The Beauty Dish Outdoors

Note: the latest, most complete version that will ever be posted on the internet has just been posted here:

  I am “loaning” the article to my lovely model Cierra, so that hopefully if you enjoy the article you will LIKE her new Facebook Fan Page, as well as the article itself!     

cierra_2360cIf photography is light, then lighting is everything. It’s the way in which the photographer manipulates his or her light that sets them apart from the others and distinguishes their style as an artist.

I use a Beauty Dish exclusively as my light modifier of choice, now indoors and out. The Beauty Dish magically enhances skin and makeup pigments, making it the perfect choice as a main or primary fill, especially with portraiture and obviously with makeup photography. The design versatility of e-Photo’s new 16″ Beauty Dish can be utilized to achieve stunning results every single time. Now adding the 28″ Fotodiox portable/studio kit Beauty Dish to my arsenal I am ready for any situation indoors or out. These kits designed for speed lights are usually very easily adaptable to your studio equipment. Simply remove the speed-light bracket and they mount right up to my Alien Bees. The ePhoto 16″ and the Fotodiox 28″ Dishes both do. If you are not using Bees, you should do a little research to ensure they will meet your own needs.

In chapter I, (Shooting With a Beauty Dish) we learned all about the Beauty Dish history, design qualities and the reflective qualities of several different Beauty Dish’s in general. Now we are going to concentrate on utilizing the Beauty Dish as a fill light in harsher lighting conditions.

The principles of shooting outdoors are identical to that of a studio. The environmental challenges can be infinite and extreme, but the pain of it all is so rewarding once you have pulled off that perfect shot. Nothing from the studio can compare to that killer outdoor shot.


cierra_2378a-copyI can’t really explain the technical reasons why, but the Beauty Dish has several unique lighting characteristics. There is just something in the way it illuminates makeup pigments and adds a radiant glow to skin, even average to poor skin. I’ve heard it said “it’s the quality of my beauty models and professional makeup artist”. Yes, this really helps, but I have also seen these magical effects on regular people who shoot without a professional makeup artist too.

Miracles do not come easily; the Beauty Dish does have a learning curve. I studied with a master and it required a year to find the Sweet Spot and the Feathered Edge on my own. Then one day it hit me and now the light is more of an addiction. With practices and a little experimentation you should be able to master it in no time. I hope to relate enough hints to start you well on your way to success. Today I use three Beauty Dishes, a 22″ white dish from Alien Bees and a 16″ Strobist silver reflective dish from ePhoto and a 28″ Strobist Beauty Dish from Fotodiox. You can read more about studio usage in my original article Shooting With the Beauty Dish. In this article we are going to be talking about the new ePhoto Strobist Beauty Dish and it’s usage as a fill light in outdoor situations.

As you may have already noticed I have rotated the flash head 180 degrees. This is so I can move the speedlight closer to the back of the beauty dish’s lighting source opening. I am using my PixelKing radio triggers, which also benefit greatly from being mounted backwards on the Beauty Dish portable bracket. In a typical outdoor lighting scenario I would have used thirty three foot iTTL cable, but when working near water I prefer not to use cables whenever possible.

You’re going to need something to trigger your speed light when connected to the portable solution, you can not rely CLS or other inferred systems to reliably transmit your signal and trip your flash. In almost every situation I prefer the 33′ iTTL cable myself, because this will still leave the speed light attached to beauty dish as my master, enabling other speed lights to act as remote – If within line of site, which is usually not the case.

The Beauty Dish itself

b-dish_cableThe e-Photo 16″ Strobist Beauty Dish I am using in this tutorial has a matte silver finish and comes with a diffuser sock/cover. The beautifully designed flash hot shoe bracket and standard 3/8″ light-stand mount attaches easily to your equipment. A set of optional grids are available with a package deal or sold separately. The manufactures website markets this specifically for a Canon 550-XL or a Nikon SB-800. Besides my SB-600/800’s I have used this dish with SunPacks and Vivatar portable flashes, with and without the added height of TTL cables, optical and radio slave triggers, etc. e-Photo also offer’s the 16″ model (and a 22″ white Beauty Dish) with or without the Strobist bracket, priced accordingly of course.

The 28″ Fotodiox Beauty Dish has quickly become a valued piece of equipment in my favored arsenal. I have removed the Strobist bracket and attached the Beauty Dish to my Alien Bees 1600. It fits perfectly. The light from the silver dish is amplified greatly in comparison to that of my 22″ white Beauty Dish. Packing any Beauty Dish for transport into the field is difficult. It’s so sweet to only pack a few small Speedlites and not a couple of Bees and the Vagabond. It really makes a day trip into the field much easier.

I have noticed a slight color shift towards magenta (+ 0.7), which is easily corrected in Camera RAW. This may be common to all silver Beauty Dishes. This is the first silver dish I have used. It took me two or three shoots to accustom myself to the amplified lighting characteristics (jumping from the 22″ white dish). I really love using this with my lesser powered equipment, both in the field and studio.

