How does that beauty dish adjust anyway?

How does that beauty dish adjust anyway?  That’s the big question and it’s the thing I did not explain it very well.  So here goes.  Really, it is just a built up mirror on three bolts that can slide in and out of the dish.  The big thing is that each dish is likely to be different and you’ll have to find the sweet spot for your mirror/dish combination by adjusting, test shooting, adjusting and test shooting until you’ve got it working the way you want. I was surprised at how close I had to move the mirror (about 1 inch / 10 cm) out was the final resting place.  I found that to be very counter intuitive.  I really wanted to move it out further, but closer in was the right answer.  You can see the results of the testing this earlier post.

Also, before I go much further I want to give credit to Flickr users Jon_Senior and Stargate001 for helping me get this right.  They and others were key in this Strobist discussion thread to helping me get this dish working well.  I really believe in the Strobist community.  It is by far the most giving group I’ve ever encountered - YOU STROBISTS ROCK!

Alright, before we go too much further, I need to clear up one little question that keeps coming up.

The question is – does the thing in the front diffuse the light? The answer is, no.  This dish is all about the reflector.   The thing in front is actually a 5″wall door stop that mounts the mirror/reflector. I got mine at Walmart.

Convex mirror and wall door stop. No CD is shown here… you know what that’s all about. :)

How it was put together:

The wall door stop has it’s own adhesive to attach itself to the wall.  I used that adhesive and some silicone caulking to attach a blank CD (make sure you’ve got a plain silver CD not one of the purple or blue ones) and then a  3 and 3/4″ convex mirror (The ones pictured are actually from different attempt at a beauty dish that didn’t turn out as well).  By the time I put this version of the dish together I had removed the black plastic backing on the mirror seen in this picture because I thought it might make some kind of weird shadow or something.

Once you’ve got the wall stop, the CD, and the convex mirror attached together with the silicone it’s time to drill holes for the mounting bolts.  I used three bolts.  Be careful drilling the holes.  Sometimes the CD wants to shatter and you should wear eye protection just to be safe.  Once the holes are in place, run the bolts through some washer and put nuts on the CD side to hold them in place.   I then put another set of nuts on to act as adjustment stops.

Once it’s all built up the reflector looks like this.

Be sure and see there two nuts on the bolt one holds it together and the other acts as a stop for the adjustment and as a way to keep the adjustment steady.
This is the front (outside) of the reflector with the bolts in place. Note the washers to spread the bolt’s contact point.

The dish with the reflector removed looks like the picture below.  Note that the base of the CD case is still in place as is the gutter downspout.  I’ve bolted the downspout in with small bolts and covered it all with reflective tape that came with my Strobist kit from MPEX.  You can see the holes where the three bolts go through the base.  I don’t know that you need the base, but I was there when I backed out of using the plastic CD case because it was making some ugly light.  Really, the adjustability of this dish is all about quality of light.

The bolt below the CD base is the one of two that hold the dish up. The other bolt is under the reflective tape. On the backside of the dish you can better see the other bold and nut. Once again, I’ve to a washer to distribute the pressure of the bolt and nut. I really need to paint the nut and bold white just so it will look nicer.

Okay, here is the back side of the dish with the bolts sticking out and locked into place after adjustment.

In this shot with the speed light removed you can really see the mounting bracket. You can also see the gutter part and the nuts and bolts that hold the mirror in place.
You can see how close the mirror had to be mounted to get the nice even light. I was surprised how close it had to be to get the right effect.

I hope this has been helpful to those of you building one of these in the future.  Things I learned that others may benefit from:

  1. The bamboo bowl is a really nice choice for the bowl. Light, strong, big, cheap, and takes the paint well.
  2. Don’t use gloss white inside the bowl – use a flat white paint. I like spray paint though.
  3. If you can thread the metal it’s the best way to mount the spigot.
  4. The CD case is not a really good way to go.  It dims the light and most importantly it can’t be adjusted to your bowl.
  5. A good place to get parts for the mounting bracket (spigot and shoe) is from Lon at Flashzebra.  He’s amazing good, fast, and helpful.

Thank you all for taking time to look.  I hope you’ll keep watching the blog and giving me tips when you can.  Please look for me on Flickr as Sportrait – I really like sports portraits and they were the reason I built this dish in the first place.  There are a few sports portrait examples posted on my Flickr page and several more here on Light and Pixels too.    Thanks again and keep in touch I’ll be posting some really nice stuff over Christmas so keep an eye out for that.




  1. Dave says

    Greetings Tom,
    Thank you very much for this creative AND professional looking DIY beauty dish!

