Reader B.Stevens has a cool idea for the cheapest most versatile ring light ever (now we have shown some ringlights before, but not that easy to make). The image on the left is using this ringlight (best viewed large). The idea is quite simple: Take a huge apple monitor. If you can get your hands on a 24 incher, you are on the right track. Tape some patterned paper on the monitor. Bring your 1.8 or 2.8 lens and your 1600ISO low noise camera and you are good to go. HEYTHEREWAITAMINUTE you said cheap. So, let me go through this method step by step and see where you can reduce your costs.
First, let’s take a closer look on how this method works. First you need a big light source, big enough that you can use a big piece of black paper of cardboard on. Sebastian used a 24″ Mac screen, but you can use cheaper light sources one option is to use a softbox, or a diffusion screen. So here is your first cost reduction right here. You can look at the diagram on the left to see how this stuff works. You have the monitor (or GOBOed softbox) on the left, throwing light to the right.
Next you need to cut a pattern on a black sheet or paper. You can go with the traditional tennis balls in a circle pattern, or try something more artistic like the pattern on the left. This is where the “cheap” part comes into play. The piece of cardboard needed to make this pattern is about 1 Dollar. In fact a pattern like this is also referred to as GOBO. GOBO is photographer lingo for anything that goes between the light source and your subject. (Yes, note the slight “typo” the GOBO does not go botween, but… I did not make it). Here is your second cost reduction: make the pattern with big holes so lots of light can go through, and use a white sheet of paper on the back of the pattern. If you are using a softbox, this will help you save light. (And use lower ISO and slower lens).
The best mod I can think about with this “ringlight” is to use it with a shoot through umbrella. Tape one circle in the middle of the umbrella and wham! Instant ringlight.
One word of warning though: if you are using your monitor for light, make sure you white balance the light well. Those monitors give weird casts.