Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Beauty and the Dish

Beauty Photography is a whole new genre in itself, and deals mainly with lighting the model’s face and hair. It is important to understand how to light to emphazize cheek bones, jaw line etc. Since beauty shots are mainly tight close ups, one most important factor is the catch light in the eyes. Some photogs don't care about it, some go creative with it by using strip lights and ring flash, and some prefer a nice circular catch light. For those who prefer the perfect circle, say hello to the Beauty Dish!

Lets see what a beauty dish is. A beauty dish is a round and semi flat dish campared to the standard reflector and usually comes in medium and large sizes depending on the light company. Simply put, its a light modifier in the shape of a dish, used for lighting beauty shots. Normally, the large size is around 36″ in diameter, and the dish inside is usually white but some companies also make them in silver.  You can use it by simply mounting on the light, or you can diffuse it like the softbox.

Large 55cm Studio Beauty Dish for Alien Bee Alienbees

The beauty dish normally also comes with small metal deflectors with a rod that goes in the umbrella socket of the light. These deflectors reflect the light to the beauty dish which in turn reflects it out on the model, and due to this double bouncing of light, it becomes a tad softer. The deflectors are normally silver, golden or semi transparent plastic.

Elinchrom EL 26169 27-Inch 82 Degree Softlite White Reflector w/Silver & Gold Deflectors

The first image is shot with a medium size (around 18") beauty dish with a diffuser on it. Here we placed the beauty dish close to and just above the models face and tilted down. You can see the reflection of the dish in the shades of the model. We didn't use any deflector in the dish to double bounce the light, and chose the smaller dish to create low key lighting with soft edged shadows. The truth, is...... this same effect can be easily obtained by using a 32deg grid with a diffusing paper on it, or.......just a regular silver bounce umbrella. But then, we wouldn't have got that perfect circular catchlight.

Now, lets increase the size of the dish to 36" along with the distance of it from the model. Again, with just the diffuser cloth on it, but no deflector inside. Take a look at what we get in the image below. The shadows have become much softer around the edges and lighter. The contrast has also reduced compared to the previous image.

Can we make this light softer? Ofcourse yes...lets use the translucent deflector inside the dish, and put the diffuser back on again to double diffuse the light. Take a look below for the result. What we have here, is the perfect soft quality of light, that a beauty dish is famous for, along with nice circular catch lights.

Take one last look at the image below for what kind of light a small dish and silver deflector can give. The quality is so simmilar to a silver bounced umbrella. But the only subtle difference is the ring in the eyes instead of the spider looking reflection of the umbrella!

Okay, before you start craving for a beauty dish in your light arsenal, I would like to dedicate this post to one of the legendary photographer who inspired us with his simple but very artistic portraiture. He assisted another legend Irving Penn in his early days. Yes, we are talking about Michael Thompson! The man truly inspires us with his slick and precisely placed lights. Our title image was inspired from the image below. Notice that he either used a bounce jumbo silver umbrella(the strobe and the boom arm in the centere of the light were cleaned out) or a small parabolic reflector. Such a classic!

Watch Michael in action here shooting Ellen Deneres, here and here shooting Christina Aguilera. Oh yeah, he normally doesn't use a beauty dish, and he shoots Beauty Covers for Allure, GQ and so on. Go figure!

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