What Photographers Need to Know About Their Beauty Dish

A beauty dish is an excellent tool for photographers who want a soft but punchy look.

We’re pretty sure that the work of most photographers these days is done with a beauty dish of some variant. They are now some of the most popular light modifiers out there. Because of their design, they deliver the best of many worlds. Photographers adore umbrellas for their inefficient light spill. Meanwhile, softboxes are loved for their efficient and soft approach to lighting. But beauty dishes make the best of both worlds. Just like all light modifiers, the bigger they are, the better they can be. So let’s understand a bit more about why they’re so awesome.

The Science Behind the Light

Our cheat sheet infographic explains how beauty dishes work. But here’s a better understanding.

  • A flash goes in the back
  • The flash head fires light at a reflector
  • The reflector spreads the light around the dish
  • The light that has bounced off the reflector and the dish interior finally exits the beauty dish

This gives you a very soft light. We’ve got a lot more on this over here at this tutorial.

“Beauty dishes have one thing in common with all other light modifiers: the larger they are the softer the light output can be. They’ve all got this very dish-like shape. Some are more rounded and off the sides in design (like an umbrella) while others are more about being very direct and forward.”

A quote from Lighting Basics: How to Light Portraits with a Beauty Dish

Using a Beauty Dish

Beauty dishes are fun to use. And quite honestly, all depend on the shape of the person. It also depends on the light you want to deliver. Typically you should start with the middle of the light above the eye level, then have it face down towards them a bit. Take a look at the area the beauty dish is covering. Sometimes it can give off a harsh light that’s really beautiful. The shadows will be dark, and the subject will look really good. Some other tips include positioning the light at a 45 degree or 30-degree angle between you and the subject.

“A beauty dish is in some ways like a softbox and an umbrella. They take light, bounce it off of a plate, let that light reflect back towards the subject and typically don’t control it. Adding a grid or a diffusion sock will target it more, but they’re not usually used this way.”

A quote from Umbrella vs Softbox vs Beauty Dish: Unraveling What Light Modifier to Use

Our favorite beauty dishes are the small collapsible ones like the RoundFlash Dish. They can be put on a light stand pretty easily with a little hot-shoe flash with a radio. That’s sometimes just enough light, and you don’t need anymore. The only significant problems with beauty dishes are their shape. Generally speaking, I’d only use them for lone subjects. I’ve never used them for couples, and I don’t think I ever would unless they’re huge. Umbrellas do a much better job at that. Softboxes can work well too if they’re big enough. But beauty dishes work a bit like umbrellas if you take off the diffusion sock on the front. You’ll need to adjust the power output then.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.