Lighting Basics: How to Light Portraits with a Beauty Dish

To a certain extent, a flash duration that is very fast can also give the same effects as less ambient light. This works best at the camera's max sync speed with your flash. Model: Asta Peredes.

So far, we’ve covered how to light portraits with an umbrella, an octabank and a softbox–today we’re focusing on the beauty dish. Beauty dishes were used mostly by fashion and portrait photographers for a while and for the most part they still are. They’re designed to give a very specific soft look that is directional and uses light in an inefficient way. The look has been characterized as being like a softbox and an umbrella at the same time. That’s part of the beauty of a beauty dish–pun totally intended. There are lots that are available about there, and you can easily hack them to do what you want too.

So let’s get into it!

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How to Figure Out What Light Modifier To Use

Chris Gampat Bec Fordyce january 2015 portraits others (1 of 1)ISO 4001-250 sec at f - 2.5

Many photographers just getting into working with light specifically are often very confused about what light modifiers to use. But they’re also never quite sure what they should use for the type of work that they’re doing. The true answer is that everyone is making good stuff these days and that very few people will be able to look at an image and immediately tell what light modifiers you’re using in the same way that they won’t be able to tell your camera, lens, etc for the most part.

Instead, it’s all about the type of photo that you’re trying to create.

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Profoto Releases New Collapsible Beauty Dish


Beauty dishes are awesome; but they’ve always been super annoying to carry around because they’re big and not at all collapsible. RingFlash created their own for speedlights a while back, but today Profoto is announcing their own for monolights. Originally called the Profoto Softlight Reflector, it’s now called the OCF Beauty Dish.

This dish isn’t made of metal but instead is made with fabric. It also has a speedring, rods, etc that snap into place. When not in use, it can be collapsed down and put into a bag.

They’re available in White and Silver for only $179; but can only be used with the Profoto B1 or B2 flashes. These are perfectly timed with WPPI 2016.

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The Confusion Behind Modern Light Modifiers for Strobists

ISO 400, 1/100th f2.8

ISO 400, 1/100th f2.8

What do you get when you cross an umbrella, a parabolic umbrella, a softbox, a beauty dish, and an octabank together? You get pretty much every well marketed light modifier that have been coming out in the past couple of years. Yes, there are some traditional softboxes or beauty dish, but they’re not looked at as the best of the best. Those modifiers instead are a cross between so many things.

This makes it so much tougher for the introductory strobists trying to understand how light works and how it falls, but it makes the understanding of it confusing for the experienced shooter too. Many of the more experienced strobists probably have an arsenal of light modifiers–umbrellas, softboxes, etc. They work well and have for years, but there is a very new generation of light modifiers out there that almost promise to be an all-in-one solution.

And for serious lack of better terminology, we’re going to call it the Light Source.

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The Convertible Umbrella: The Most Versatile Light Modifier

ISO 400, 1/100th f2.8

ISO 400, 1/100th f2.8

While many photographers love to work with softboxes, there are many other light modifiers out there. But the single most versatile light modifier out there is the umbrella–and more specifically the convertible umbrella. An umbrella can function as many different light modifiers and the right one can be all you need in your lighting kit. Indeed, it’s a simple to use and very effective light modifier that gives you the most bang for your buck.

To understand why, you’ll need to understand more about how the umbrella works.

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Make a DIY Softbox/Beauty Dish for $2

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 10.39.54 AM

There are lots of really cool hacks that you can do to turn something or another into a softbox or beauty dish. Photographer Trent Dang came up with a very affordable solution using a very underrated reflective material: styrofoam.

By taking a small styrofoam food container (that looks like it’s had a more than adequate amount of cleaning and perhaps bleaching), Trent was able to cut a hole in it, stuff a flash head, add a diffusion sock, and also incorporate a bounce card to add extra diffusion.

Granted, this is something that we’d use only if an actual softbox broke down. Real softboxes are all about specific shaping of the light, add different reflective and diffusion properties and overall just look much more professional. We surely wouldn’t roll up to a wedding with a softbox made of styrofoam and it also wouldn’t be the best constructed thing to use.

Just think: if the DIY Softbox takes a tumble it’s going to shatter into a million pieces. But again, if you need to MacGyver something in a hurry, this isn’t a bad idea.

The video showing you how to make a DIY Softbox/Beauty Dish for $2 is after the jump.

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Making Your Own DIY Beauty Dish

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 9.25.33 AM

Photographer Todd Owyoung specializes in photographing bands and musicians and has for many years now. One of his favorite light modifiers if the beauty dish and years ago, he set out to create his very own that could give him the right amount of light in just the right spot whenever he wanted it. Todd called it the “Chinatown Special”, and I only wish that he actually manufactured and sold them.

However, Todd posted a tutorial a while back on how to create them. Fair warning though: it’s a lot of work.

Beauty dishes are used to give a very fashiony look to a subject while giving soft, diffused light with a bit of an edgy. They’re fun to work with, and we played with a Roundflash’s take on the modifier recently.

His construction inspired by very own hack to make a speedlight work with a beauty dish. This is far easier, but involves using an actual beauty dish.

Todd’s video on how to create a DIY Beauty Dish is after the jump.

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The Best Flash Modifiers For Your Speedlite


While some photographers will tell you to take the flash out of your camera’s hot shoe, others love using it in that position. No matter what you’re doing, the only thing that matters is making sure that the light looks beautiful. This can be done with the flash on the camera or off ot it and the way to do it is usually with a flash modifier of some sort. But there are also a couple of tips and tricks that you can use to make it look even better.

Here are some of the best flash modifiers for your speedlights (speedlites) along with some tips on how to use them.

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