Ring lights vs. LED lights. They are actually not two different genres of lighting but two different approaches to lighting depending on the kind of photography that you do. Incidentally, both ring lights and LED lights are basically the same thing – they are both LED lights. The only thing that is different is the shape. Photography as a term encompasses several different genres and sub-genres. Portrait photography, e.g., is an extremely popular genre and is one of the key areas where both these types of lights are used.
What Are Ring Lights?
The most obvious thing about ring lights is that they are shaped like a, well, a ring. They are the best when it comes to shooting beauty shots. The ideal kind of light that would produce flattering facial portraits of models wearing cosmetics or jewellery. Photographers love them, and so do models.
But what is so special about them? The shape. Ring lights are shaped like a ring and that shape allows the light to uniformly light a face, usually from a straight-on angle. The top-of-the-line ring lights such as the Spectrum Aurora 19” Gold Luxe II Ring light come with a colour temperature adjustment knob. A brilliant feature that allows you to match the colour of the light with the others in the studio. This is useful when you are working in a multi-light setup and or when you need to adjust the colour of your key-light with that of the ambient light in the room.
Most professional units, such as the Spectrum Aurora 18” Diamond Luxe III Ring light are battery operated. And this is a huge advantage when shooting outdoors. You can adjust the colour temperature to mimic the sun’s light and or use it to compliment the sun to produce an image that appears shot entirely with natural light.
What are LED Panel Lights?
The term LED panel lights denote an array of LED lights setup on a panel type base. This base could be rectangular or square and depending on the specific purpose or utility of that panel lighting systems. Additionally, the number of LEDs on any LED panel lighting system can vary. Usually, the higher number of LEDs, the higher price of the unit.
Just like the ring lights we read about above, LED panel lights also come with the option to change the colour temperature. Allowing you to seamlessly mix the light with natural sunlight or allowing you to adjust it with the ambient light colour temperature inside a room.
Ring lights vs. LED Panel Lights
To reiterate ring lights and LED Lights are essentially the same. What differentiates them are the shape of the lights and the panel design. Ring lights are a continuous smooth light that is shaped as a circle. Therefore, the shape of the light they produce is circular.
If you are a portrait photographer, this light can serve dual purposes. First as the key light illuminating the face of the model. And second, where it is not the key light but the catchlight.
Catchlight produces that beautiful reflection of the source of the key light on the eyes of the subject. This can add a lot of value to your portrait photos.
LED panel lights are a proper key light for portrait and other types of photography. That said, even ring lights can be used for purposes other than portrait photography. You can use a ring light for shooting product photography, for vlogging (as a continuous light) and so on.
LED panel lights are also very popular as continuous lights for shooting videos. If you are looking for a decent continuous lighting kit for your home studio or professional setup you can look at the 'Illuminate Wand Max' 33" Vlogger & Photography Home Studio LED Light Kit.
The smaller 9” LED Photography Video Studio Lighting Kit – 2x ‘Duo’ Crystal Luxe is more useful for a small studio or home-studio.
Uses for Ring lightsRing lights are best utilised for the purpose of shooting portraits. They are primarily used for capturing those beautiful catchlights on the eyes of a model. But beyond that ring lights are useful for product photography and macro photography as well. In both product and macro photography you work with a macro lens and get in close to the subject in order to produce an image that fills the frame. When working with a small focal length lens you must move in closer to the subject in order to fill the frame. That may and often blocks the ambient light. A small ring light is the best solution for ensuring a proper exposure. A speedlight or strobe is out of the question in such a situation. Additionally, if you use focus stacking technique you will need to have a constant source of colour balanced light. A ring-light is a good solution.
Uses for LED Panel LightsLED panel lights are also suitable for portraitures, products and macro. But the biggest drawback to them is unlike ring lights they do not allow you to shoot through them - a big advantage for ring lights! LED panel lights are better off working as key light for a portrait session, leaving ring lights to work as the catchlight for the shoot.
Ring lights and LED lights are interoperable for studio and outdoor shoots.
Both ring lights and LED panel lights gel well with natural light in a hybrid lighting set-up.
Both ring lights and LED panel lights comes with settings to change the colour temperature.
Ring lights are better suited for portraitures and beauty shots.
LED panel lights are better suited for broad lighting requirements (full body etc.)
Ring lights are better suited for shooting macro photography, flower photography and other close-up photography requirements.
When it comes to light modifiers LED panel lights offer the biggest range.