This DIY Roger Deakins-Style Ring Light Costs Less Than $150
Filmmaker extraordinaire Roger Deakins often uses homemade ring lights. Here’s how to take a page from his playbook and build one yourself — for cheap.
Here at PremiumBeat, we write about Roger Deakins a lot.
For good reason. He’s easily one of the greatest working cinematographers, and his consistency from project to project — and the variety of styles he can pull off — is unmatched.
Another of Roger Deakins‘s admirable qualities is how forthright he is with information and insight into his process. He has done quite a few pieces in American Cinematographer Magazine, and what’s more, he has a website where you can hop on the forums and just ask him about his techniques in specific scenes.
As an aspiring cinematographer myself, and someone who has read just about every piece of information I can find about his techniques, one thing I’ve seen time and time again was his use of homemade ring lights featuring various tungsten light bulbs.
So I decided to make one of my own. This is how I did it.
*NOTE: One thing that I didn’t mention specifically in the video and wish I had: make sure you use at least 16-gauge lamp cord. This is rated for up to 1,560 watts, roughly. That will accommodate 25x60watt light bulbs. If you want to do more, you need an ever higher gauge cord.
What You’ll Need
The supplies that I used will provide room and wiring for a 4′-diameter hoop and 25 lamp holders. You can obviously scale this down or make it bigger if you desire.
If I were to make this again, I’d probably try to get a slightly lighter piece of wood — or even try to build a version out of some aluminum (Deakins appears to use aluminum relatively often). It can get a bit heavy on a C-stand and would be safest suspended via some speed rail.
Another nice thing is that once you’ve cut your main hoop of plywood, you have a nice little smaller hoop already in the making. So, if you want, you can go ahead and make another smaller ring light right off the bat.
- 4’x4′ square of plywood (approx. $12)
- 2 boxes 60-watt tungsten bulbs (approx. $30)
- 25 lamp holders (lamp sockets) (approx. $50)
- Extension cord or power tool cord replacement Kit (approx. $8)
- ~35″ of black lamp cord (approx. $15)
- 3/4″ Screws (to screw lampholders in, approx. $4)
When building, be careful and make sure you use the right gauge lamp cord and the correct wattage of bulbs. You don’t want to overload circuits or overload your cords in the fixture with too much current. This could create fire hazards or cause power issues on location. As I said before, and now again, just for good measure: make sure you use at-least 16-gauge lamp cord.
How to Use Your Ring Light
These ring lights produce some amazingly soft and dreamy light.
There are many ways that you can use them, but one of my favorite so far is in a space light configuration. This means using it as a top-light over your scene. This works great as a tabletop setup or for lighting large spaces.
I added command strips around the sides of my light to accommodate fabric (preferably duvetyne) around the edges, which I attached as a skirt to control the light.
You will also find that the light is capable of a lot of output at its full brightness (25x 60 watt light bulbs equals 1500 watts), and if you want to use it as Deakins tends to, you’ll want a dimmer switch. The light that this rig creates is most beautiful (in my opinion) when it’s dimmed down to around 30 percent of its full output. This creates a beautiful, soft, warm light, somewhere around 2700k, that fills your scene with some nice ambience.
When used as a key, in a Rembrandt-style setup, these lights are nearly unmatched in terms of skin tones. Undiffused, just placed right to the side of your subject, the softness and wrap you can get with the flip of a switch is just fantastic.
Top Image via American Cinematographer.
Looking for more video production tips and tricks? Check these out.