Dramatic studio lighting: Using the beauty dish as a single light source
I love the forgiving nature of large light modifiers – you don’t have such precision with a huge softbox as you do with a smaller, more contrasty light modifier. But you also have less opportunity for dramatic light, as you do with smaller light sources. In line with the idea that a smaller light = harder light = dramatic light, I wanted to create a series of portraits that had a darker, moodier feel.
Brian Calabrese, a photographer friend of mine, met up with me in my studio, and through various iterations of how to position him, and how to place the light, we got to some stunning portraits of him.
In trying to use the beauty dish as a dual light – lighting up Brian’s features, and as spill light on the background – it took careful positioning of the light, and posing of Brian. The beauty dish was on a Manfrotto 025BS boom (affiliate) that was on a light stand with casters. I kept the weight-end of the boom close to me so I could just reach out and adjust the light’s placement. (You can see this in the pull-back shot.)
The beauty dish was on a boom here, since I needed the light to be placed on nearly the same level as Brian. I wanted a dark moody feel from the photo, therefore I asked Brian to turn his gaze downward – and this necessitated the light being positioned lower. We took numerous test shots until we had it just right. Here are a few of the other attempts that show how we changed Brian’s posing and the lighting to finally get to the best setup.
In the final image I used Alien Skin – Exposure 7 – 669 Shadows Cyan, to give the image that blue-ish tone that looks like a cross-processed photo.
Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo session
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II / Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
- Profoto D1 Air 500Ws studio light
- Profoto beauty dish
- Profoto 25 degree honeycomb grid (beauty dish)
- Manfrotto 025BS boom w/ 008BU stand & casters
The large orange object to the edge of the frame, is the counter-weight on the boom to balance the studio flash-head and the beauty dish. That small orange clip in the middle of the frame with the white piece of paper – it’s a note warning anyone to not loosen that handle! Otherwise the entire boom slides down.
- Thoughts on using a beauty dish (light modifier)
- Studio photography: low-key lighting for a dramatic portrait (Randy)
- Portrait photography & studio lighting – influences & inspiration (model: Viktoria)
- Image projection effects in the studio (model: Olena)
- Flash photography: recreating Hollywood Glamor style portraits (Natalie & Chris)
- Studio lighting: smaller light = harder light = dramatic light (model: Anelisa)
Studio lighting workshops
If you are interested in learning more about studio lighting, including lighting for headshots, I offer workshops on studio lighting. The workshops will be held at my studio space in NJ, and it has a wide range of studio lighting gear to play with!
9 Comments, Add Your Own
What is the diameter of this beautydish?
1.1Stan Rogers says
20.5″ (or 52cm). But that’s not hugely important; if you’re not using Profoto flashes, yours may be a little larger or a little smaller without affecting the look too much. (Do note, though, that those little 6″/15cm or 8″/20cm things they sell for speedlights don’t really qualify – they’re more like using a standard reflector on a studio flash.) If you go much bigger (say 70cm or so) it’s usually so that you can pull the light back a bit, keep the “not-quite-hard, not-quite-soft shadows” and all of the definition that implies, but get significantly less fall-off across your subject.
2Keith R. Starkey says
Contrasting light is so under utilized…or at least under-the-table, I think. But when it’s done correctly, it rocks.
3Patti Hale says
Fabulous set of images! Love the dramatic shadows, and the smoke creates the perfect mood. I always like seeing the pull-back shot. Great job, as always. :-)
4Valent Lau says
Always love moody photos.
You do some great work. I have been considering getting a beauty dish for sunset engagement photos on the beach. Any suggestions on the size of the dish and brand?
6Roy Barnes says
Since seeing this series of images I’ve done myself a favour and got myself a copy of Alien Skin Exposure 7. This is one beautiful piece of software and I just love the way it expands upon the possibilities as to how your final image looks. You can tweak all the settings so that you get everything just right. It emulates a lot of films from yesteryear and I really like the way it gives an overview of the looks and applications if you hover the cursor over a particular style.
10/10. Thanks Neil.
7Neil vN says
I only have the Profoto beauty dish which is 20.5″ in diameter.
Most of them range in the 22″ size. But I think if you’re going to work on the beach a lot, then larger than 22″ might be an hinderance.