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The beauty dish is perhaps one of the most versatile and often reached for tools in my lighting kit at Vegas Vision Studios This is a quick and easy lighting setup that can be used for head shots and portraits. The gear required is minimal and the space needed is even less.
This setup can be effectively utilized in a very small space. The quality of light from a beauty dish is crisp and contrasty and really brings out the character in a face. It is also a modifier that can provide a nice moderately narrow cast of light with controllable fall off that can be further narrowed with the addition of grids or softened with a nylon diffusion sock over the face of the dish.
The lighting chart shows the setup with a beauty dish on the key light but you can easily substitute a small soft box, shoot through or reflective umbrella if you do not have a beauty dish. The quality of the light will of course vary a bit with each modifier but the end results from all 3 can be perfectly acceptable.
So let us take a look at our chart.
Due to the elevated position of the key light stacked over the camera and reflector the chart appears a little tight and the beauty dish is offset and does not show the downward angle but on the set you would be shooting from a position under the key light.
The elevated key light is going to create a butterfly effect on the subject. This means we will have a shadow under the nose and chin. We also want to be careful not position the light so high as to create deep shadows in and around the eye sockets resulting in a deeply sunken look also commonly referred to as raccoon eyes.
It is because of these shadows that we will add the reflector under the model and angled up so as to fill these shadows. This reflector can either be secured to a stand or may simply be held in position by the subject. Be aware of position as the shoot progresses especially if the reflector is being held by the subject as it is easy to flatten it out and thus reduce the effectiveness of the reflector in filling these shadows.
The addition of the hair light above and behind the subject serves to provide us with just a touch of rim light. This rim light will allow for the capture of some detail in the hair as well as separating the model from the unlit background. If properly positioned and not to narrowly restricted with the grid the light can be set in a way that half of the light output from this source serves as hair light and half of it will pass over the model and strike the reflector adding another touch of soft fill if desired.
Position of the key light is of course variable depending on how dramatic you would like the end product to be. From a straight on position the lighting will be full and rather flat. As you slide the key light either camera left or right you will create proportionately more dramatic shadows on the opposing side of the face. A similar effect can be created by re-positioning the subject to the light as well. This simple setup is the foundation to a great many lighting techniques used in the studio today and with minor adjustments to elevation and angle of key light, hair light and reflector you can actually utilize this set up to produce a version of all the classic portrait lighting styles for your subject. Those styles include Butterfly, Rembrandt, Short side, Broadside and Split lighting. It is this versatility that makes the beauty dish one of the most frequently used lighting modifiers in my studio.
Here are some examples of portraits shot with the beauty dish as the key light.