Photography

Lighting Handbook: Lighting Setup for a Beauty dish

In a previous post on the “Handbook” we explored using a beauty dish in the studio for making portraits of a musician; however, the beauty dish is more than a studio tool. So now we’ll go with this versatile instrument to make a fashion statement in Atlanta’s storied High Museum of Art. Come with us on location for some wide-angle fashion.

When it’s possible, I always scout a location. (After all, I live by these six Ps: prior proper planning permits perfect photography.) During a scouting trip the week before the shoot, the fifth floor of the Stent Pavilion—the prison in 1986’s Manhunter, the first Hannibal Lecter film—cried out, “Pick me!” The light was stunning, so I did. This project combines an exposure for available natural light one stop darker than one for a gridded beauty dish and a large diffusion panel.

Lighting setup for Beauty dish

And So We Begin…

We arrived at the High Museum at two o’clock on the approved Monday afternoon (the museum is closed on Mondays). I’d arranged for a three-hour window to make our photographs. Security guards accompanied us and, initially, I thought they were for our protection until I saw them staring at the myriad equipment cases we had with us. What they were probably thinking was, “Photographers with big gear bags equal potential art thieves” (sigh).

Hair and makeup had been finished earlier at my studio. The wardrobe rack was in the ladies’ room on the first floor, and any makeup touch-ups had to be done there. My assistant, the prop stylist, and I were on the fifth floor. While they were setting up the lighting, I shot an available light photograph of Jessica, our model for the day. The result has her in deep shadow. The background wall is close to middle gray—more on that later.

Lighting setup for Beauty dish

Add the Beauty Dish

I lit Jessica with a Dynalite studio head in a 22″ Mola beauty dish with a honeycomb grid on the front. It was set above Jessica and to her left. I measured it with my Sekonic L-758DR flash meter by holding the incident dome in front of her face aimed at the center of the beauty dish. The reading was f/11 at ISO 100. The shutter was set at 1/100. This is the exposure set on the camera.

The grid funnels the light so that it illuminates only Jessica’s face and shoulders. Her body is still in deep shadow. (At this moment, the sun went behind some clouds, darkening the atrium behind her. I prayed to the “Goddess of Shadow and Light” to move them far away during the shoot.)

Lighting setup for Beauty dish

While Jessica went down to change, we set up a 6×6′ Chimera diffusion panel behind and centered on the beauty dish. A single Dynalite MH2050 location head was set about 3′ off the floor behind the panel. The head on the panel is a full stop darker than the beauty dish. I’m using a Canon EOS 7D camera with a Sigma 8–16mm f/4.5–5.6 DC HSM ultra-wide-angle zoom lens. The working focal length is 8mm. The extreme angle of view lets me work quite closely—in this case, only 4′ in front of Jessica, as you can see by the lighting diagram.

Lighting setup for Beauty dish

Here Comes the Sun

Prayers answered: The sun is finally showing through the skylights. Now, compare the photograph of Jessica wearing the red St. John’s gown lit with just the beauty dish to the one with the added fill.

Lighting setup for Beauty dish

Lighting setup for Beauty dish

A reflected reading of the sunlit wall behind Jessica showed a reading of 1/125 at f/22, or two stops brighter than the 12.5% reflectance it had in the available light image. Plus 2 stops places the reflectance of the white wall at 50%, or slightly darker than Jessica’s face and shoulders. It’s important to understand that the exposure on the camera is still 1/100 at f/11, ISO 100.

Lighting setup for Beauty dish

The only change was the position of the sun. As it shone more directly, the background brightened. A final reflected reading of the white wall was +2 1/3 stops brighter than the exposure on the camera. I moved the shutter speed 1/3-stop darker from 1/100 to 1/125, and…perfect! We finished and were packing up right on time at 5 o’clock, com­plete with photographs of Jessica in the St. John’s gown, in a Karen Millen cocktail dress, and a fun close-up portrait with her sporting an Italian opera mask.

Lighting setup for Beauty dish

Kevin Ames

Lighting setup for Beauty dish

Kevin Ames

Lighting setup for Beauty dish

Kevin Ames

Next time, the “Handbook” explores lighting jewelry. Until then, light well and prosper!

Once you have your images made, bring them into Lightroom. Here is a tip from RC on what to do with your Highlight Warnings. If you have some more questions about Lightroom, you can send Scott and RC a question and they might answer it on the LightroomKillerTips blog! For those who need a bigger overview of the program, check out the many courses on Lightroom we have over on KelbyOne.

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