Big lighting setups are commonplace when one ventures on YouTube looking for portrait tutorials. Within a few minutes, you will probably stumble across half a dozen kits that require something similar to two strip softboxes, a 59” Parabolic, a 48” Octa, an Eyelighter, and a 5-in-1 reflector – you know, the basics. The folks over at Westcott have produced a video, featuring photographer and educator Joel Grimes, which strips all that away and teaches creating dramatic portraits with one 24” beauty dish.
*The second set-up requires more than one light.
For those who don’t know, or need a refresher, a beauty dish provides a very focused light source without a hot spot in the middle, delivering a semi-hard light. This light is softer than a bare flash or strobe unit, but harder than a softbox. When used up close, a beauty dish provides a concentrated light source where the center is the brightest and the light gently falls off at the edges. Grimes excellently demonstrates the light fall off with the use of a black backdrop.
Depending on the photographic circles you travel in, the ideal portrait length usually falls between 85-135mm, as these focal lengths pull in the background, flatting the image, and allows for distortion-free images from headshots to full-length portraits.
One interesting thing to note is the subtle power of the lights and how it can affect the overall image. Making minor adjustments from ½ of a stop to 1/3 of a stop can change the overall drama in the image, something that should be in the back of your mind for your next portrait session.