Do you need better lights for your miniature photography? Miniature photography is more challenging than normal day-to-day picture taking. If you’re struggling to take better photos of your miniatures, then it’s likely you have all you need right in front of you. In fact, simply leverage your current equipment for photographing miniatures or models and enhance your lighting conditions. Ultimately, a nice LED ring light can make all the difference in great smartphone or dedicated camera photography of your miniatures.
In this article, I show you why ring lights can help you get better photos of your painted miniatures and models, and recommend 5 photography ring lights that can improve your studio photography.
What’s the difference between regular lighting and a continuous LED ring light for scale model and miniature photography?
The best kind of lights for studio photography are generally constant-on lights. These are lighting systems that continuously provide illumination over your models, i.e., in contrast to flash or strobe lights. When you’re trying to improve your photography of miniatures, these constant LEDs give you control over your image exposure. You’re free to adjust your camera settings in real time for the best possible results.
Both conventional and LED ring lights that provide constant lighting on your subject will make taking photographs much easier. However, the biggest difference between ring lights and normal studio lighting, is that the former can illuminate your subject straight on, from the front of the lens.
Using the best lighting direction is a key aspect for taking great photos. The direction of light governs how shadows fall, how shapes appear and forms render over small surfaces of your miniatures. Lighting direction controls the sense of drama (or absence of it) within your photograph.
A ring light gives you the option of using the frontal fill lighting direction, which is the most reliable, versatile, and in my opinion, flattering lighting direction in studio miniature photography.
Must-know 6 features of LED ring lights for miniature photography
Here are 6 features of ring lights you should know for better photos of miniatures and models:
- Color Rendering Index (CRI)
- Color Temperature Adjustment
- Ring Light Diameter
The power of a ring light determines the maximum brightness of the light. All lights have a power rating, which may be listed as wattage or lumens (i.e., amount of light produced per unit of time). Note that for photographing miniatures, the power rating of an LED ring light isn’t as important as it is studio portrait photography or videography (e.g., vlogging). This is because your miniatures and models don’t move and you can use your camera (or smartphone) on a tripod.
Using a tripod allows you to stabilize your camera and keep your shutter open longer, avoiding shutter shake, whilst increasing the amount of light that enters the camera. Simply put, a tripod is awesome for photographing miniatures. And you don’t need an expensive tripod either. You can find affordable tripods for cameras and smartphones.
Overall, a ring light wattage of 60W is more than sufficient for achieving great photos of your models.
Color Rendering Index (CRI)
The color rendering index, or CRI, is an especially important measurement for artificial LED lighting systems. CRI is a measure of how close your LED lights can reproduce the colors on a subject when compared to natural daylight (the ideal light). Without getting too far into the science, you should know that the higher the CRI rating, the better your miniatures will look.
A high CRI is particularly important if you’re trying to photograph miniatures to mimic real life. For example, if you’re trying to trick your viewer into seeing your models as real objects at full scale, a high CRI lighting system will help your models appears as if they are in natural outdoor lighting.
Any ring light with a CR rating above 90-95 will be a great choice for photographing scale models or painted miniatures. To underscore the importance of a high CRI light, always choose a higher CRI light even if it has a lower brightness power output (watts). For miniature photography, CRI is a superior feature than maximum LED brightness.
Color Temperature Adjustment
A versatile ring light will have a color temperature adjustment feature. Color temperature governs how warm or cool the light appears, and is measured using the Kelvin (K) temperature scale. Light color temperature can range from low Kelvin (cool light) to high Kelvin (warm light), e.g., usually between 3200-5500K. A neutral color temperature that mimics natural sunlight is around 5000K.
A neutral color temperatures, you’ll have the easiest time photographing your painted models with accurate color representation in your images.
The ability to adjust color temperature has multiple uses in photography and videography. Although I don’t go into those various uses here, adjusting color temperature gives you artistic flexibility with your miniature photography. For example, you can use a warm color temperature to light your miniature diorama or scene, and your photograph of them would appear as if you took the photo during a golden sunset.
