How to Use a Beauty Dish to Create Beautiful Lighting

I love using beauty dishes. They’re my favourite lighting modifiers because they produce awesome results.

They can be picked up with a lighting stand and grid for less than $70. You will notice the difference immediately.

What Does a Beauty Dish Do?

A beauty dish is a light source which is often used for portrait and fashion photography. But you don’t have to specialise in those areas to use them! Beauty dishes are great tools for any photographer.

First of all, the beauty dish is a light source that has a parabolic disk attached to it. The light produced is harder than a soft box but softer than an umbrella. You can also add different modifiers to change how they work.

There are two main ways of using a beauty dish: with or without a grid. The effects are quite different. You’re likely to choose a favourite, but they are both beneficial.

Without a grid, the light bounces into the back of the dish, reflects around the sides and then out the front.

When you include a grid, a similar thing happens. But when the light reaches the edge of the dish, it’s channelled forwards instead of going outwards.

This means that it’s much more focused on one spot. It provides a natural vignette effect. More on that later.

You will need to shoot with your flash off-camera if you want to use a full-sized one. That can be wireless or wired.

You can make the light harder when you use a grid, which you’ll see below, helping to add to the versatility of the modifier.

I recommend a sandbag to anyone who wants to use a beauty dish on a lighting stand. The sandbag will act as a counter weight for the other side of the stand. This way, it doesn’t fall over into your model’s face. They don’t tend to appreciate that too much.

Have a look at these two photos below for comparison. The first photo is without a grid and second is with one.

You’ll notice that, without a grid, the light starts to dim about 18in away from the edge of the grid. This is because of the reflector in the centre. This reflector sends the light back around the edges of the grid.

This effect is the main reason I don’t like using beauty dishes in this way.

In this second photo with the grid, very little light makes it around the side of the beauty dish. Although more light escapes out of the back, the majority is channelled forwards into a single point.

First, let’s have a look at how you may use a beauty dish without a grid. Remember that the light tends to spread farther when it leaves the tool, which is beneficial for larger subjects.

Use a Beauty Dish Without a Grid for Larger Subjects

It’s up to you where you position the beauty dish. I prefer to have it facing down on to the subject. This produces a nice fall-off, allowing you to play with the shadows more.

When the light is facing directly into the face of the model, it’s going to appear harder.

The distance that you place the lighting tool from your subject is also going to create a big difference. The farther away it is, the more the brightness will cover and the softer the light will be.