Wow. What can I say? What a crazy light! It is quite a tricky beast to control and I hadn't really taken the opportunity to take a proper crack at it until a few weeks ago. I had a bit of success balancing a ring flash with an on-axis umbrella in a couple tests I did some months ago, but this time the ring was flying solo.
I was shooting some basic headshots for an actor's portfolio and we had some spare time to try a few character shots. Anticipating some extra time, I set up the ring flash when I prepared ahead of time so it was ready to go. (It's an awkward beast too... Not something you just grab real quick and use).
So, the goal I had in mind was to create a powerful portrait that could actually be used in an actor's portfolio using just a ring flash. There are a couple tell-tale signs a photog has used a ring flash and sometimes (especially from some fashion work I've seen) those signs are accentuated for effect.
The one that turns me off is the crazy, surround shadow that's thrown behind a subject. It creeps me out, so we spent the most amount of time adjusting our distances... The distance between subject and background, the distance between me and the subject and the distance between me and the background... After what felt like quite a bit of time fiddling we finally got to the point where the subject had that classic ring flash fall off on the skin, the great catch light in the eyes that you can't really create with anything else and NO creepy shadow! Success!
In the end we got some great results. But most importantly, the value gained from an hour of Out-of-My-Comfort-Zone gear usage was two-fold. First, I managed to grasp a light mod that had basically scared the crap out of me. But most importantly, it pushed me to think in a non linear, creative way to get the results I needed. When most of what you know or normally do doesn't work, you're forced to expand. You physically create new connections in your brain allowing exponential growth within by making fresh paths that previously didn't exist.
What comes out the other end is greater confidence, an expanded bag of tricks and some excellent results... (if I do say so, myself!)