A ring light is a “ring” or circle shaped light. The diameter of a ring light tells you how big the ring light is across the LED source. The light diameter is an important measurement because the size of the ring light influences how the softness quality of the light source. The larger the diameter, the more diffuse and soft your ring light will be on your miniatures.
A softer light will produce a much nicer image of your models without harsh shadows and reflections in odd places on your models. If you can spare the room in your hobby area for a larger ring light (another exception below regarding portability), I recommend you go with as large a ring light as you can afford.
The need for portability may not apply to everyone who photographs miniatures. Most of us take photos wherever our hobbies are located. But, you may want to consider the size and portability of your ring light if you plan to move around or need to store your photography equipment in your home.
Perhaps you move around a lot or don’t have a lot of room. In this case, a smaller ring light may suit your needs better. In terms of minimal size for ring lights, I don’t recommend going smaller than a 10″ (or 25.4cm). Any smaller and you may lose the soft diffuse aspect of a good ring light. You may also have trouble using your camera through a ring light that is too small, e.g., the center may be too narrow to fit your camera or smartphone.
Note that larger ring lights often come with full sized tripods that you set up on the floor. You can usually adjust the height of these a lot to fit wherever you need your lighting. In contrast, small sized ring lights may only come with a tabletop tripod stand. These mini-tripods have limited adjustments for height. Be aware that you’ll often need to adjust the location of your camera shooting angle to capture models of different sizes, e.g., space marines versus flying vehicles.
At the end of the day, you need to weigh advantages and disadvantages of small vs large ring lights. My recommendation is to get as big a ring light as you can manage. Larger ring lights tend to give you the most benefit in terms of image quality and flexibility.
When it comes to hobby stuff, I tend to suggest people get the quality they need and can afford. If you skimp too much, you end up paying much, much more later. This tends to be true for photography, too. Bottomline: Get the best ring light you need.
Here are the 5 best ring lights for photographing miniatures and models:
The Yesker Ring Light is a large 18″ (45.7cm) diameter light. Here’s a full review and tips for using the Yesker Ring Light. The light comes with a number of key accessories, including a wireless remote (for the vloggers and selfies), a travel bag, a decent tripod, and a smartphone holder and camera ball head.
Both the smartphone holder and camera ball head are made of plastic, but strong enough to stabilize a iPhone or small-medium sized DSLR inside the ring light. I do suggest using a seperate tripod for larger cameras (that weight more than 2-3 pounds). You can see how I setup my ring light in the photos above.
The LED control panel on the ring light has two knobs that allow you to adjust color temperature (3200-5000K) and brightness (0-100%). For any miniature photography, I found the 10% brightness level more than sufficient. This ring light is super bright! Even better, the CRI rating on this ring light is >95 and perfect for accurate, vibrant colors and excellent contrast. You can’t do much better than the Yesker Ring Light for miniature photography.
This INSEESI Ring Light is a 19″ (48.2 cm) LED ring light with everything you need to jump into studio miniature photography (or other visual media). This is a powerful LED ring light with a very high CRI rating (>97). It also has a wide adjustable color temperature spectrum between 3000-5800K.
The included attachments for the tripod allow you to stabilize your smartphone, a full-sized tablet, or camera. For larger DSLR cameras, I suggest using a separate robust tripod. The ring light also includes 5 color filters that you can attach around the ring light to produce different photographic effects. These filters may not be necessary for standard miniature photography, but could come in useful for adding artistic drama to your military dioramas or scenic stages.
The ring light also tilts so you can project your lighting at any direction. For tabletop gaming battle reports, use the ring light to help you video record your games. Place the ring light above your battlefield and place your camera through the middle of the light. A perfect setup for documenting the dynamic battle space. Although this is a pricier ring light, it is a great value for its utility and artistic flexibility.