For the purpose of this article I powered the Beauty Dish with a Nikon SB-800. I connected the SB-800 directly to my camera via a 33′ iTTL cable available from this e-Bay e-Store. (pictured above, bottom). The cable took forever to come from China, but it is a necessity in my growing location bag. Adorama has their own version available for Canon and Nikon, usually delivered to your doorstep within days…

Let’s Get to Work:

Whenever shooting outdoors, I like to think of the sun as my Main, and the Beauty Dish (softbox, reflector, whatever) as my fill. Quite often I like to use the sun as my rim or hair light (key light). Since we are using the sun as our main source, positioning becomes critical. Obviously you can not move the sun, so you will need to position yourself and your model with respect to the sun, when composing the photograph. Just as you would set up your studio lighting for the first time. Position the main, evaluate, then position your fill and finally key lights.

Shooting mid day (high sun) used to be something I avoided like the plague. Now I simply head for a shaded setting and setup my fill lighting.

cierra_fillPhoto A. Cierra (Model and Fashion Designer) called me needing a few quick shots of her latest class project, so we packed up the car and headed over to the coast. The sun was high and I needed to flatter her and her outfits. Our first location was in front of the pier with a very bright background. As you can see this scenario really requires a fill light source of some type – anything, even a simple reflector could have saved this from being a dismal failure.

Photo B
. Shooting with the sun to my back and within the shade of the pier really helped me out here, but some type of fill was still required in this scenario. I could have made this without fill by blowing out the background, but I wanted a soft background to embrace her in something subdued to the eye. I typically use this technique a lot when shooting outdoors. Shoot a stop or two under to saturate the background and fill + a stop (or two) to bring my subject back into balance.

Photo C. Same basic lighting scenario, without the need for background. I do this pose quite often with models. I modified a Glamour Lighting pattern for her pose. When shooting outside I put the beauty dish at her head aimed downwards. The softbox at her feet aimed upwards. When shooting in the studio, I sometimes swap it around. I can’t tell you why. I just like it that way. Try it yourself and let me know what you better. 🙂


Shooting at the beach:


Shooting at the beach can have its own special difficulties and challenges to overcome. I started to mention this in Photo B. above. I use a little trick I learned through the years of shooting at the beach. I deliberately underexpose by one stop, (or two) and then compensate by overexposing my foreground subject one stop with my fill flash. By doing this, I am able to over-saturate the water and sky and add a little depth to my background, which are usually washed out. The flash will bring my main subject into the light of center stage.

In this particular lighting scenario I had the Modeling Agency director hold my 16″ Beauty Dish about eighteen feet from my model. I needed to make sure the wind didn’t blow over the light-stand or sink in the wet sand. We both move forward and back to avoid the waves. Connecting the camera to the SB-800 with an iTTL cable really paid off in this challenging situation. Another major advantage of using speedlights over studio strobes, is High-Speed Sync.

Conditions change fast in Northern California. The fog, the tide and the wind can change your situation within seconds, you really need to pay attention. Shooting close to the shoreline is always a major concern because I did not wish to lose any (more) of my equipment to the Pacific Ocean.


The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful (and Why).

ocflash-1ocFlash1Let’s talk a minute about why fill flash is so important. Regardless of the Beauty Dish, bare bulb, or even a simple reflector. Cameras are made for the masses. I. E. right handed people. To take a vertical picture it is only natural to rotate the camera counter clockwise, to the left. Fig A. It is more comfortable and provides better stability when taking the picture. Notice how my popup flash’s light travels across Cierra’s body, casting an accentuated shadow on the shower wall. Many of us call this a Polaroid, Snapshot, whatever, it looks very amateurish and IMHO looks horrible!!

In this case it was easy, quick, and it really had no effect on the final outcome,since it was going to be cut out and manipulated heavily in photoshop. We have all seen this effect and thought very little of the photographer showing it.

While we we’re walking back to the studio, we came across this door. I love the texture and intricate pattern on the door’s iron work. We decided to try a quick beauty shot. Fig B. It was not practical to setup a fill, it was the popup, on camera flash or nothing… Notice I rotated my camera to the right, clockwise. Yes it was very uncomfortable and difficult to hold and control the camera, but the light path was flattering.

I have always used at least one fill light when forced outside of the studio. Now with my trusty Speedlite and 16? Beauty Dish I really enjoy using the world as my studio!!


In Conclusion:

When I’m using a Beauty Dish outside, I am not as concerned with the feathered light as I am in the studio, but I generally underexpose by a third of a stop. In the twilight hours or very thick fog, I do feather the light beam, but not when shooting during the dreaded “no shoot” hours – 10:am till 3:30pm. I am sure you all heard the golden rule about shooting outdoors; Sunrise to 10:am and then again from 4:pm until sunset?

If you have read my Shooting With A Beauty Dish article you have heard me say over and over “It’s the feathered light that makes this awe inspiring light modifier so desirable”.

Some Useful Links to Beauty Dish Kits:

Are you a Strobist? Checkout these 10 Meter e/i TTL Cables :

iTTL Cable for Nikon

eTTL Cable for Canon

This article has been used in whole or in part with the permission of GlamModelz Magazine. © 2010.