5 Reasons I Use a Beauty Dish for Band Photography

Of all the light modifiers in my current toolbox, the one I reach for most frequently (by far) is a beauty dish. It wasn't always this way, but through lots of experimentation with band portraits and general music photography, I've come to the conclusion that a beauty dish is often the best tool for the job. Why, you ask? Read on to find out...


1) it's essential to my 3-light setup

Lighting setup shot for band photography using beauty dish

If you've glanced at my portfolio, you may have noticed that I frequently use a 3-light setup when photographing my musicians and band clients. I do this for two main reasons: (1) it makes my subjects "pop" more and facilitates an HDR-like appearance once I pour on my special sauce in Photoshop, and (2) it makes my subjects easier to extract from a studio background so that I can composite them into a different scene more easily.

Over time, I have tried using softboxes, gridded strobes, reflectors, and even bare bulb strobes for the key light in my 3-light setup, and each one of them produces a different "look". Each certainly has its advantage in certain situations, and I'll still turn to them from time to time. But most often, for my band & musician promos (both in the studio and on location), I still prefer using a beauty dish.

If you're interested in seeing a few more behind-the-scenes lighting setup shots, check out the "Before" images in my "Before & After" gallery by briefly hovering over each one with your mouse cursor.


2) it offers Beautiful, easily controllable light with nice falloff

Gospel artist Timothy Hibbert II shot with a beauty dish

The light you can create with a beauty dish is somewhat hard to describe. It's not as soft as an umbrella or softbox, but on the other hand it's not as hard as a bare flash either. Of course, experienced photographers know that you can always exercise direct control over a light's hardness or softness by simply adjusting the subject-to-flash distance, but even at its extremes the beauty dish will never give you light that's quite as soft or hard as the aforementioned modifiers. So why do I use it so much?

Well, for one, softness is absolutely NOT the only quality I look for in a modifier-- there are several other aspects to consider. For example, how easily can a given modifier be adjusted, maneuvered, and repositioned during a photo shoot? How about light falloff-- is the transition from light to shadow very gradual or abrupt? Can I easily attach grids or other accessories to further refine and sculpt the light?

When it comes to these sorts of questions, the beauty dish performs admirably. It's super-easy to move around and adjust, the falloff can easily be controlled by adjusting subject-to-flash distance and/or using grids, and overall you can achieve a number of different looks with minimal effort. At the end of the day, it's a supremely versatile modifier that just can't be beat.


3) it's Relatively cheap & there's lots of DIY options

This one is pretty much self-explanatory. You can find an off-brand beauty dish on eBay for as little as $$60. Or, you can make your own using cheap, easy-to-find materials. Like this guy. Or this guy.


4) it's Light and relatively compact

If you ever venture outside the studio to shoot on location, then you're already painfully familiar with the hassles of packing up and transporting lighting gear. From stands to battery packs to modifiers, there's lots to carry around and set up. Fortunately, beauty dishes are very light, and you can even use a wreath case or something similar to transport them, like David Hobby suggests on the Strobist blog.


5) two words-- Wind resistance

Man getting blown away by umbrella in wind

For me, this one is huge. If you've ever experienced the horror of a $2000 ProFoto head being knocked over in the wind, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. In fact, one of the original reasons I began using a beauty dish for outdoor band portraits in the first place was its relative wind resistance vs. a softbox. And don't even think about using an umbrella if it's even the slightest bit windy outside. You know those parachutes that fly out of the back of drag cars when they finish their quarter-mile run? Exactly.

So there you have it...my top 5 reasons for choosing a beauty dish for band photography. Hopefully I've made a strong enough case for you to try one out (if you haven't already). Speaking of which, I'd LOVE to hear about your own experiences using a beauty dish, so please sound off with a comment below!


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