Beautiful, dimensional lighting can make or break a portrait. As a photographer, finding a light modifier that creates gorgeous, wrapping light for portraits is essential. This allows you to sculpt stunning images filled with depth, drama, and dimension.
One of the most versatile modifiers for portrait lighting is the beauty dish reflector. Beauty dishes create a wrapped, diffused light that is flattering on subjects of all ages. The unique properties of a beauty dish reflector allow for professional results not easily replicated with simple reflectors or softboxes.
However, with so many beauty dish options on the market, it can be tricky to select the right one for your needs.
In this complete guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to find the ideal beauty dish reflector:
- Benefits of using a beauty dish over other modifiers
- Key factors to consider when choosing a beauty dish
- In-depth reviews of the top 5 beauty dish reflectors
- Must-have accessories and modifiers for beauty dishes
- FAQs on using and getting the most out of beauty dishes
After reading this guide, you’ll have the knowledge to pick the perfect beauty dish reflector for creating professional, dimensional lighting every time you shoot.
The Unique Benefits of Beauty Dish Reflectors
Beauty dish reflectors have distinct advantages over more common modifiers like umbrellas and softboxes:
- Softer, more diffused light – The parabolic design scatters light softly while retaining directionality. This creates a wrapped, flattering light ideal for portraits.
- Mimics natural light – The large, diffused light source can replicate window light. This flatters subjects and looks natural.
- More controllable than umbrellas – Allows precise aiming of light since it doesn’t scatter light in all directions.
- Unique catchlight effect in eyes – Creates a distinctive octagonal shape in the eyes that adds interest to portraits.
- Wraps around subject – As light feathers, it modeling and contours the face in a three-dimensional way.
- Variety of sizes for flexibility – Sizes range from 12” reflectors up to large 32” dishes for modifier flexibility.
- Portable and durable for location shoots – Lightweight but sturdy dishes make beauty dishes ideal for location sessions.
For these reasons, beauty dishes have remained a staple modifier choice for seasoned portrait photographers. The gorgeous quality of light simply cannot be replicated with basic reflectors or softboxes alone.
Key Considerations When Choosing Your Beauty Dish Reflector
However, not all beauty dishes are created equal. There are a few key factors to consider when picking the right reflector for your needs:
Size of the Reflector
Beauty dishes come in sizes ranging from 12 inches all the way up to massive 32-40 inch dishes. The most common sizes are 16 inch, 18 inch, 22 inch, and 24 inch reflectors.
Larger dishes create softer, more diffused light. Smaller dishes range light less and allow more precise control.
Consider what you primarily shoot – larger dishes around 24 inches work great for full body and groups, while 16-18 inch dishes are ideal for headshots.
Also consider how portable you need the dish to be. Larger dishes can be heavy and difficult to transport.
Build Quality and Durability
Beauty dishes use high-quality materials like aluminum, steel, and composite plastics to withstand heat and rugged use.
Look for dishes made of thick, high-grade metals that feel sturdy in hand. High temperatures can cause cheaper dishes to deform.
Also inspect the rim of the reflector for any rough edges that could damage softboxes or diffusers. Smooth, well-finished edges allow modifiers to slide on securely.
High-end dishes also often come with protective bags and cases for transport. For travel photographers, this is essential.
The accessories and modifiers included with a beauty dish make a big difference in shaping your light.
At minimum, look for dishes that come with a diffuser sock and grid. These allow you to soften and control stray light.
Higher end dishes include a full range of accessories like barn doors, louvers, filters, speed rings and more. This gives you endless options for modifying light.
Ease of Setup
Look for dishes that easily mount on stands via an integrated speed ring or holder. The dish should securely lock into place with either a thumbscrew or handscrew locking mechanism.
High-quality speed rings allow you to rotate the dish 360 degrees on the stand for precisely aiming the light.
Dishes that require fussing with separate speedrings or adapters waste valuable shooting time. Make sure the reflector locks securely in place without hassle.
Consider how much you need to travel with the beauty dish – heavier dishes become a burden quickly.
Look for options around 2-3 pounds for the best balance of sturdiness and portability. Also consider collapsed size if you need to pack it in luggage.
