Many of us have a need to photograph small objects for inclusion with auction posts on sites like eBay, or on shops such as Etsy, or to show your products on you own web site. There are also many who have an interest in photography of insects and other close up subjects from an artistic perspective.
Often the available light isn’t good enough in such situations so you resort to the built in flash of your DSLR, or slide the hotshoe mounted one to the camera. And that’s where you may find you have a problem.
When shooting close ups the lens is often so close to the subject that it obstructs the flash and results in a shadow of the lens cast over the subject. A ring flash is attached onto the lens. It provides a circular light that results in shadowless illumination. This is ideal for small items, and the light wraps around 3D items so you get a more even tone.
You can buy ones made by your camera’s manufacturer, but these tend to be very expensive so it’s worth looking around for an independent model, and some great older ones can be picked up for much less money. The manufacturers’ ones and some of the more expensive independents have TTL (through-the-lens) exposure so they adjust the flash output and compensate automatically for close up extensions and filters. But as most cameras used now are digital it’s easy enough to use an older manual ringflash and check the result on the LCD display.
At PhotographyAttic we have a small selection of used models and really like the Sunpak GX-8r because, unlike others, the batteries are in a separate power pack…and that means the flash unit attached to the lens is much lighter. This is an important consideration as it puts less strain on the lens mechanism. There’s a review of the Sunpak GX8r here
For those on a budget, check out the Centon MR20. It does have batteries in the flash, but just two AAs so its not too heavy. This flash unit was also made for the Vivitar, Starblitz and Cobra brands too. Doi also made an interesting unit for those who don’t have a flash sync socket on their camera, this one had the battery pack that slides onto the camera’s hot shoe.