Ring Around the Lens

As a complete amateur when it comes to operating the camera, I do quite a bit of reading and research on both photography and film making. My technical knowledge is no where near the level of a producing amateur or even semi-pro, despite being previously married to a professional photographer and assisting during shoots and discussing the craft. But I’m always learning while being completely satisfied with remaining at an amateur level, even while doing this project.

"Ring Light Eye" by ssoosay via Flickr

"Ring Light Eye" by ssoosay via Flickr

I know to leave the serious aspects to the true camera geeks, the Photographer for stills and the Cinematographer (or Director of Photography) for films. So when I got an itch to wonder what different light effects are possible using modified types of the standard ring light I first had to brush up on exactly what it was and the basic physics of it.

As an example, think of the moon. When it’s full, we’re seeing the sun fully light up the one side directly, and it’s very difficult to see any surface features. We can see lighter and darker areas, but that’s about it. As the moon goes through phases, we’re seeing the sun light it up more off-axis, and as a result, we can see more of the shadowing from mountains and crater ridges.

In essence, by having the light as close as possible to the lens the light on the subject casts no visible shadows for the camera to capture. This is due to the shadow being occluded from view by the object casting it, since the camera can’t see through the object it can’t see the shadow!

"Yeah, Seriously." by trazomfreak via Flickr

"Yeah, Seriously." by trazomfreak via Flickr

Examine the pictures in this article, especially the lack of shadows in the faces, as well as the highlight from the ring in the eye itself. This research led me to a great article which provided the quote above, Ring Around the Lens, and it goes over the technique along with additional examples and lighting used with this technique.

My own particular curiosity beyond just the process itself is what would happen if you used candle light instead of the standard LED ring. While the logistics of shoving a camera lens through an actual flaming ring of fire is daunting, the effects achieved could be amazing based on what can be done with the standard rig. Variations of this would of course be a gas burner or simulated candlelight, via one method or another. And finally moving into the realm of having the ring be a LCD, LED, or Fiber Optic display, which would be able to cast more complicated patterns and/or programmed sequences than the relatively few light emitters can in standard rings. Colors or patterns could add a very interesting effect, especially in the realm of creepy and sinister lighting effects which will allow darkness behind the ring in the subject.

"Wall of Colors" by graciehagen via Flickr

"Wall of Colors" by graciehagen via Flickr

Playing with lighting, color effects, and especially darkness have disappeared as green screen effects have dictated the lighting used. However we want to try everything, including going back to some of the earlier experimentation done in horror films mixed with modern awareness of the psychological impact colors have. Additionally reducing shadows on faces completely with the right makeup effects pushes them into the uncanny valley, which can unsettle viewers at a very deep level and evoke our fear of the death mask. We’re also interested to work with newer green screen techniques that allow for uneven lighting and shadows, however they may be prohibitively expensive currently.

These are the kind of things we are looking at experimenting with, learning about, and sharing through the website. It is sure to be an interesting journey.

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