I shoot a lot on location and take my gear with me on vacations. This means I need equipment that is portable and as light as possible to stay under the airline baggage weight limits.
One item I love to shoot with is the beauty dish. But how does one travel with a beauty dish when most are large and heavy? I found the perfect solution in the Lumodi 11″ beauty dish manufactured and sold by Brandon Cruz. His website is lumodi.com.
The dish is made of lightweight plastics, aluminum, and thick cardboard for the rear mounting plate where the flash head is attached. It is only 12 1/4 inches in diameter, 3″ deep from front to back, and weighs an astonishing 4 1/2 ounces! Truly this is a dish made to travel!
Here is a picture of the front of the dish. As in most beauty dish designs, behind the white plastic disc in the center is an aluminum deflector the redirects the light from the flash head back into the rear of the bowl. This prevents a central hotspot. :
This is the back of the dish. The cardboard backplate is different for the model one orders to correctly fit and attach the flash head. This version has a round cut out to fit an Elinchrom Quadra flash head. There are two velcro straps in this photo that attach to the flash head.
The dish can be used just like this or with a white diffuser that attaches simply by slipping it over the front of the dish with its sewn-in elastic hem. My own preference is to combine this excellent dish with a grid to restrict the “cone of light” and create more dramatic light falloff. The following picture is of a 30 degree grid custom made by Nick Miletich. The company’s website is honeycombgrids.com.
The grid is made of plastic honeycomb material with a sturdy aluminum frame around the edge. Two velcro “hook” straps are used to attach to the provided self-stick “loop” patches one attaches to the dish. Below is a picture of the dish with the black grid attached.
The beauty of the lightweight combination is that there is no need for any kind of mounting hardware to attach the dish to a light stand. The dish is connected to the strobe itself and then the strobe is mounted to a light stand in its conventional manner. This mounting method is fast to set up and very secure. I have not had any problems with the dish “drooping” out of alignment or falling off. I’ve shaken it vigorously, had it upside-down, and it has held on like a champ!
Let’s look at some different approaches of using the dish with this set up. By the way, all of these examples used the beauty dish with the silver finish on the inside. I have personally come to prefer that finish because it offers a more contrasty look with sharper highlights.
One Light Beauty Dish Set Up
This headshot used a Canon 580 EXII with the beauty dish and grid combination with no other light source. The model was about seven feet from the dish which was just in front of and to the right of the camera. One thing to remember when using a beauty dish is that because it is much more directional and contrasty, one has to be adept at post-process finishing in Photoshop or other software. In Photoshop, I carefully use Gaussian blur. The trick is to apply enough to smooth the skin to remove sharp shadows cast on blemishes or rough spots on the skin without it looking like plastic.
The specular highlighting that is typical of beauty dishes is clearly apparent here. Even though this is a tightly cropped image, the light fall off resulting from the use of the grid (and some intentional post-process vignetting I applied to enhance the effect) is clear.
Two Light Beauty Dish Set Up
Sometimes an accent or hair light is appropriate to add some dimension. The image below was created using an Elinchrom Quadra head with the 11″ beauty dish with grid mounted on a stand to camera left and about three feet to the models. It was aimed and about 45 degrees to the right towards the front model’s face.
A second Elinchrom Quadra head was fitted to a 12″ x 36″ double diffused strip softbox with an egg crate grid. It was positioned on a boom stand about two feet above and behind the models and aimed slightly forward. This ensured limited light spill on the back wall of the set while providing hair and accent lighting.
The specular highlights from the dish combined with the fast light fall off from the grid creates a lot of dimension and mood.
Complex, Multiple Light Beauty Dish Set Up
The following is a more complex application of the beauty dish (Sorry I didn’t take a picture of the set up; I was otherwise disposed as you will soon understand!). Here, my wife hand held a Canon 580EXII with 11″ beauty dish with grid and aimed it at the model’s face from about four feet in front of her and to camera right by about two feet.
In order to not lose detail for the front and lower part of the dress, a second 580EXII with a 24″ double diffused softbox by Cheetah was aimed in that direction. I was holding that setup between my legs while balancing in a very awkward position with my camera (Canon 5D MK II with f1.2 50mm L prime lens).
A third Speedlite was hung from a boom stand above the model to provide a touch of hair light and add a bit of a spot effect on the stairs behind her to separate her dress from the stairs.
All of the Speedlite power settings were set and triggered via a combination of Pocket Wizard TT5 transceivers controlled by a TT1 on camera with an AC3 controller. The shutter speed was set to allow the ambient lights on the walls to be balanced and register in the shot. Unfortunately, the small jpeg image will most likely lose a lot of the dress detail; however, the high resolution version and print both show it clearly.
What this image demonstrates is that one can combine the desired effect of the beauty dish with other light sources to get some very nice results. (Well, I would hope you think it is nice!)
Does Size Matter?
I am going to leave it to the pundits to decide whether an 11″ beauty dish does as well as a 24″ version. However, for the purpose of travel and portability this dish has always delivered and I have never found myself wishing that I had hauled a larger version with me. Here is an example of an image in which I used a 580EX II with the 11″ beauty dish about 15 feet from the model and to camera left. A second 580EX II with a simple diffuser was about 20 feet behind and to the right of the model to provide rim lighting. The shutter speed was then set to allow the ambient lights to register to my liking. I did add some light effects in post process to enhance the two spotlights at the top of the image.
My own conclusion was that if the strobe has enough power when combined with the desired aperture to control depth of field, the quality of light from the 11″ beauty dish is wonderful.
For those of you who are wondering, Lumodi, Honeycombgrids, Elinchrom, or Canon did not ask me to write this article or pay me. I’m writing this because I’ve worked with this lighting approach for some time and feel that it would be helpful to other photographers. I regard the 11″ Lumodi beauty dish combined with Nick Miletech’s grid to be one of my “secret weapons” in my lighting tool kit!