Setting up the best ring light for self tapes

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best ring light position for self tapes self tape audition example

Setting up the best ring light position improves the quality of any self tape, brightening your eyes, hair and skin tones, and helping even the tiniest of facial expressions bring the character to life. It’s also great for filming your first showreel with a well executed monologue.

But it requires a few experiments in positioning the circular lamp to get the right balance between light and shade before you start recording your piece for casting directors.

The Neewer 18” ring light for self tapes

This video titled Neewer 18″ LED Ring Light for Actor Self-Tape Auditions: Setup & Test is from YouTube channel Mighty Tripod Acting Studio.

Setting up the self tape lights

David set up an 18” ring light for self tapes, to be filmed with an iPhone X and camera app. One tripod holds both the Neewer ring light and the iPhone.

Fluorescent lighting from above is not great lighting on its own for a self tape. You should aim for a little light into the eyes. That’s what a ring light does well, as long as it’s fairly close to the face.

David set up the Neewer 18” LED Ring Light on a tripod set just about level to Angela’s face, circling up above her head. Inside the circle of the ring light is an iPhone X also held by the tripod. Because it’s level with Angela’s face, she is looking straight into the camera as recording takes place.

David switches up the intensity of the Neewer 18” LED Ring Light. You can see the difference it makes to Angela’s face on screen.

He experiments with the overhead lights turned off, but it makes the background too dark. The combination of overhead lighting with the ring lamp works well. Later he moves Angela back so she’s close against the backdrop, to show how the ring light changes the backdrop’s shade of colour when it is closer.

In your own home you’ll need to do similar experiments, as you’ll probably also have a natural light source from a window.

White balancing with the ring light

The camera app is automatically white balancing. This should be set to match the temperature of your key light. If your hair is much lighter than your face, set the white balancing for your hair, and then add light to your face.

To combat the slight overexposure, David put the iphone AE/AF lock on. AE stands for Auto Exposure, which affects the brightness of the image. AF stands for Auto Focus. On an iPhone camera the AE/AF lock is a feature that allows you to lock the focus and exposure values when taking a photo. 

With the camera app open, tap on the screen as if you were going to focus on an area, but instead tap and hold until the focus square appears. When you release, you should see an “AE/AF Lock” indicator on the screen.

What to avoid with the ring lamp for self tapes

At the end of the experiment, David steps in front of the camera and turns the ring light up to a very high intensity. It’s uncomfortable on his eyes, and the bright white light bleaches his skin tones.

You can’t wear glasses while standing in front of a ring lamp. The reflective circle of light glares sharply in both lenses as well as across the frames, and it distracts from the actor’s face.

You could experiment by putting the circular lamp to one side if you needed to do a self tape with a pair of glasses on. Then you’ll need to have a separate high tripod for your camera. 

But you may find a softbox works better for lighting a self tape when wearing glasses.

Positioning the best ring light for self tapes

In just ten minutes, David and Angela worked out that a ring light for self tapes works best when combined with other sources of light. Watch carefully how the hair, then the face, and finally the backdrop are lit. That involves moving the ring lamp around to find the best tones for both the actor’s face and the colour behind them, and ensuring the ring light is bright but not too intense.

The complications of glare and reflection mean that self tapes are best recorded without glasses. But if you need to wear them in the self tape remember to experiment with the ring light off centre. Using a softbox is probably a better solution here.

Once you’re happy that the ring light gives the casting director a clear view of your face including the colour of your eyes, you can concentrate on recording the best possible self tapes in your quest to win acting roles.

Thanks to Ethan De Long/Unsplash for use of the ring light portrait photo shown at the top of the page. Credit also to YouTube channel Mighty Tripod Acting Studio for the video showcased in this article.