thoughts on using a beauty dish as a single light source
A beauty dish is one of those light modifiers that sound attractive just by name already. And when photographers start exploring other options than direct off-camera flash and umbrellas or a softbox, a beauty dish is usually one of the first alternate light modifiers that catches attention. Mine too. Right after I bought my first Profoto kit, I purchased a beauty dish for it and started exploring using a beauty dish.
A beauty dish is ideally used at a closer distance for portraits, with the light “focused” on the face, creating a gradient where the light rapidly falls off between the lighter and darker areas – yet looks soft where the light is focused. But there’s more to it than that – a beauty dish is best used with a grid to help control the light. Or used with a sock, but then the beauty dish acts very much like a round softbox, and some of its specific qualities are lost.
Quite a few of the softbox options for speedlights offer a way to create a beauty dish-like effect. An example is the Westcott Rapid Box Octa Softboxes (B&H), as mentioned in the review: Westcott Rapid Box 26″ Octa Softbox. You can take the front diffuser off, and add the Westcott 2030-DP Deflector Plate (B&H), turning it into a beauty dish of sorts. But the same limitations appear.
Looking at the portrait of David above, you’ll notice a semi-circular band of light to the left. This is because, even though the light from the beauty-dish-ified softbox focuses light on him, there is light that spills from the edge of the speedlight. The detail photo of the Westcott RapidBox will explain it better …
This is how the light is spread with the deflector plate in the middle. The light is now bounced into the octa-box, giving nearly a beauty dish type of light.
However, when you move to the side, you’ll see there is direct light spilling from the speedlight. This is what caused that semi-circular band of light. Hard direct flash.
This pull-back shot will show the circular spill light better. And there is also a comparison photo of the available light, with the aperture opened up to f/4 instead of the f/5.6 used in the final images with the softbox.
With the final images of David, I was able to use that spill light for effect, by controlling the composition.
photo gear (and equivalents) used during this photo session
Nikon D4 (B&H)
Nikon 24-70mm f2.8G AF-S (B&H / Amazon) / Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II (B&H / Amazon)
Nikon SB-910 speedlight (B&H / Amazon) / Canon 600EX-RT speedlite (B&H / Amazon)
Westcott Rapid Box – 26″ Octa Softbox (B&H / Amazon)
Manfrotto 1052BAC lightstand (B&H / Amazon)
using a beauty dish in the studio as a single light source
While the above example was shot with a speedlight softbox that was adapted, let’s have a look at what a beauty dish does in the studio when used as a single light source.
In this first example, it was just the Profoto beauty dish on Anelisa, with no grid or sock on it. The pull-back shot shows the placement relative to her. The light on her face has the typical light of a beauty dish (for that distance) … but if you look at her hands, you’ll notice a much harder light.
On the closer portrait here, you’ll notice how the light on her face is different than on her hands … which was the direct flash from the flash-head in the beauty dish.
The next example shows the effect of the beauty dish with a sock over it. Now the light is much more even, and there is none of the direct flash spilling from the edge.
To avoid this effect of the direct flash spilling from the edge, you need to shoot a tight portrait with the beauty dish … or use a sock, such as the diffuser sock (B&H) for the beauty dish; or use a grid, such as the Profoto 25 degree honeycomb grid (B&H). The grid will contain that light, but still keep the essential look of the beauty dish.
Then of course, a beauty dish makes a lot of sense used in a multiple-light setup in the studio, adding an accent to the light on your subject’s face. And we’ll come back to that in follow-up articles in the future.
Profoto beauty dish and accessories