Don’t forget to account for the weight and bulk of accessories and lightstands as well.
Shape and Design
The shape of the reflector interior is optimized to shape light in different ways:
- Parabolic dishes have a round shape that creates a broad, diffused light ideal for wrapping around subjects. This is the most common design.
- Ellipsoidal dishes emit a more directed beam of light, allowing you to feather and shape the falloff.
- Curved dishes provide a compromise between soft light and directionality.
In most cases, parabolic dishes work best for broad beauty lighting. But advanced users may want to experiment with more specialized ellipsoidal designs.
Brand Reputation and Reviews
As with any photography gear purchase, the reputation and user reviews of the brand are critical to research.
Look for dishes produced by well-known lighting companies with a reputation for quality and durability. Be wary of cheap knockoffs with no reviews.
Be sure to check reviews from actual customers and photographers to uncover any issues with real-world performance and longevity.
Beauty dish reflectors range tremendously in price from $50 budget options up to $500+ for premium dishes.
In general, $200-300 gives a high-quality dish from a reputable brand made to last.
Consider paying more if you need specialized lighting effects like a colapsible dish or a higher end parabolic shape with accessories.
Don’t sacrifice too much quality just to save money on a dish you’ll use for years.
By keeping all these factors in mind, you can narrow down the beauty dish that’s perfect for your budget and shooting needs.
Reviews of the Top 5 Beauty Dish Reflectors
Now that you know how to assess beauty dishes, let’s look at reviews of the top 5 reflectors on the market:
1. Fovitec StudioPRO 22″ Beauty Dish Reflector
- Highly popular 22” parabolic dish perfect for headshots
- Includes diffuser, honeycomb grid, and carry bag
- Sturdy aluminum with steel speedring
- Weighs 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg)
- Creates beautifully diffused, wraparound lighting
- Honeycomb grid allows for precise light control
- Sturdy metal construction stands up to daily use
- Easy to mount on lightstands and position
- Great catchlights in eyes
- Excellent quality of light
- Durable and long-lasting
- Affordable price point
- Lightweight enough for travel
- 5-year warranty
- Larger dishes better for full-length shots
- Not collapsible for tight packing
Overall: 5/5 – Versatile mid-sized dish perfect for headshots with gorgeous light.
2. Elinchrom EL 26173 39″ Rotalux Deep Parabolic Reflector
- Extra large 39” dish for extremely diffused light
- Signature Elinchrom parabolic design
- Includes protective cover, diffuser, and socks
- Higher price point around $500
- Broadest, softest light quality of any dish
- Mimics window light almost perfectly
- Allows creative feathering and shaping
- Rugged professional construction for longevity
- Largest dish size available
- Creates ultra-soft, smooth lighting
- Can be used in place of giant softbox
- High-end Elinchrom brand quality
- Heavy and extremely bulky for transport
- Requires large light source to cover
- Higher cost investment
Overall: 4.5/5 – Amazing light quality from this premium extra-large dish.
3. Neewer 16″ Professional Beauty Dish Reflector
- Budget 16” collapsible dish option
- Parabolic design with included diffuser cap
- Constructed from composite resin
- Lightweight at 1.6 lbs (0.7 kg)
- Surprisingly good light diffusion for the size
- Metal interior offers durability
- Compact and easy to transport
- Decent quality for the price
- Struggles with heavier lights
- One of the most affordable dishes
- Collapses for packing and storage
- Ultra portable and lightweight
- Not as sturdy or durable as pricier options
- Composite body susceptible to heat damage
- Small size limits uses
Overall: 3.5/5 – Impressively good quality dish for an affordable budget option.
4. Emart 14″ Professional Beauty Dish Reflector
- 14” budget dish best for headshots
- Aluminum parabolic shape with carrying case
- Includes removable diffuser, grid, and gel holder
- Compact and lightweight
- Excellent light quality for a lower cost dish
- Useful accessories like grid and gel holder
- Durable aluminum construction
- Easy to feather and shape light
- Struggles with heavier studio lights
- Quality parabolic shape at a budget price
- Useful included accessories
- Lightweight and portable
- Smaller size limits uses
- Not as sturdy or durable as pricier models
Overall: 4/5 – Impressive performance and accessories for an affordable 14” dish.
