Introduction: How to Make a "Beauty Dish" Flash Modifier

About: I'm an engineer. I problem solve all day, problem solve all night. I LOVE learning, and I love teaching what I learn. I want to post more, but time constraints stop me.

Beauty dishes are what pros use to make their flash lighting diffuse and well, as the name implies, beautiful. I learned about these from the David hobby, _the_ strobist, so I have him to thank (and all the other strobists) for all my lighting knowledge. The effect on the model is a soft, diffused light with nice catchlights (the sparkle) in their eyes. To make a lot of wrinkles and such disappear, the beauty dish floods the model with light.

Beauty dish light modifiers are expensive.

I'm a hobbyist photographer.

I'm a cheapskate.

I made one for roughly 5 dollars and 45 minutes..

Here's how.

Step 1: Materials and Tools:


- $1 1x large shallow bowl/bucket
  • if you can find a shiny metal bowl, this will work as well, but is harder to cut
- $1 1x small bowl
  • again, shiny metal is more expensive, but better
- $3 roll of aluminum tape
  • I could only find small 1m rolls, so i bought 3 of them.

~$5 plus tax.


- hobby knife
- duct tape
- scrap cardboard
- clear packing tape

Step 2: Tape Up the Bucket

I missed a photo documenting this step, but I put a layer of the aluminum tape so it completely covered the bucket. This makes the bucket reflective. The aluminum tape can be found at any big box hardware store, usually for ducting. (image 1)

I accidentally bought two types of tape (they came in small rolls from the dollar store) - one shiny, one matte. I put the matte on the bottom where it's probably most needed. Obviously you don't need this if you use a shiny metal bowl.

Cover the inside as smoothly as possible. I've heard of using Al foil and glue, but this way is much cleaner.

Cut a hole in the bottom of the bucket the same size as your flash head, (image 2)

Step 3: Mounting Bracket

Use a piece of cardboard, fold it around it the head of the flash, and tape it closed. This will mount the flash to the bucket. (image 1)

Cut the cardboard tube in four places and it fold out. (image 2)

Tape the flaps to the back of the bucket, making sure to align the flash head with the hole (image 3)

You now have your flash mounted.

Jump for joy.

Step 4: Center Diffuser Dish

From my understanding, this is where the magic happens. The diffuser bounces the light into the reflective material. It also creates the attractive catchlights in your model's eyes.

I didn't feel like breaking out the Dremel for this one, so I used packing tape to float the dish in the center of the larger bucket.

Start with two on opposite sides to get the center bowl, well, centered. Then start adding two pieces of tape at a time. This will make sure that the design stays close to the center, hopefully.

Et voila! you're finished.

Skip with sass!

Step 5: Shoot Yourself in the Face!

I love that phrase!

Serously though, take some pictures. It'll take a while to find a balance with lighting exposure and position.

Check out on how to do just that.

I got my obviously bored girlfriend to model for me. notice the catchlights in her eyes, and the overexposure. Still need to get both aspects of photography correct.

Step 6: Lessons Learned.

Here's where I review my design and note what worked and what didn't.

What DOESN'T work:

- Larger outer bowl - I think this is crucial since someone mentioned that the light needs to diffuse in a soft pattern. Mine doesn't, the bowl is too deep and not wide enough. I'm thinking of cutting the bowl down.

- inner bowl is too big. This created the opposite of hotspots - dark spots! This isn't terrible, and the effect isn't really bad, it's just annoying to Photoshop the changes in to bring the darker parts up to the same light values as the lighter parts. I'm going to cut the bowl down, turn it around, and paint the outside white, as per a real beauty dish. A lot of work, but I'm curious what the results may be.

What DOES work:

-When the light hits, it is much more diffuse than using bare flash. Awesome.

- The catchlights look great!

-the cardboard mount works really really well. It helps that the velcro around the end makes it a snug fit (note, there is no mating velcro on the cardboard)

- Another thing learned - you really need to bring the dish in close to really get the beauty dish effect (unless you have a larger diam dish. I definitely noticed that there was better lighting when the dish is about 2-3-4 feet away from the face. any further and it turns into a bare flash.

See images below for samples of real attempts to take beauty dish pics. Mind you, I am not a pro,as can see with my choice of backgrounds, etc.