Last month I introduced a new item into my gear arsenal to help me make more use of my studio lights on location in the middle of the day. The Beauty Dish.
Over the last few years, I've been working on location mainly with small hot-shoe flashes, otherwise known as speedlights. I love working small, but they dictate the time of day that I can shoot in, because they don't have a lot of power to overpower the sunlight. In the past, before I started working with small flashes, I worked with studio lights on location, but the need went away when I started shooting with the speedlights.
Recently though, I've been wanting to shoot in the early afternoons and wanted to see what types of equipment I would need to "overpower" the sun. I have Alien Bee B800 mono-lights, which are the middle-of-the-line strobes in terms of power output, and I didn't want to have to invest in a more expensive, more powerful light to shoot in bright overhead sunlight when there is no shade to shoot in.
I did a little research and found that Alien Bee makes a silver High Output Beauty Dish - this is modeled after the traditional 22" beauty dish - a large circular reflector that is usually speckeled on the inside to provide a very specular high-contrast result. Most modeling photography I see in magazines and on TV usually depend on a beauty dish for their images; it is both a semi-large light source, but narrow enough for deep contrasty images; great for turning skin into blemish free luminous skin.
For my first test, I grabbed by buddy Ryan and we brought the light outside at 1pm - when the sun is at its highest in the sky. Noon-day sun is ugly; harsh ugly shadows and it just isn't any fun to shoot in at all. We also decided to set up in a field, where there were no trees or anything that could provide shade.
The beauty dish worked fantastically. I only had to turn the strobe up to 1/2 power and I got more than enough light to "overpower" the sun and still be able to cast shadow-areas on Ryans face. The cost of the dish was minimal compared to the ability to now overpower the sun, if I needed to, on a bright sunny mid-day shoot.
To really test this, I set up a shoot with Vanessa during the middle of the day. We headed over to a very lovely apple orchard in Hollis NH and spent the afternoon taking some beauty shots.
The shoot itself went perfect. I'm very happy with the images we took that day, especially this one:
This is simply gorgeous. Vanessa is gorgeous. The location is gorgeous. The colors are gorgeous. For me, this is a very striking beauty shot. Its a *tiny* bit suggestive and sexy, and the composition and colors are just fantastic.
We brought some balloons as props, and did a second set up that also came out very very good:
The little hidden gem in these shots is that Vanessa's contact lenses were acting up during the shoot, and her eyes kept tearing up. It wasn't until I got back to the studio and started working on the images that I noticed a pleasant little surprise:
It gives the image a tiny bit more power for me seeing that. It creates questions about the image, which I think is wonderful.
The beauty dish worked perfectly. It wasn't as light to move around as my speedlight setup, but the setup we used is still pretty good and easy to move within reason. I'm really excited to see what else we can do now that we have a little more portable power and are not limited by the harsh noon-day sun.
Speedlights are still my first choice, go-to when shooting location, but there will always be a client that can only book a location shoot for noon, or early afternoon when the sun is high and there is no shade. When that happens, or when I want to step up the power of the production, I'll reach for the Beauty Dish.