Let There Be Light! How to Choose the Best LED Ring Light for Stunning Portraits

LED ring lights have become essential gear for portrait photographers wanting to take professional-looking, flawlessly lit shots. Unlike harsh direct flash or uneven constant lighting, ring lights provide soft, wraparound illumination that eliminates shadows and creates a flattering look. With just a basic ring light and camera, you can capture studio-quality headshots, fashion portraits, or any people photos.

But not all ring lights are created equal. There are lots of options on the market in terms of sizes, brightness levels, power sources, and more. And ring light technology keeps improving with newer features like high color accuracy LEDs and portable battery packs. So how do you choose the right one for your needs?

In this photography guide, we’ll share our top five LED ring light recommendations for portraits along with the pros and cons of each. We’ll also walk through all the key factors to consider when shopping so you can find the perfect match. Let’s get started!

Top 5 LED Ring Lights for Portrait Photography

Aputure Amaran AL-F7

This compact and portable LED ring light from Aputure provides powerful illumination in a lightweight, travel-friendly form factor. Some key specs:

  • 7” diameter ring
  • 95+ CRI and TLCI color accuracy
  • USB-powered or V-mount batteries
  • App control via Bluetooth

Pros: The Amaran AL-F7 shines when it comes to portability. Despite its small size, it outputs an impressive 1500 lumens of light. And it can run for up to 28 hours on Sony V-mount batteries, making it ideal for location shooting. The 95+ CRI LEDs also provide accurate skin tone rendering.

Cons: As a more barebones portable option, the AL-F7 lacks some of the accessories and mounts of larger studio-focused lights. There is also no dimming capability.

Best for: Photographers and content creators who value lightweight mobility above all. The AL-F7 is perfect for travel portraiture.

Emart 14” Bi-color Ring Light

This budget-friendly offering from Emart delivers solid performance and features without breaking the bank. Details include:

  • 14” diameter lighting panel
  • Bi-color temperature adjustable from 3200K to 5600K
  • Sturdy C-clamp mount for stability

Pros: At well under $100, this Emart ring light gives you adjustable color temperature and brightness for the price of a basic single-color light. The included C-clamp mount also helps keep it stable on any tabletop.

Cons: While very affordable, you still get what you pay for in terms of build quality. The plastic construction feels a bit flimsy. Output also caps at 1200 lumens.

Best for: Beginners, amateur photographers, or anyone looking for an entry-level ring light that gets the job done.

Neewer 18” Dimmable Bi-color Ring Light

With its large face and handy accessories, this heavy-duty workhorse from Neewer delivers beautiful light quality. Specifications include:

  • 18” diameter ring
  • Dimmable bi-color 2700K-5800K output
  • Sturdy light stand and carrying case included

Pros: The generous 18” surface creates extremely soft, flattering illumination for portraits. You also get pro-level light shaping with the included reflector, diffusion sheet, orange and white filters. Durable metal construction ensures this light will hold up to repeated use.

Cons: The size and solid build makes this one of the heaviest options, at over 13 pounds. Positioning the large ring itself can also prove tricky in tighter spaces.

Best for: Portrait photographers using DSLRs, mirrorless or even phone cameras who want beautiful studio-style lighting at home. The Neewer outperforms cheaper brands.

Diva Ring Light Nova 18’’

As the name suggests, this ring light will make any subject look like a glamorous diva. Key details include:

  • 18” diameter with 10” inner diameter
  • True daylight 5600K temperature
  • Sturdy light stand and case included

Pros: With 210 LED lamps around the outer ring, this light delivers incredible brightness for true professional results. The 5600K color temp emits clean, bright light that looks energizing. The kit also comes with a host of light modifiers and gels for shaping your look.

Cons: Some users report LEDs burning out quicker than expected. And the casing tends to collect fingerprints.

Best for: Pro photographers and serious hobbyists seeking ultra-bright, higher-end ring lighting for studio-level portraits.

UBeesize Mini Ring Light Trio

This convenient three piece mini set from UBeesize provides versatile lighting options for small-space shoots. Specs include:

  • Trio of 8” ring lights
  • Mini tripods, phone clamps, and Bluetooth remote included
  • Rechargeable battery powered

Pros: The compact size means you can light yourself from every angle, easily moving the mini tripods around your shooting space. At full power, these budget lights still put out 60 LEDs worth of flattering illumination. Everything packs down into an included carry bag.

