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Oct 16

In In The Field, Lighting at 8:53am

The beauty dish is a fave of fashion photogs everywhere. I call it a “cheekbone light.” It is short, sharp and it clearly, definitively crisps out human facial architecture, especially architecture that’s been facialized, powdered, defined, beautified, and otherwise made to look all sorts of crackling super human…in other words, a thoroughly worked over fashion model’s face.

But sometimes, even for one of those extraordinary faces, I feel the beauty dish is a little much in terms of contrast and definition. It can also, at least occasionally, produce a bit of a blasted highlight on someone’s forehead, especially with those subjects who might be follically challenged. So I baffle it a little bit. Confuse it. Redirect it’s mission. With another layer of diffusion.

In the photo above, the absolutely lovely model up on the Great Wall of China is looking directly into a beauty dish. But she can’t see it. Because in front of the dish is a 3×3 Lastolite Skylite Panel, hand held, slowing down, mushing about, and just generally softening up the resolute flow of adamantly contrasty photons a beauty dish generally produces.

Here’s the process. This dish is a knock off I bought in China, adapted for an Elinchrom Ranger head. That flash head pumps a blow of light into the beauty dish deflector, which then radiates the light around this salad bowl of a light shaper. The light then hits a sock, or diffuser layer I’ve covered the dish with. (This dish has a white interior, by the way, not a silver.) Then, not liking the edgy shadow play on the model’s face, I intersected the flow of light with another layer of diffusion, in the form of the panel. The result is that the light is directional, but not slam dunk hard. It defines the model’s face, in more of a caress than a slap of light. Which I liked, at least at that moment, with daylight fading on the Great Wall, and three more outfits to shoot.

More tk…..





Mike Washington says:

on October 16, 2013 at 9:24 am

This is awesome! Can’t wait to try it.
Can you comment about light power level and distance from model? Is the dish slightly feathered or dead on?


Martin says:

on October 16, 2013 at 9:31 am

Hi Joe, why don´t use a Softbox instead, it´s more comfortable to travel with and maybe also more versatile thinking of the fantastic elinchrom rotalux.
Do you would notice a big difference after smashing the light through a big 3×3?

best wishes

David says:

on October 16, 2013 at 10:10 am

Elegance marries simplicity. I love it… as usual!

Konstantin says:

on October 16, 2013 at 10:13 am

Great blog! Detailed sketch and particular description! :-) Thanks a lot.

Todd says:

on October 16, 2013 at 10:16 am

You misspelled numb-nuts lol

petetsai says:

on October 16, 2013 at 10:38 am

Great post Joe! Yet again super jealous you had models at these fabulous locations. Was the 3×3 right up against the dish or slightly air gapped? I ask because it has a slight feel of a fill light that I was thinking might be coming from the spill areas of the dish adding just a slight kiss to the larger area of the 3×3 while the directly lit area is the key. I like the side by side key-fill look although I never think of doing it in the field.

Joe McNally says:

on October 16, 2013 at 10:44 am

Hi back…yep there is a gap. I slide the 3×3 as close to my subject as I can. No real fill I can recall, unless as you say, there was a touch of spill here and there, organically providing additional lift to the light….best, Joe

Joe McNally says:

on October 16, 2013 at 10:46 am

Hey Martin….I do, occasionally, for sure, go right to a softbox. Here, I had the beauty dish set up already, and it felt too poppy, so in the interests of time, I jammed the 3×3 in there….all best, Joe

Patrick Downs says:

on October 16, 2013 at 11:03 am

Joe: Interesting! I love my white MOLA Demi 22″ dish which, in my experience, offers a quality of light that is better than almost/every dish I’ve seen it compared to. Their Setti (28″ iirc) and Euro (33″ iirc) are bigger dishes with their own strengths but too large for location use mostly. If you want to soften the light you can “sock” the front of the dish with the cloth diffuser, but I don’t often do that. Some of their dishes are silver/soft silver but much more specular and as you point out, work better on “perfect” faces or for more contrast.

What you’ve done (correct me if wrong) is to take your dish and turn it into a larger light source, much like using a 3X3 softbox, yes? Since the dishes are nice outside (less prone to wind) it gives you a two-for-one — just add the 3X3 panel if you need to enlarge/soften the dish/source. Like a softbox without the sides. I’ll have to remember this and add it to my toolkit.

