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When YouTube's royalty sat down, clipped their phones into the apparatus, and started adjusting the lights, it became clear that this was nothing new for them. I, a mere mortal who takes selfies behind sunglasses or sheet masks, was intrigued. I promptly shot about a zillion pictures in front of the thing, which I then sent to all my friends. Those tiny, tired lines around my eyes? Obliterated. The big zit on my chin? Nowhere to be seen. What was this magical light?
Ring lights, which are also called Diva Lights (one of the brand names co-opted Kleenex-style to refer to all ring lights) by vloggers, have been a mainstay of professional videographers for a long time. Much like strobing and matte liquid lipstick, though, this light has now gone viral in the beauty vlogging world, albeit more subtly than, say, clown contouring. You're not going to see many posts tagged #divalight, but it turns out these gurus looking so polished on Instagram has less to do with their blending technique and more to do with their lighting.
Kandee Johnson, a YouTube beauty tutorial pioneer with over 3.6 million subscribers, told me at the Benefit event, "With this light, you just look instantly beautiful." She said she's been using one for a few years and first heard about it from a fellow vlogger, Judy Travis of It's Judy Time. Travis had been getting so many questions about the lighting in her videos that she eventually did a tutorial revealing everything.
Travis purchased her lights at a local Seattle-based shop near her home called the DVE Store. She had the owner come over to explain the set up tutorial-style, published it on YouTube, and from then on the DVE Store became the go-to for both wanna-be and established beauty vloggers. (The store also happened to be the ring light supplier for the Benefit event, which I found out after I called there looking for intel.)
"We sell probably 200 to 300 per month easily," says Stephanie Musick, an educator at the DVE Store, noting that vloggers make up the majority of those customers. "Three years ago we were primarily selling them just to pro videographers and photographers who were doing editorial type shoots, but once we started working with Judy, it became the staple." (The a cappella group Pentatonix also featured the lights prominently in their video for a Daft Punk cover medley, for what that's worth.)
In case you doubt the power of the ring light, Kylie Jenner revealed on her app back in November that she uses one. "This is like my favorite light ever. It's the shit," she said.
She's right. It really is the shit. "Since it's a ring of light, you have this beautiful neutral zone in the middle and a ring of light around the face, so it gives a soft glow along the edges," explains Musick. "It's not a single source hitting your face, so it really helps wash out any blemishes. You don't need to worry about light placement. You just put it right in front of you and it illuminates you appropriately. It's really easy." You'll need a light stand to attach it to and that's about it. Most come with a mount in the center of the circle for a camera or phone.
Ring lights sit at a relatively affordable price point that's in between the Kardashian approved MirMir photo booth, which costs a minimum of $2,750 to rent, and the LuMee phone case, which costs between $50 and $60 and is less bulky than attachable phone ring lights. The DVE Store sells two different brands that are equally as popular with vloggers, the Diva Light Super Nova ($249) and the Prismatic Halo Ring Light ($229). Fourteen-inch "mini" versions ($179), which is what Benefit provided at the event, come with a camera mount and a phone bracket. Like the MirMir, some of the ring lights even come with an attached mirror so that when you're filming or shooting a makeup tutorial you can actually see what's going on with your face.
Vloggers at the event were in agreement that the optimal distance for perfect selfies is about two to five feet from the light. DVE Store was kind enough to send a light for us to play with here at Racked, and I discovered that if you get too close you can look a bit washed out. But as you can see here in a few (horrible) selfies I took at Racked HQ both in natural light and with hideous overhead office fluorescent lighting, I no longer have undereye bags or weird facial blotches. It also makes a fetching ring in your pupil that really makes your eyes pop, though if you wear glasses this reflection poses problems. (Now if only a light could help me not look like I hate taking selfies in every selfie.)
A beauty Instagrammer who goes by the handle Maryam Maquillage (@Maryamnyc) told me at the Benefit event that she used to shoot with professional caliber LED lights, but now prefers the Diva Light. "I'm actually fairly new to the ring light," she said. "But it softens the skin in such a nice way that now I use it all the time."
Maryam also said that she thinks a ring light gives a more "amateur" look to her videos which followers respond to, relative to the pro LED lights. "Some people like seeing that it's a home video as opposed to [using] professional amazing lights." She saves her high octane lights for when she's doing paid content for brands like Lancome.
Nicol Concilio (@nicolconcilio), another Instagrammer, fought the selfie fight familiar to us all before discovering ring lights. "For the longest time I didn't use a ring light. I would just use natural light and I would drive myself crazy," she said. "I would wake up at like 7am and then if it was raining I couldn't film. So the ring light definitely made my life a lot easier."
According to Musick, the ring light is expanding into more mainstream beauty venues. She says NYX Cosmetics, which works extensively with influencers, bought a bunch to use in their photo booths. "We're looking to start partnering up with a lot of makeup brands for their trade show booths," she says.
Wedding makeup artists have also been snapping the lights up. "A lot of times bridal makeup artists are like, ‘OK, I'm in a dingy hotel room.' They try to angle the bride to a window, but if it's an evening wedding, they're relying on the light of the space. Once the photographer's using flash, maybe the makeup is showing defects they possibly didn't see," Musick says. "So now they're toting ring lights around. They're compact enough and they can be portable. We're finding a lot of people now buying them because they just want to use them to apply makeup."
Which leads to the next logical marketing step: Make a clip-on version that we can attach to a bathroom sink or towel bar, Diva Light, to replace the sad excuse for lighted makeup mirrors that now exist.