Cons: Don’t expect a ton of power or accessories from these interface lights. They work best as fill lighting rather than your main source.

Best for: DIYers and influencers shooting selfies, streaming, or video calls in limited spaces like dorm rooms. The trio sets up in minutes.

How to Choose: Key Considerations When Buying Ring Lights

Beyond our top recommendations, here are some general factors to keep in mind while shopping for the right LED ring light for your needs:

Size Matters

Ring light diameters typically range from 10-12 inches on the small end to 18-22 inches for large options. The ideal size depends on your particular use case:

  • For portability and travel, compact 10-12” sizes work beautifully. They provide flattering light in confined spaces.
  • The larger the ring surface, the softer and more even the resulting light. Big 18-22” sizes mimic window light well.
  • But ultra-large diameters can be unwieldy for positioning in tighter spots. Find the right balance.

In short, don’t assume bigger is always better when it comes to ring light diameter.

Beam Brightness

A ring light’s brightness level is measured in lumens, just like regular lightbulbs. For standard portrait shoots, you’ll want a ring light with at least 1200 lumens to provide sufficient illumination for the camera. Higher-end options can blast out 2000+ lumens for more dramatic lighting effects. Consider how much power you’ll realistically need:

  • For simple talking head YouTube videos in a home studio, 1200-1600 lumens should suffice.
  • Full-length fashion shoots demand maximum brightness to balance with ambient light.
  • LED ring lights typically need to be positioned quite close to your subject, so the light doesn’t have to travel far.

Plug It In or Go Cordless?

Your ring light will either be powered by an outlet or self-contained rechargeable batteries. Each option has pros and cons:

  • Plug-in ring lights offer unlimited runtime without worrying about batteries dying during long shoots. No need to recharge.
  • Battery-powered options run from 1-4 hours per charge but provide complete portability. Great for travel and outdoor sessions.
  • Some higher-end lights give you the best of both worlds with interchangeable power supplies.

So consider whether mobility or unlimited runtime is more important for you.

The Color Spectrum

Ring light color temperature determines the overall mood of your portraits, from warm and inviting to clean and crisp. You’ll typically see these options:

  • 2700-3000K range: Warm, golden tones flattering for close ups.
  • 4000-5000K range: Natural daylight, well-suited to subjects of varying skin tones.
  • 5500-6500K range: Cool blue tones for a bold, lively look.

Many ring lights are bi-color, letting you adjust the color temp. Decide what look you want to achieve.

Mounting Up

For photographers using their phone camera, you’ll want a ring light with a built-in clamp to mount your device. This keeps the phone stabilized and pointing right at your subject. If your light doesn’t have a mount, you can buy a separate clamp.

For DSLR/mirrorless users, position the ring light on a light stand and use your camera on a tripod for full stability. Some higher-end ring lights include sturdy stands.

Accessorize the Light

Basic ring lights are pretty straightforward. But some options come with handy accessories like:

  • Diffusers – Soften the light source for super flattering skin
  • Barn doors – Control spill and direct the light precisely
  • Gels – Color correct or get creative with colored lighting
  • Light stands – Position the ring where you need it

Consider whether a kit with accessories provides extra value for you. Or if you’re fine buying add-ons later on.

Build Quality Matters

Cheaper plastic ring lights might be tempting, but they often break easily during transport and regular handling. Investing just a little more in durable metal construction ensures your light will withstand the rigors of frequent shoots.

Set a Budget

Ring light prices span a wide range. Here’s what to expect:

  • Entry-level plastic rings under $100
  • Mid-range, sturdier options $150 – $300
  • Professional-grade over $300

Consider paying more for more power, better color quality, and robustness. But there are quality budget options too if you just need the basics.

Let There Be Portrait Lighting Success!

We hope this guide provided some insight into choosing the best LED ring light to meet your photography and videography needs. To recap, think about key factors like size, maximum brightness, color quality, accessories, and construction quality as you shop. Determine whether mobility or unlimited runtime is more important if deciding between battery-powered or plug-in models.

And don’t hesitate to read reviews and ask fellow creators about their experiences with certain ring light brands. Once you pick the perfect ring to complement your camera and spaces, experiment with positioning and light-shaping add-ons. With the right techniques, you’ll be able to produce eye-catching professional portraits with beautiful illumination. Let us know how your LED ring light performs!

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