Building a DIY beauty dish

The beauty dish is a light modifier that provides sort of an intermediate result between a soft box and a bare bulb.  The beauty dish has been said to provide a light for beautiful people because it can show all of the imperfections in skin – especially if used wrong.  This is true when used too far away from the person being photographed.  The light is best used close up and just above to the subject.    The beauty dish allows for a bit of a dead spot in the middle helping to avoid hot spots on the face, The last statement has been proven to be a bunch of crap… please see this post to get that whole “dead spot good” thing cleared up… arghhhh – now back got to rest of the story… creates a neat light and soft fall off shadows. Some pretty cool portraits use this light modifier thought most of the “Pro” (read expensive) beauty dishes are at least 22” and many are larger.

Like I said, beauty dishes can be expensive…I’m cheap.  So I went the Do It Yourself (DIY) route.  I actually built one before but it was flimsy and I was always afraid my speed light would fall out and it was only about 12 inches across so that made the light even more harsh.

I stumbled on an 18” wooden bowl, actually I think its bamboo compressed in the shape of a bowl and that got the whole thing started.   This is sort of an Open Source beauty dish because it’s the result of combining several different DIY beauty dish projects that I’ve seen on the web and Flickr.  To make my version you need the following stuff…

Supplies

1.    A Big bowl – mine came from a pottery store of all places. (Potters world)
2.    A CD holder with a smooth rimless outer shell mine is the medium size 25 CDs I believe. In the final version I nixed the CD holder.  I used the base but the clear part just wasn’t adjustable and my light wasn’t smooth.  I continued to use the base though. (my office)
3.    A convex  3.75” wide angle round mirror (Wal-Mart)
4.    A 5” paintable wall guard (Wal-Mart)
5.    A plastic gutter downspout connector (Lowes)
6.    A silver CD (coaster from my office)
7.    A “L” bracket (Wal-Mart)
8.    4 – ½ long inch bolts and nuts size #20 (Wal-Mart)
9.    2 – ¾ inch bolts ¼ inch size (Wal-Mart)
10.    8 matching pan washers and 2 rubber washers. (Wal-Mart)
11.    Primer spray paint  – white primer is probably best (Wal-Mart)
12.    High gloss Flat white spray paint. (Wal-Mart)
13.    Matte black spray paint – I used Krylon (Wal-Mart)

Tools

1.    Drill and several bit sizes
2.    Dremel tool with saw attachment
3.    Fine grain (220) sand paper
4.    Thread cutter (optional)

How to

First thing is to get that bowl ready.  The one I used was covered in a lacquer that I was worried wouldn’t hold paint.  So I sanded it with the 220 sandpaper on both the front and the back.  Next, I sprayed the entire thing with primer.  Actually I did two coats of primer.  Once I had the entire thing covered with primer I sprayed the inside of the bowl with high gloss flat white paint and then the outside with the matte black.  I did the back last to try and reduce over spray and make a nice cut from black to white.  I didn’t want it to look too DIY.  :)

Next is working on the reflector base.  This required that I cut a hole in the bottom of the CD holder to match the gutter downspout.  I used a utility knife (the Dremel may have been a better choice) and went slow.  Once it was cut and trimmed I used the silicon to adhere the gutter and base of the CD case together.

diy-pic-1-cut-the-lens-hole-dont

UPDATE: Okay this is the part that really didn’t happen the way that I thought it would when I started this project. in the end, the CD hold just didn’t cut it because the reflector needed to be adjustable so I could get good smooth light.  To see that modification you need to go here and then you can come back and see the rest of the mounting bracket.

Now it’s time to build the reflector itself.  This was pretty easy.  My convex mirror had sticky tape on it so I stuck it to the center of the CD with the shiny side of the CD showing along side the mirror. Then siliconed the CD and mirror to the inside of the CD holder plastic.  The last step is to attach the door guard to the back of the CD case.  This is not really functional but it sure makes it look nicer.  Now you’re ready to join the base and the reflector for the first time. Of course you might want to stick your flash in there and see how it works – I did!

this picture really isn't correct anymore since I ditched the use of the CD case.  See the linke above to see how the adjustable reflector is created.
this picture really isn’t correct anymore since I ditched the use of the CD case. See the link above to see how the adjustable reflector is created.

UPDATE: Okay, we’re back!  The rest of the mounting bracket info is still good.

Once you have let everything dry you cut the hole for the CD base in the bowl.  I used the Dremel for this.  I then drilled holes in the CD base through the bowl and bolted them together.  I threaded the “L” bracket to hold a 5/8” spigot for mounting flash shoe to hold the flash solidly.  Remember I was worried with my old beauty dish that the flash would fall.  Then it’s time to attach the mounting “L” bracket to the bowl.  I did this somewhat by feel.  I set the bracket on the bowl with the flash attached in place in the downspout.  Then I marked through hole in the bracket onto the bowl with a sharpie.  I drilled this hole and loosely bolted the bracket in place.  Because the bowl is not flat I found I had to remove and bend the bracket.  This took a couple tries because I didn’t want to go to fast or far and have to bend it back.   One done I drilled the second hole and bolted it all in place with the large flat pan and rubber washers.  Tightened everything up and it was time to attach it to a light stand.   Here’s the final result.