The Pixel Ring Light is a 19″ LED ring light (48.2 cm) that competes with the Yesker Ring Light (above). It has a similar panel control scheme with features like brightness and color temperature control (3000-5800K). The Pixel Ring Light also comes with a number of the same accessories, including the smartphone holder and ball head for a small-medium camera.
Note that although this ring light has remote control capabilities, it does not come with a remote control, which you would need to buy seperately. For the most part in miniature photography, you may not need a remote at all to control the light. The LED back panel of the ring light is perfectly suited for still life photography.
The LED quality of this ring light is awesome. A diffusion panel houses powerful LEDs that produces a high CRI rated illumination (>97), which helps bring natural color and natural contrast to your model. As a ring light, you will have the flexibility to light your models and miniatures in any studio situation. I highly recommend you check out this ring light for your miniature and model photography.
The Godox LR120 Ring Light is a medium sized LED ring light with a diameter of 12″ (30.5cm). This gives the Godox ring light more of a compact footprint with better portability or storage opportunities. It has an especially wide color temperature range from 3000K (warm) to 6000K (cool). Although the Godox Ring Light has a slightly lower CRI (>90), it is a still very good at reproducing colors and costs about half as much than its competitors.
The Godox Ring Light comes with a desktop stand instead of a full-sized tripod. As such, you will need to put this ring light on your tabletop or desk, rather than the floor. In other words, you’ll need a spot for this ring light stand along with your miniature photography setup. Moreover, although the ring light comes with two smart phone holders that you can place at different locations along the stand, there is no included mount for a camera. Of course, for most, this isn’t an issue since you’ll want to use a separate tripod for larger dedicated cameras anyway.
Finally, note that this ring light works through USB power rather than an electrical cable. This makes this suitable for those who have a laptop or computer nearby, or a portable battery power bank. Obviously you can use any USB to AC adapter if you want to use a standard electrical socket to power this ring light.
I highly recommend the Godox Ring Light for anyone who needs a smaller setup for their miniature photography that will help produce excellent images, and wants to keep their set up travel- or storage-ready.
The Desktop LED Ring Light is a 10″ (25.4cm) diameter ring light with every feature you need for lighting miniatures in a small space. It is your best budget option for ring lights for photographing miniatures and models. I have one of these ring light models for my bag when I travel to the game store or convention when I want to photograph or video-record tabletop games. As a compact ring light, you can carry this anywhere games are played.
The LED ring light comes with a tabletop desktop stand and smartphone holder. The USB power cable is great for on-the-move travel. Plug the USB into a portable battery or a laptop and you’re all set. You can even use the same USB adapter you charge your smartphone to use a normal wall socket.
As an LED light that produces a nice diffuse light with an adjustable color temperature (3500-6500K) you can find a lot of uses for this ring light beyond miniature photography, too. Use this as a desktop reading light or office lamp (in fact, here are few other unique desk lamps you may like).
With a power rating of 1200 lumens, this ring light is really bright. With the diffuser, you won’t find weird shadows over your surfaces. Overall, as a small, compact ring light, you’ll love having this ring light with you, and it’s really affordable, too!
For my miniature photography, the best investment I made in equipment was improving my lighting setup. At first I thought the conventional lights I had were enough, but upon comparing my work after getting a proper LED ring light (see photography light comparison here), my images look much better. MUCH BETTER. Check out my instagram.
With my ring light, I am able to produce sharper and more vibrant photos of my painted minis. After all the hard work I put into my painting and those of my clients, I am pleased that I can reliably photograph the final outcome.
Although sharing on social media is one of the common reasons for improving your miniature photography, I find that there’s something special about documenting your creative effort. It’s a personal portfolio of your art. There’s an additional confidence boost when you can look back on your photos and see what you’ve accomplished.
Suffice it to say, I’m still learning a lot in the hobby, and hope you continue sharing my experience with you! I hope you found this article useful and, as always, let me know if you have any questions or comments. I’d be more than happy to chat!
Happy miniature painting and photography!