Intro: Large LED "ring" Light for Timelapse, Portraits and More...
I shoot a lot of timelapse videos that span a few days, but hate the uneven light that clamp lights give - especially at night. A large ring light is too expensive - so I decided to make something myself in a single evening with stuff I had on hand.
This is my simplified version of the traditional ring light. My out of pocket cost was nothing. If I had to buy everything it would be under $15, plus whatever power supply you wanted.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials and Tools.
My goal was to build this from stuff I had lying around the workshop (OK, garage.) I had the LED's on hand for another project that I never built.
LED's: These are COB (chip on board) and come as a kit for underlighting cars and morotcycles. A set of 6 costs under $10 from Amazon. "Amon Tech 6PCs Universal Waterproof Car Trucks Daytime Running Light Lamp"
Frame: Aluminum 1/2" C channel.
Three aluminum rivets.
12V transformer (I never throw away transformers!!!) or 12V battery pack.
1/4-20 bolt, washers, nuts - or 3/8-24 - your choice
A dozen tie-straps
Tools: Hacksaw, Dremel with cut-off disc, pop-rivet gun, file or grinder, drill and bits
Overview. Yea, I eyeballed the entire thing. I placed one LED strip on the aluminum, added a couple of inches at either end and cut. I knew what I wanted the end result to be, and many DIY'ers can look at the finished photos and figure it out. You can double the size, change the mount, etc. This can be a starting point for other projects.
Keep on going to see the details - including problems I encountered - and how I use it.
Step 2: Make the Frame
Use a hacksaw or Dremel to cut to size. You only need to cut through the top and deeply score the sides, then snap it apart. It's up to you. The idea is to have three equal lengths.
These will be assembled into a triangle, so you'll need to do some trimming. That requires removing around 1" of the channel from either end of the bottom piece, and cutting angles off from the other two pieces.
Look at the final photos in this step and you can see what's needed. You need enough overlap to drill a hole and use a rivet. You could also weld, use a screw, etc. The idea is to have a sturdy aluminum frame.
Dry fit, cut some more off the sides if needed (I had to cut a couple of times.) Drill holes, rivet.
Step 3: Adding a Mount
I actually did this step at the end, and in hindsight that was a mistake. I had to cleanup metal shavings from all over the light. I was not sure what mount I was going to use until I was done.
I used a 1/4-20 bolt that I cut to length with my Dremel. Run the bolt through the entire frame as pictured. This way the weight of the camera is on the bolt and NOT the frame. Two split lock washers and two nuts hold it in place. There's two nuts placed temporarily as spacers to prevent crushing the frame when tightening.
1/4-20 fits perfectly and does not extend past the LED's. It's also the standard tripod thread.
The nuts and bolt can be rotated with a little effort for final adjustment. I drilled the holes large so I had wobble room to make sure the bolt was straight. That was another problem with doing this at the end - the assembled triangle was a pain to drill without damaging anything.
Step 4: Prep the LED's and Mount Them
The LED's have black colored aluminum frames. These are strictly decorative and will get in the way. Remove these paper thin frames. Test each LED.
Mount the included adhesive foam to the LED's and then mount the LED's to the frame. Pay attention to the placement of the wires.
Getting ahead of myself here: You can use the included wires for power or remove them and rewire. I rewired. But I'll cover both ways and problems that can result.
Step 5: Using the Existing Wiring
This is the easiest method. BUT the wires are THIN - I actually had three break off from just handling the LED's. But if you're not using a controller (controls brightness) this is quick and easy. All you need to do is seal the connections and tie-strap the wires down. If you only plan on using indoors, skip the silicone.
Yes, it's low voltage. But I do a lot of outdoor timelapse and have my stuff plugged into a GFCI outlet. I've had these trip when a drop of water hits an exposed 12V wire.
You'll need to solder or wire nut all the wire ends together and attach to the controller or power supply.
TEST again every step of the way. Wires break! Connections come loose.
Step 6: Rewire It
Use your own wiring - my preferred method - it's neater, you can use better wire and you know the soldered connections are good. BUT you need to know how to solder and have a hot iron. The solder on these LED's did not melt until I set my iron to almost 300 degrees.
This is also where I ran into my most frustrating problem. Each end of the LED strips has a pair of connections. I ASSUMED they all worked. So I soldered everything together, then tested. Only the first strip worked. Well, only the contacts where the original wires were attached are actually connected! The others are dead. Talk about frustrating. So be warned - test those contacts first!