I may still add some reflective aluminum tape to the CD base because it’s likely some light is being lost or at least not reflected back off of the black base.  Since I’m using speed lights I need all the light coming back out I can get.   The only other thing is I might paint the washer you can see in the front of the bowl so it matches but that’s just about aesthetics.

I’ll try and get a volunteer to do some head shots and post them soon.  In a previous post I used the dish to light some small objects on a white background it worked well for that.  I added a “white shirt” diffuser too and it make softer yet.   At 18” that’s a pretty big light source for a small object so it’s really very soft light.

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Comments

  1. Ed Ramos says

    WHOA! This is an awesome DIY! Looks like I have another project to add to my weekend.

  2. barold says

    I’ve been planning to do one up for a while, but just haven’t found the bowl. My next locale will be the restaurant supply shops…

    Thanks for a great post!

  3. benji says

    Do you make your own cameras and lenses too?

    From Tom: Hey, Benji – now that’s a good idea!!! I think I’m gonna start looking for an old Coke bottle to start grinding on.

  4. says

    Looks good! I found a “bowl” like that at Home Depot. I think they are intended for use under a large planter or pot. I also drilled a hole in the bowl just under the lip and put a 3/8th” bolt there so I could attach to it instead of using an “L” bracket. I also added a 20″ round diffuser from Alien Bees.

  5. Alex from Germany says

    Looks great. Congratulations!
    One thing I don’t get and what’s not clear from the pictures to me is what’s in front? In the back we have the bowl with the CD-Mirror on the inside. And in front?
    English is not my first language so I might have missed a clue…
    thanks!!!

    @Alex: I’ll post some pictures to show the detail, but the white round thing is a 5″ (about 50cm) plastic wall protector. I stuck the mirror to it and drilled holes for 3 mounting bolts.

  6. loic says

    what is the “gutter downspout” ? does they come in different sizes, and could find one that fit the flash ? what is their intended used ?

    thanks,

  7. says

    Hey, just came across this through DH’s site. Great job man. New project for me.

    Like Alex from Germany, I don’t actually understand how the focusing works using the plastic wall protector. Any chance of sending me some detail shots?

    Thanks very much. Again, great stuff.

    @Paul: working on the details now…gotta tell you, I didn’t see this coming so I’m playing catchup! Should have the post up later tonight with the details. Tom

  8. Joe says

    Looks great! One question though: so the light diffuses through the CD holder? You said that you nixed this in the final version though, so how did you attach the mirror to the base? Thanks.

    @Joe: No, the center ring is not a diffuser. It is all reflector! Between the convex mirror and a blank CD the entire surface is reflective! I’m working on a post with the details but took time to update some comments! Tom

  9. Patrick says

    I built one like this using a planting bowl from home depot, but I can’t find a down spout like that anwyhere! Anyone want to send me one?

    @Patrick: I found mine at Lowes. It was back in the builder’s section with the other gutter stuff. It is just the right size for my Nikon SB-800 or SB-600. Tom

  10. says

    Thanks for sharing! I’m looking forward to putting one of these together over the holidays.

    I like the idea of a woven bowl (strong, lite). I couldn’t find one locally, but I did find a 20 inch one on-line at:

    http://www.foodservicewarehouse.com/update-international/wsb-20/p330095.aspx

    It’s about $13 with shipping. I haven’t received it yet. Hopefully 20″ is large enough. How large was your bowl?

    As described, I found the convex mirror in the Wal-Mart automotive section, and I found the wall guard at Home Depot.

  11. Dave says

    Hi There
    Thanks for the great DIY beauty dish.
    Can you tell me how you configured your mounting studs. It appears the upper one has two male threaded ends?
    One end going to the hot-shoe adapter, the other to the threaded L-bracket. The lower one only requires 1 threaded end for the L-bracket? How did you thread the L-brackets – with a tap?
    Where did you get the studs, and how much were they?

  12. says

    Dave,

    You’re right. The top spigot (stud) does have two male threaded ends and so does the bottom one. I was lucky enough to have a tap that was the right size to thread the L-Bracket. The best place I’ve found to get spigots are from FlashZebra. You can find spigots here. Lon, the guy who runs Flashzebra is a really helpful guy. I recommend you email him. He’ll help you get what you need.

    Good luck,

    Tom

  13. Zoomer says

    That is a very cool dish. Thanks for putting up the DIY plans. They’re very good. Would you consider selling these dishes?

  14. says

    I’ve been asked several times if I would sell these dishes or put together a kit. I’m thinking about it but it’s a bigger job than you might expect.

