I use a Beauty Dish exclusively as my light modifier of choice, now indoors and out. The Beauty Dish magically enhances skin and makeup pigments, making it the perfect choice as a main or primary fill. The design versatility of e-Photo’s new 16″ Beauty Dish can be utilized to achieve stunning results every time. Now accompanied with my new secret weapon, I’m unstoppable in the field…
The principles of shooting outdoors are identical to that of a studio. The environmental challenges can be infinite and extreme., but the pain of it all is so rewarding once you have pulled off that perfect shot. Nothing from the studio can compare to that killer outdoor shot.
Why Use a Beauty Dish?
About two years ago a photographer from New York wrote me on ModelMayhem to ask me how I get such wonderful skin effects in Photoshop. I wrote her back and explained, since I specialize in Beauty Photography I am very selective of the models and makeup artists I use when working on my own portfolio. Plus I use a Beauty Dish for everything I shoot, Beauty, Fashion, Glamour, Everything! She promptly wrote me back, calling me a lair. Two years later, I am still laughing hysterically over that. You just can’t help some people….
I can’t really explain the technical reasons why, but the Beauty Dish has several unique lighting characteristics. There is just something in the way it illuminates makeup pigments and adds a radiant glow to skin, even average to poor skin. I’ve heard it said “it’s the quality of my beauty models and professional makeup artist”. Yes, this really helps, but I have also seen these magical effects on regular people too.
Miracles do not come easily; the Beauty Dish does have a learning curve. I studied with a master and it required a year to find the Sweet Spot. Then one day it hit me and now the light is more of an addiction. With practices and a little experimentation you should be able to master it in no time. I hope to relate enough hints to start you well on your way to success. I have two Beauty Dishes, a 22″ white dish from Alien Bees and a 16″ Strobist silver reflective dish from ePhoto. You can read more about studio usage in my original article Shooting With the Beauty Dish. In this article we are going to be talking about the new ePhoto Strobist Beauty Dish and it’s usage as a fill light in outdoor situations.
The Beauty Dish itself
The e-Photo 16″ Strobist Beauty Dish I am using in this tutorial has a matte silver finish and comes with a diffuser sock/cover. The beautifully designed flash hot shoe bracket and standard 3/8″ light-stand mount attaches easily to your equipment. A set of optional grids are available with a package deal or sold separately. The manufactures website markets this specifically for a Canon 550-XL or a Nikon SB-800. Besides my SB-600/800′s I have used this dish with SunPacks and Vivatar portable flashes, with and without the added height of TTL cables, optical and radio slave triggers, etc. e-Photo also offer’s the 16″ model (and a 22″ white Beauty Dish) with or without the Strobist bracket, priced accordingly of course.
The 16″ Beauty Dish has quickly become a valued piece of equipment in my favored arsenal. I have removed the Strobist bracket and attached the Beauty Dish to my Alien Bees 1600. It fits perfectly. The light from the silver dish is amplified greatly in comparison to that of my 22″ white Beauty Dish. Packing any Beauty Dish for transport into the field is difficult. It’s so sweet to only pack a few small Speedlites and not a couple of Bees and the Vagabond. It really makes a day trip into the field much easier.
I have noticed a slight color shift towards magenta (+ 0.7), which is easily corrected in Camera RAW. This may be common to all silver Beauty Dishes. This is the first silver dish I have used. It took me two or three shoots to accustom myself to the amplified lighting characteristics (jumping from the 22″ white dish). I really love using this with my lesser powered equipment, both in the field and studio.
For the purpose of this article I powered the Beauty Dish with a Nikon SB-800. I connected the SB-800 directly to my camera via a 33′ iTTL cable available from this Amazon. (pictured above, bottom). The cable took forever to come from China, but it is a necessity in my growing location bag. Amazon has the best deals of either version for: Canon and Nikon, usually delivered to your doorstep within days…
Let’s Get to Our First Look:
Whenever shooting outdoors, I like to think of the sun as my Main, and the Beauty Dish (softbox, reflector, whatever) as my fill. Quite often I like to use the sun as my rim or hair light (key light). Since we are using the sun as our main source, positioning becomes critical. Obviously you can not move the sun, so you will need to position yourself and your model with respect to the sun, when composing the photograph. Just as you would set up your studio lighting for the first time. Position the main, evaluate, then position your fill and finally key lights.
Shooting mid day (high sun) used to be something I avoided like the plague. Now I simply head for a shaded setting and setup my fill lighting.
My first shot is a simple one light shot. I used my softbox in this case because the spread is greater then would have been with the beauty dish. I placed the softbox about 2′ to my left. Another goal and to further complicate this shot, I wanted the dress to flow. I achieved this with a slower shutter speed and a higher aperture. According to my cameras META Data I was shooting at 45th of a second at f-16, using a 18-70mm Nikkor zoom lens.
Photo B. In the second attempt I moved four feet to my right and had Lula May lean forward a few inches into her own shadow. Now we’re in flattering light, but I still require fill light to soften the harsh shadows. I wanted my Beauty Dish above her aimed downwards, but I only have a light weight 6′ light-stand and she wanted to pose on top of the fence. To obtain the height I needed I setup the Beauty Dish on top of my car, parked about 18′ away. I used a backdrop light-stand to setup my softbox close to the ground, aiming upward. I configured my softbox 1/2 stop under.