5. Westcott FJ200 20-Inch Collapsible Beauty Dish
- Collapsible 20” dish with parabolic shape
- Includes diffuser sock, speedring, and case
- Constructed from weather-resistant aluminum
- Collapses to under 2” for transport
- Mimics window light beautifully
- Diffuses nicely while retaining directionality
- High-quality parabolic shape
- Quick to collapse and set up on location
- Withstands outdoor use
- Ideal balance of soft light and portability
- Weather-resistant for outdoor shoots
- Folds away for easy packing
- Great mid-range size
- Not as sturdy or durable as fixed dishes
- Unable to rotate when mounted
Overall: 4.5/5 – Excellent collapsible dish perfect for travel and location work.
Must-Have Beauty Dish Accessories and Modifiers
A beauty dish’s capabilities can be totally transformed with the right modifiers and accessories:
Diffusers soften light by dampening the intensity and scattering photons.
They allow you to mimic the effect of giant softboxes or shoot in harsh daylight. Different materials like nylon or silk alter light uniquely.
A sock diffuser is essential to smooth out the sharpness of undiffused dishes.
Grids contain light spill and shape the beam coming from the reflector. This enhances directional control.
Look for dishes that include 10, 20, 30 or 40 degree honeycomb grids. Use tighter grids for more precision.
Barn doors physically block light on the dish, acting as a manual gobo. This sculpts unique patterns of light and shadow.
Barn doors mount directly on dishes via studs or speed ring adapters. They’re invaluable for creative lighting effects.
Speed rings mount dishes on lightstands securely. Sturdy metal rings allow full 360 degree rotation for positioning.
High-quality speed rings should be included with dishes to maximize usability and positioning flexibility.
Color filters in gels or glass attach over the dish to alter light color and temperature.
Use warming gels to emulate golden hour. Cool blue gels mimic open shade light. Get creative.
A metal backplate mounts behind the dish to block backspill and sharpen direction.
This reduces light wrap and makes edges crisper and shadows more defined.
With the right modifiers, a single beauty dish can replicate dozen of lighting looks. Don’t underestimate the power of modifiers!
FAQs About Beauty Dish Reflectors
How is the light quality different from umbrellas and softboxes?
Beauty dishes create a wraparound light with soft diffusion. But unlike umbrellas and boxes, the light still has a defined directionality that can be precisely aimed. The color is warmer and more flattering as well.
What size beauty dish reflector should I get?
24-26” dishes are versatile for full body shots. 16-18” dishes excel for headshots and close ups. Invest in a couple different sizes for flexibility.
How do you use a beauty dish? What placement works best?
Feather the light slightly off axis of your subject. Placenear eye level around 4-8 feet away. Experiment with angling it down, up, or straight on.
What accessories do I need for a beauty dish?
At minimum, a sock diffuser and grid. To get creative, add barn doors, gels, a speed ring, backlight plate, or honeycomb louvers.
How to choose between silver, white, and gold dishes?
- Silver – More specular highlights, cool light, crisp shadows
- White – Broad, scattered light for diffusion. Most common.
- Gold – Warm, flattering light great for beauty shots.
What cameras and lights work with beauty dishes?
Beauty dishes are compatible with all standard strobe lights and hotshoe flashes. They also don’t require a special lens or camera system.
Do I need a modeling light with my beauty dish?
Modeling lamps allow you to preview light positioning. But they aren’t strictly necessary if you test out your lighting angles thoroughly.
Any tips for transporting beauty dishes safely?
- Use a protective case or bag.
- Wrap dishes in a towel or foam if checking luggage.
- Consider collapsible options.
- Pack grids, diffusers separately.
- Sturdy lightstands with sandbags.
Start Sculpting Beautiful Portraits
Finding the ideal beauty reflector has a transformative effect on portrait lighting. Take the information in this guide to select the perfect dish for flattering, professional results.
The unique light shaping abilities of beauty dishes are unmatched. With the right reflector, you can craft images with depth, contour, and dimension that mimic the most beautiful natural light.
So dial in your dish positioning, feather that light, and go sculpt some gorgeous portraits! Just don’t forget the catchlights.