I am a huge fan of Lindsay Adler. Not just her work, but how she teaches, works, and shares so much with others. I recently discovered her classes on CreativeLive and bought Skin 101 and Posing 101 and have been glued to it every since. One of the lighting modifiers she uses quite frequently is a beauty dish, which is in essence, a large reflector where the flash is inserted into the rear of it. It also has a disk in the center that blocks the light right in the middle so when used up close to your subject’s face you don’t have a big blown out hot spot. Simple and genius.
The one caveat to be aware of is that most of the beauty dishes out there assume you’ll be using a strobe rather than a speedlight, which means the reflector is designed to have the flash’s bulb extend into the rear of the dish and would be broadcasting it’s light in all directions. But when you’re using a speedlight, the light emanates through the flash’s head in one direction and therefore, the light isn’t properly distributed. Luckily there are some beauty dishes that are made specifically for speedlights and the center reflector dish is beveled in towards the speedlight’s flash head to properly reflect all of the light out to the main reflector and on to your subject. I picked up a 20″ RPS Studio beauty dish which is specifically designed for speedlights and comes with a couple of the center reflectors as well as a snap in grid so you can create the light for the exact look you’re going for.
So one thing to keep in mind when using a beauty dish is that they have a “sweet spot” you’ll want to find when it comes to distance from the subject. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to keep it about 1 – 1.5x it’s size from the subject. So for me, using the 20″ RPS dish I have, I keep it between 20″ and 30″ from the subject’s face. The reason being is it’s relative size to the subject where the light’s “softness” and contrast depends on the size of your light source. Just keep it simple and stay within the 1x – 1.5x distance and forget about it.
Whew! Sorry for the long winded technical jargon! Now on to the pictures!
So for my first test run of the dish I put my subject in a chair about 2 feet from the background and put the beauty dish on a stand shooting down from above and slightly off to the camera’s right, keeping it within the “30 inches from my subject sweet spot.” I set the camera at 1/180th of a second shutter speed, and f6.4 which gave me a nice look when used with 1/8th power from my speedlight. Then I just shot away while my subject hammed it up for the camera.
All of these pictures where shot with just the single speedlight beauty dish without any reflectors or additional lights, so the shadows are going to be pretty dark in most cases. My floor is pretty light so I was getting a little fill light reflecting back up, but just something to keep in mind depending on the look you’re going for. A white or silver reflector from below your subject will dramatically open up your shadows if needed.
One of my favorite things about the beauty dish is the catchlights it leaves in the subject’s eyes. They’re big and bold and just add a little sparkle to the scene.
One other thing to consider when you’re metering your exposure from the beauty dish is that the light is very close and falls off fast, so if you’re not careful you will blow out your highlights and/or have some very dark shadow areas, so be sure check out the entire scene and expose accordingly.
So far, I am loving the light from this modifier and will be spending some serious time using it to see what I can make it do. Next up, seeing what light it’ll product with the grid attached.
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