Photo C. As with any typical Northern California day the fog rolled in mid afternoon. Most photographers love shooting in moderate to heavy cloudy weather. The ambient light is even and fill is not always required. I really love shooting in this condition, but I always use a fill to add that “pop” my style requires. If you look closely at my models right arm (far side) you will notice the light from the beauty dish casts a harsher shadow.
NOTE: I used the same lighting diagram in both photos (B. & C.) Please note I was using the Beauty Dish only in Photo C. The distance of approximately ten feet between the model and Speedlite is the same.
Shooting at the beach:
Shooting at the beach is always fun, but can also have its own special difficulties and challenges. I use a little trick I learned through the years at the beach. I deliberately underexpose by one stop, and then compensate by overexposing one stop with my fill flash. By doing this, I am able to over-saturate the water and sky, which are usually washed out. The flash will bring my main subject into the light of center stage.
I had Rick, the Makeup Artist hold my Beauty Dish about eighteen feet from my model, 5′ to my right. I needed to make sure the wind did not blow over the light-stand or sink in the wet sand. We both move forward and back to avoid the waves. Connecting the camera to the SB-800 with an iTTL cable really paid off in this challenging situation. According to my META DATA I was about 12′ to 18′ from my model, shooting in Auto mode. ISO 100, f-8 at 250th of a second with a Nikon D200 and a Nikkor 50mm lens.
Conditions change fast in Northern California. The fog, the tide and the wind can change your situation within seconds, you really need to pay attention. Shooting close to the shoreline is always a major concern because I did not wish to lose any equipment to the Pacific Ocean.
The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful (and Why).
The three examples above all exhibit challenges of there own. Let’s take a closer look at the complexities of each image and how I manipulated them to my own advantage.
Photo A. In our cover shot I wanted to minimize the reflection on the sunglasses and the shadows on the far side. I needed to prove to myself that I could get that studio quality lighting out of this thing. And I did…. I had to relearn or tweak my lighting style when shooting outdoors with Speedlights. In the studio I’m after the feathered “edge” light from the Beauty Dish and I never use grids. I have started using grids outdoors and quite often the center of the lights beam.
I used steep angles in my lighting to emulate the illusion of the sun. Furthermore by using steep angles I am assured the shadow will cast below the model and off camera. You should also note the distance between my model and the Beauty Dish and the distance from the model to the cliff. I eliminated the harsh shadows immediately behind her by posing her 2’ away from the cliff. By placing my main 18′ away gave me a softer, flattering lighting effect on the model. It’s that flattering, radiant glow that comes so naturally in the studio. Experiment with placement on your own, you will notice flattering light (the Sweet Spot) from about ten to twenty feet from your subject. Never overexpose with a Beauty Dish, you’ll loose that special quality. You are better off underexposing by one third to a half stop then overexposure any amount.
I had to relearn or tweak my lighting style when shooting outdoors with Speedlights. In the studio I’m after the feathered “edge” light from the Beauty Dish and I never use grids. I have started using grids outdoors and quite often the center of the lights beam.
Photo B. I included this shot taken with an on camera popup flash to illustrate a point about shadows.
Let’s talk a minute about why fill flash is so important. Regardless of the Beauty Dish, bare bulb, or even a simple reflector. Cameras are made for the masses. I. E. right handed people. To take a vertical picture it is only natural to rotate the camera counter clockwise, to the left. Fig A. It is more comfortable and provides better stability when taking the picture. Notice how my popup flash’s light travels across Lula May’s body, casting an accentuated shadow on the shower wall. Many of us call this a Polaroid, Snapshot, whatever, it looks very amateurish and IMHO looks horrible!!
In this case it was easy, quick, and it really had no effect on the final outcome,since it was going to be cut out and manipulated heavily in photoshop. We have all seen this effect and thought very little of the photographer showing it.
While we we’re walking back to the studio, we came across this door. I love the texture and intricate pattern on the door’s iron work. We decided to try a quick beauty shot. Fig B. It was not practical to setup a fill, it was the popup, on camera flash or nothing… Notice I rotated my camera to the right, clockwise. Yes it was very uncomfortable and difficult to hold and control the camera, but the light path was flattering.
I have always used at least one fill light when forced outside of the studio. Now with my trusty Speedlite and 16″ Beauty Dish I really enjoy using the world as my studio!!
Photo C. Shooting in tall grass is something I love shooting especially in the spring.
Lighting this shot was pretty simple and straightforward. I put the Beauty Dish on my short stand and down in the grass. I knelt above the Beauty Dish, with Lula May down in the grass. The tall grass did cause a slight color shift which was easily corrected in Camera RAW.
When I’m using a Beauty Dish outside, I am not as concerned with the feathered light as I am in the studio, but I generally underexpose by a third of a stop. In the twilight hours or very thick fog, I do feather the light beam, but not when shooting during the dreaded “no shoot” hours – 10:am till 3:30pm. I am sure you all heard the golden rule about shooting outdoors; Sunrise to 10:am and then again from 4:pm until sunset?
If you have read my Shooting With A Beauty Dish article you have heard me say over and over “It’s the feathered light that makes this awe inspiring light modifer so desirable”.
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I'm a Northern California Professional Photographer, based just outside San Francisco California. I specialize in commercial product advertizing and architectural. I have been working with Bay Area modeling agencies for more then 10 years, shooting portfolio development for models and high-end makeup artists. I am highly creative and always unique. I shoot cutting edge projects in the studio and on location. Dave
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