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.

In contrast, Grimes uses the wide end of the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II (around 28mm) on his 5DS R to accentuate his model’s features, making them appear larger than life.

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.