    Looking at the construction as an outsider and thinking about alternatives, I’m wondering about a few details. Could I attach the downspout directly to the bowl (with hot glue?) and bypass the CD-R holder base completely? Is the point of the CD-R coaster on the reflector to add rigidity and a some reflectivity? If I were to attempt to build this (or you to build another one), would it make sense to do all of the drilling and majority of the assembly before painting? I’m just thinking that the downspout and dish mounts will all be painted flat white this way.

    Thanks again for sharing and spending lots of time documenting this build.

  2. Eric says


    This design is awsome. Great work. It looks like your design calls for a nut on either side of the dish to keep the reflector in place. Have you considered a placing loose spring on the bolts between the reflector and dish and wing nuts on the backside to speed up the adjusting process?

    Nice work. Thanks for all the effort to share the design.


  3. says


    That is an excellent Idea! I may try and incorporate that in the next version. It’s cold here in Ohio so I can see that I might have time tow work on a new Mark II model sometime soon!



  4. Eric says


    Can’t wait to see the next commercial release of your Mark II design.


  5. says

    I have taken a stab at building my own beauty dish using these plans, but I have hit a couple snags that I thought I’d share.

    The first snag I hit was drilling through the CD/door stop. I didn’t have any issues with CD cracking (I took it slow), however the problem I had was once my drill got through the plastic of the CD, and reached the shiny, paper thin reflective material on the CD. I’m referring to thin layer of reflective material that you’re writing on when you label a CD, and the flip side is actually where the data is stored on a CD. As soon as my drill hit this layer of material (not sure what to call it) it started tearing it away from the CD. After having drilled 3 holes, the damage was too bad to salvage this attempt. Maybe it was simply my brand of CD (Maxwell). I’m going to try again, but I have a feeling factory pressed CD (non burnable) would be better. This will also give a better reflection because they are more mirror-like, and because even the “clear” burnable CD’s often have a very slight tint of green or blue to the plastic.

    The other problem I discovered was with using the caulk to seal the mirror/CD/wall door stop. Once I scrapped my 1st attempt with drilling the CD, I had to pry apart the mirror/CD/doorstop so I could try to re-use the mirror and doorstop. What I noticed is that, despite letting the caulk dry for about a week, only the caulk at the edges dried. Everything in the middle was still as wet as the day I applied it. I assume this is because it had no air touching it to dry it out. As this seal isn’t bearing much weight, it was still strong enough to hold it together with the small amount of seal it had around the edges, but I was thinking next time it might be better to use super glue, or something that starts drying much faster.

    Hope this helps!

  6. says


    Excellent input. Thank you for your observations. I used silicone rather than caulk. I think they are different but you may be right about the use of superglue. For CDs I used a pretty cheap off-brand version and it drilled okay. I hope others will provide input like you. If you have photos from your dish let me know, I’d like to see them!


  7. says

    I actually did use silicone, I just mistakenly said caulk because it’s in a caulk tube. My next attempt used superglue, which seems to work well enough, but the problem with superglue is that (as always) it dries so incredibly fast, it’s difficult to apply the glue fast enough, and still have time to set it. I managed, and I still think it’s an improvement over the silicone, but it would have been nice with something that sets a tiny bit slower. Maybe rubber cement?

    I also did a little homework on the CD issue realized that the manufactured CD works even better than I initially thought. They’re built in a very different manner than burnable CDs and just seem much more suitable for this project. And I’m sure everyone has a few old CDs sitting around the house that probably should have been thrown out years ago. Personally, I finally found something useful to do with an Amy Grant CD!

    I do have some photos and will take some more and send them along when I finish up. Still waiting on 1 part to arrive in the mail from Lon at FlashZebra before I can finish.

    By the way, if you’re looking for a bowl to use for this project, I found mine here –

  8. says

    I finished my light dish tonight and I started playing around with it. My only problem is, I’ve never used a beauty dish before and I’m not sure what I’m looking for when I adjust it. I have absolutely no dead spot regardless of how close in or far out my mirror is, however adjusting has a tremendous effect on the amount of light that the dish gives off. The closer the mirror is to the flash, the more light I lose. I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be going for here. Do you have any suggestions?

    Also, my dish has a much wider flash radius than yours, which I really didn’t expect. But even this, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or bad because I don’t know what’s expected.

    Any thoughts would be GREATLY appreciated.

  9. John says

    What size and length bolts do you need? I saw what was written on the material list, but it didn’t make sense to me.

  10. says


    I did a little checking and found that I used #20 bolts for the parts that connect to the shoe mounting bracket. The others I’m afraid I don’t know. I did try and use the smallest (thinnest) I could find to mount the reflector to reduce the amount of flash blocked. Hope this helps!



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