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