Beauty dishes are fantastic light modifiers that can be quite versatile. Bare, socked, or gridded, they offer qualities that many photographers, myself included, rather enjoy. They are my go-to modifier for beauty portraits (go figure) and really dramatic art nudes. The same modifier produces VERY different effects with the simple switch of a diffusion sock to a grid.
I’m not really here to teach you about beauty dishes, though – if you’re looking here, chances are you’ve done your research on why you would want one, and are trying to determine which one to get.
One beauty dish I have been using a lot lately is a CowboyStudio 22″ Beauty Dish with a diffusion sock and honeycomb grid – made with a speedlite bracket. These generic beauty dishes are available with speedrings for most popular studio light brands, but I shoot almost entirely with speedlites, so getting the speedlite bracket version made the most sense for me.
I found mine on Amazon from the generic equipment company CowboyStudio for about $110. They had smaller 16″ versions, and 22″ dishes without the grid for $90 or so, but I really love the effects of a gridded dish. I’d love to share my experiences with this budget-friendly modifier.
Years ago I had a similar speedlite bracketed beauty dish, and at that time the bracket had a ballhead instead of the slotted tilt adjustment joint the newer version has. The older ball head version would not lock into place very well, and after a few months, the weight of the dish would cause it to just collapse. The new bracket locks solidly into place, and doesn’t budge. See image above.
I have been using this modifier for about two years, and it has held up very well to my abuse. One point construction-wise that I feel could be improved upon is where the speedlite bracket mounts to the speedring. One simple screw holds this in place, and the dish tends to swivel at that point after a while. It’s fine again after tightening for the next several shoots, but something to be aware of.
The quality of light that comes from this modifier is similar to other basic beauty dishes I have tested and used in the past. Mola, Kacey, and other similar ribbed dishes stand out a bit as better quality, but this performs as well as basic beauty dishes like the ones for Alienbees or Flashpoint.
The light is soft when used up close with the diffusion sock. The center reflector, in addition to the sock, help reduce hot spots, and the diffusion is pretty even. I typically use it socked for beauty headshots, in a typical beauty / clamshell configuration with the dish centered above, and a silver reflector placed below. I am pleased with the results:
When it comes to beauty dishes, it’s grids that make them special to me. When I shoot art nudes, I love definition and shadows, and 22″ or so with a grid fits my tastes perfectly. The light is directed and narrowed by the grid, so bone structure and form are very clearly defined, but at the same time the source is large enough that the falloff from light to shadow is somewhat softened. It’s a perfect (in my opinion of course) mixture for the looks I enjoy shooting. I highly advise stretching your budget a little more to get a grid along with your beauty dish.
While umbrellas and softboxes can be had for less (much less for some of my favorite umbrella softboxes) a beauty dish can be a very versatile addition to anyone’s lighting kit. For those of us working on a tighter budget, I highly recommend one of these dishes.
The next step up in quality and price would be something like the Kacey beauty dish with the speedlite bracket, but at $400 for the dish, bracket, and grid, it was a little out of my range at the time. Kacey beauty dishes are fantastic though, and I use one for my studio strobes and highly recommend them, but they’re not as friendly on the wallet.
If you’d like to pick one up, please support this blog, and check it out on Amazon with this link: CowboyStudio 22″ Beauty Dish. Visit the Support! page for more information on how your support helps keep this blog going.