    Tom

  15. says

    Hey Jon,

    You’ve done a great job! I’m working on a 2.0 version of the dish myself and you’ve incorporated many of the same changes I considered. Tell me, how stable is the dis on just one bolt for the mounting bracket? I was concerned it would spin or not be able to support itself.

    You are also right about not needing the CD case base. It was an artifact from the first version using the CD case to hold the mirror. My 2.0 version eliminates the base too.

    You did a great job with the dish but I’d really like to see some shots of it aimed at the wall to see how the fall off looks. Although, looking at the pictures you posted I suspect it’s going to be very nice!

    Good work!

    Tom

  16. says

    Hey Tom,

    Working a bit more with the beauty dish last evening and found that combined with a ringlight modifier (also for SB-800), it’s pretty sweet! Posted a couple new images with the combo here: http://jchphotography.wordpress.com/ (Scroll down to the second post). SB-800 w/beauty dish to camera left and slightly above Cat’s eyeline, and ringlight adapter for on-axis fill to take care of the shadows under the brim of her hat.

    Jon

  17. C.R. Brown says

    Hello Tom, I thought this would make a good project so I ran with it using a few different materials but keeping it basically the same. Thanks for the idea and this was a great DIY project for the down time. Although it ended up taking longer and I had to procure some tools but thats never a bad thing. :)

    Here’s some shots of what I put together. http://www.flickr.com/photos/crbrown/sets/72157612683822489/

  18. C.R. Brown says

    A couple other things.

    I omitted using a CD, not sure why it’s needed or even how you were able to drill through one and not have it crumple up. I went through 3 and stopped. I mounted my mirror with some velcro incase it breaks i can easily change it or take it off to clean it or travel with the dish. Also my first go at using adhesive (Dulco Cement) ended with it coming off as I was fitting everything together before paint. I could mount some reflective tape if needed but I dont see any reason to.

  19. Licssoiceewhj says

    lightandpixels.com – now in my rss reader)))
    ————————

  20. Kyle Jackson says

    What parts from FlashZebra did you end up ordering? The gold pin that connects the hotshoe and stand?

  21. says

    The shoe was ordered from Flashzebra. In the next release of the Beauty Dish, I’m moving to an adjustable system for mounting the shoe. This will allow the dish to fit more speed lights.

    BTW – I can’t say enough good things about Lon at FlashZebra.com. He is all about customer service and somehow he has been able to get things to me in only a couple of days. I’m not sure how he does that and I don’t know that he can get stuff everywhere so fast but he constantly amazes me.

  22. Phi says

    Great detailed instructions, I’ll make one too.

    One suggestion: You don’t need the plastic downpour spout. It was there originally, I think, because it happens to hold the speedlight tightly, but if you mount the speedlight on the L bracket, I don’t see the need for the spout.

    Of course, you have mentioned a way to make the speedlight mount adjustable, I have a similar idea, although mine is to make the L bracket adjustable with a tightening screw.

    Also, the base of the bowl has a ridge/rim, if you cut this ridge/rim and fit the L bracket, then you only need 1 mounting screw, and the bowl still won’t spin around.

  23. says

    Phi,

    Great ideas, thank you! I’ve been testing without the downspout and tend to agree with you as long as the flash can get inside the bowl. Otherwise, there is a lot of light lost out the back and it spills everywhere. I’ve been working to make the dish much more adjustable with the idea that it should fit lots of different speed lights and not having the gutter connection is key to making that work!

    I also like your idea about the bracket mounting. I’ll need to experiment with that. Thanks again for your suggestions. I really like the DIY Beauty Dish being an Open Source project and this is the kind of input that makes all the difference, keep the ideas coming!

    Tom

  24. ed says

    quick question for everyone here – what’s the distance between the bottom of the bowl to the convex mirror or diffuse plate? thanks in advance.

  25. says

    Hi Ed,

    The mirror on my setup was pretty close – I say an inch and 1/2. The big key though is that you make it adjustable. I think the dish, the flash, and the their relative position will all make each dish different. The best thing I can recommend is that you test the results and adjust to taste!

    Have fun and let me know when you make some pictures. I’d love to post them on the page for the readers.

    Tom

  26. says

    Hi, great article!

    I was doing some research on using different varieties of white or silver spray paint on my giant cheapo cardboard bounce panels and I’m curious why you struck out “high gloss” for “flat white”.

    Did you have different observations with those?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Comment! The beauty dish is a light modifier that provides sort of an intermediate result between a soft box and a bare bulb.  The beauty dish has been said to provide a light for beautiful people because it can show all of the imperfections in skin – especially if used wrong.  This is true when used too far away from the person being photographed.  The light is best used close up and just above to the subject.    … Some pretty cool portraits use this light modifier thought most of the “Pro” (read expensive) beauty dishes are at least 22” and many are larger. [via Light and Pixels] [...]

  2. [...] for strobes, but i found a DIY solution for a strobe-fitting beauty dish online awhile back (here), and made one since i really loved the results they give, which i found out about while assisting a [...]

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