can't control. Plus w no assistant to help in a very violent area where someone wouldn't think twice about a brick to the head for $8K of gear on your person, I don't want to bring more than I can carry. There's a website that details Chicago shootings/murders per block. In a one-squre mile radius of where I'll be, there were more than 100 shootings in 2016... 9 of them fatal.

Anonymous's picture

Of course I don't know your situation but it seems like some of the congregation members could trade-off holding a speedlight/small softbox on a monopod.
Good luck!

Thanks, Patrick. Yeah, I've considered that - but I'm there to observe and support via photography and I don't know them, don't go to church there, am doing this as a pro bono project and also to raise awareness. I'll consider it but I'm even nervous about leaving C stands in my car given a crime rate on par w/ Haiti and Iraq. Peace.

Anonymous's picture

Having never used a ring flash, aside from the catchlight (which I'm ambivalent to), how was it better than a small softbox for your application?

I'm not sure either. A ring light actually sounds like more work. A softbox or even an umbrella would probably be easier for transportation, and less likely to break due to drops or just banging around during transport. Good ring lights can cost $$$

It just simplified the situation, and was something I hadn't done before. Experimentation. I put the ringlight on a stand attached to a Paul Buff Vagabond Mini battery pack. There's only an on/off switch. No brightness control. I just moved the light closer or farther away, and adjusted the angle. Lightweight, easy. Of course I could have done more things with softboxes, but sometimes it's more fun just to bring it back to the basics and play with a light like that. It was a cheap ring light from Amazon I got for less than $200 a few years ago!