Here’s a recent portrait with my MOLA dish, of an 84 y/o friend with a classic “manly” face. I wasn’t concerned with trying to make him look pretty. :)

John A. says:

on October 16, 2013 at 11:21 am

Beautiful portrait! …and that background is pretty killer too! :)

Marios Forsos says:

on October 16, 2013 at 11:22 am

This is sooooo freaky…I had exactly the same thought (I even went so far as to sketch it) for a shoot I am doing on Saturday…(nd to be honest, I didn’t think the softbox would create the same light…I think the beauty-dish and diffuser material will have a different, edgier behavior…

Michelle Fairless says:

on October 16, 2013 at 11:36 am

Hi Joe,
Just discovered your work through a friend. The photos of the ballerinas choked me up. Absolutely beautiful work! I’m instantly obsessed with you!!!! Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!!!!!
Thank you for sharing your work!

a.Muerte.Guy says:

on October 16, 2013 at 11:41 am

No, Bro., u misunderstand slang, it isn’t supposed to be the hierarchy of speech brohami, thats what makes it street 😉 thats how we spake back in da hood, numnuts! He has teacheth thy mind to follow the light, lest you could do, is thank the man!

Younes Bounhar says:

on October 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Masterful. Period.

alim says:

on October 16, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Great post, thanks.
Did any of the remaining outfit changes also result in using a Tungsten white balance with a warming gel? Imagining how that would have looked.
Again, great as always! :)

Mark Umbrella says:

on October 16, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Hi Joe! Its near perfect of course, just, I would have remotely triggered 2 SBs in that tunnels down the wall, with very warm gels, to add more drama there, and also, you would have probably break the record for the longest set ever. Haha. Cheers, Mark

Michael Bartens says:

on October 16, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Necessity is the mother of invention.
I really like how you showed us that you don’t need a dedicated type of light for every occasion but just “run with what you brung”(not a real word but should be) and see what works.
Very cool.
The best part, besides the photo, is the napkin drawing. LOL

Toni says:

on October 16, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Phenomenal! Love the diagram and the detailed explanation. Thanks so much for sharing all this!

Jim Donahue says:

on October 16, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Thats a winner

Joe McNally says:

on October 16, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Hey Patrick…great job on the portrait! I have used Mola dishes on a rental basis, and they are really nice light. On this one, I was traveling as light as possible, so the collapsible 3×3 made location sense as I was racing the light. Thanks for taking a look! Best, Joe

Patrick Downs says:

on October 16, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Thanks, Joe. I know what you mean about the dishes and traveling light … I can’t fly with it unless I get a bass drum hard case, so it will stay at home unless I am driving. I haven’t checked out Chimera’s collapsible “dish” yet as a travel solution.

Someday I hope to take one of your speed light workshops. I had hoped to come over to Seattle a few weeks ago to see you at ASMP, but had a conflict. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Joe McNally says:

on October 17, 2013 at 5:43 am

Yep, they’re tough to travel with. I left the one I bought in China back in China with my client! Best, Joe

Stevie Purves says:

on October 17, 2013 at 7:47 am

Fantastic as usual Joe and what a location too! The light is beautiful!

Jedna Chwila says:

on October 17, 2013 at 4:09 pm

thanks for sharing and… nice photo!

Bob Davis says:

on October 17, 2013 at 9:55 pm

Hey Joe,

I agree…. Many times there’s not enough time to set up the perfect mix and so you improvise, that’s what we do! Face the challenge head on, get the image and salt & pepper to our taste. Well done.



downloads says:

on October 18, 2013 at 1:43 am

i like it so much

Joe says:

on October 18, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I don’t suppose you had a video guy documenting this China trip? It’s time for another lighting video, I mean, Christmas is coming!

meisha says:

on October 19, 2013 at 1:52 am

Hi, Your pictures really cool. have a good model with pro technique must be awesome for the results. I hope I can learn more about taking pictures here :)

mark Alper says:

on October 20, 2013 at 10:44 am

Loved this photo ?
Do you use and Hdr effect in this photo ?
Where on the great wall was this taken ?
The light on her face is amazing…

Andor says:

on October 20, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Amazing shot as usual :-) – and an even more amazing lighting idea!

Robert Lowdon says:

on October 22, 2013 at 6:27 pm

I like how the by using the beauty dish the light is still crisp but softened with the panel. Also the light is nice and concentrated rather than spilling everywhere like with a softbox.

Thanks for the info i’m going to have to try this. By the way do you know where I could rent a wall like that? lol.

Photographer tarifa says:

on October 27, 2013 at 2:42 am

Beautiful image…

Arved Gintenreiter Photography says:

on November 4, 2013 at 7:20 am

Thanks for another informational post! Great sketch – and wonderful shot!!

Marian Majik says:

on November 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Perfect light and of course amazing shoot

Ved says:

on January 1, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Hey it possible to add a next and previous buttons at the end of each post? Makes it easier for reading through the archives…thanks for sharing your’re a legend!

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