I use liquid flux on all my wire ends and contacts - this really makes soldering fast and easy. Solder adheres like it's magnetic.
Step 7: Optional: Use a Controller
These controllers are on eBay for around $4. I usually buy several at a time. This one is for SINGLE color LED's - don't use an RGB controller. Test the controller!
I simply mount with tie-straps. Drill holes in the frame to run the straps through - otherwise they'll wrap around the frame and cover part of the LED. Add some additional straps to secure the wires.
Attach your LED wires to the LED end of the controller - pay attention to which way you mount it.
Step 8: Optional: Weatherproofing
If you're using this outdoors, it needs to be weatherproof. I use silicone sealer, but liquid tape and other products work as well. I had silicone on hand.
Weatherproofing connections - works as 100% waterproofing as well. When you solder your wires together, finish up with shrink-wrap on each wire. Shrink. Then add a larger shrink wrap over the entire soldered connection. Coat the connection (and two wires with the shrink wrap) with silicone sealer. Slide the shrink wrap over this - this final shrink wrap should be at least 1" longer than the shrink wrap you're covering. Make sure the entire inside is full of silicone. Shrink this (I use a mini blow-dryer.) Silicone will extrude from both ends. Wipe off this excess. Shrink again - the silicone that extruded will prevent the ends from shrinking fully. When wiping off excess do it carefully - the shrink wrap will be warm and soft.
Step 9: Adding a Power Supply
I have a box of old transformers, so simply dug out an old 12V version. I tested this with the controller to make sure it had enough amperage - I'm sure it would as it was a 3amp model. But I always test - who knows - the transformer could be dead. A weak transformer won't light the LED's to full intensity.
Now, if you're strictly using an outlet to power this, just hard wire the transformer to the controller. Add some extra wire for length. I have 20 feet total. I cut off the connection on the transformer and left around a foot of cable so I can reuse it later.
If you want to use the 12V connector/adapter on the transformer and have a matching connector to the light, make sure the connector you use on the ringlight is decent quality. TEST it. I have a bunch of 12V connector pairs I picked up off eBay - the wires they used on the connectors (there's 6" of wire on each one) have maybe 4 hair-thin strands of copper and 1/8" of insulation. They look beefy but cut the current flow to squat. Yes, "squat" is a technical term.
You can see that I made a waterproof connection on the transformer wire join.
Step 10: Using the Light
If you're using the same camera all the time, it's simple to mount it. The bolt may need to be rotated so the camera points straight ahead. If you're using multiple cameras you'll want to use a mini-ball head or rotate the screw a little for each camera. Alternately you can also use rubber washers as spacers to adjust camera rotation.
I'm using this with a variety of cameras and also without a camera mounted - I point my DSLR camera through the triangle for some amazingly even light. Great for macro and portraits. When using my DSLR I put a rubber cap on the bolt to avoid scratching the lens.
To mount the actual light, you can put it on a tripod (use a 1/4-20 threaded coupler) or mount to anything with a 1/4-20 hole. 1/4-20 threaded couplers are around $1.50 for a two pack.
You can see in a couple of the photos that I use the clamp to mount the light assembly to an old aluminum light table frame that I saved and modified to use for shooting timelapse in our pond. There's a 30 lb lead weight anchoring this to the bottom.
A few things I would have done differently:
To clean it up, I would have added some heat-shrink at the ends of the LED's (I have plenty) and wrapped the exposed aluminum. This would have required pre-planing as the shrink wrap would have to be put in place before assembly. Shrink wrap would hide the silicone and give it more of a finished look. I'll probably wrap some black silicone electrical tape around the ends, but I want to wait for the silicone to cure so it sticks to it. This tape bonds to itself and will clean up the overall look.
Add the mounting bolt in the beginning steps.
Used my metal cut-off saw to cut to length - but I was too lazy to dig it out.
Basically this was a "what can I do in a hurry on my bench with whatever is lying around because I want to shoot a timelapse tonight" project.
Step 11: More Examples and Video
The photos here show another mod I made for the light. I wanted to use my Brinno timelapse camera. I took a length of aluminum bar stock and bent it in a vice, drilled a couple of holes and added a 1/4-20 bolt. I've also added more photos of the final result - you can see I've started adding silicone tape. I only did one corner to see how it holds up. I have almost 500 hours on the light so far and it works great.
Want to see a video shot with this setup? This timelapse was created over a two day period in our pond. The large frame is a porpoised light-table frame.