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.

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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.



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    24 Discussions


    8 years ago on Step 5

    haha, my instructable was basically a copy of yours :) Great minds think alike lol


    9 years ago on Step 6

    Your idea is quite a good one. I would suggest a biscuit or chocolate tin would be lighter than the bowl and won't need the shiny tape. Thanks for this


    9 years ago on Step 5

    your girlfriend has a beard? whos the one in blue then?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    where did you find such a smashing girlfriend you lucky sod anyway ? are you spreading the light by bouncing it of the back of the inner dish i just wana know for me. some people have all the luck. codwithchips


    11 years ago on Step 6

    if u covered the large bowl with a piece a piece of white rip-stop nylon (available from most fabric stores for less than $10 for the small amount you'll need) you could achieve a soft diffused light without the dark areas in your specular highlights (catch-lights). This will also make your light source slightly weaker (about 1/2 stop), so if you keep your camera settings the same, you wont be over-exposing (or you could use a light meter to measure the light to be more precise).


    11 years ago on Step 1

    To get large stainless steel mixing bowels inexpensively, go to a restaurant supply store. As an aside, lots of kitchen "stuff" can be gotten there much cheaper than going to a "kitchen boutique" store. -Ray-


    11 years ago on Introduction

    ei. good one u have here! and may i say u got a pretty girlfriend (a.k.a. Model) :) and that really helps in photography. so cheers mate!


    This is awesome man, I made mine out of Tupperware. Just noticed that my ring is much smaller than your's. I have a 35mm camera so i wont be able to see the pictures for a while. How is the smaller ring going to effect my pictures? you need to post some more stuff dude!

    1 reply

    hmm... don't know much about photography, but this is cool. also don't know much about spray paint, but i'm just gonne put this out there... maybe if you spray painted the bucket it'd be just as effective, and the little plate could be made of out plasitc or any other such material and maybe be lighter?


    11 years ago on Introduction

    A flash with a regular reflector has a "hot spot" in the center where light from the strobe fires directly out onto the subject. The piece of metal in the center of a beauty dish (usually a flat circle not bowl-shaped like here) eliminates this by bouncing that direct light back into the dish and thereby softening it. The picture shown still have the hot spot which means light is spilling around the center bowl. An upgrade to this design--use a white reflector (no need for silver tape) and a flat circular piece of metal a bit larger than your flash head (this could also be white) for a much softer, more even beauty light.

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    All are great ideas - I DO wish I could find a larger bowl - 22 inches, like the real thing, and after some more research, I'd agree, I think that somehow making this less reflective. After more shooting, I'm finding that it's really concentrated and not as diffuse as I'd like. Even on lower power settings, my flash seems too powerful. Maybe painting a bowl with primer and a white coat will diffuse the light more. This is a learning experience for me, and definitely a step in it's evolution. Thanks for your comment!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Generally photographers want that ring in the middle as small as possible. Why make it harder and create more comlex version with ring if there is not "shoot trough" option? Still ofcamera diffusers are cool. I really have to build my own shoot troght version of that.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I'd think you can easily make this into a ring flash by mounting your camera in the center bowl... there's certainly plenty of space, especially for smaller digital cameras. Would need an extension cable for the flash, and a way to physically support the weight (tape might not suffice anymore).

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    firing the flash might be a problem - I'm using the gadget infinity triggers, maybe if you used it with a Canon G9 - those have a hot shoe and are small, but my SLR is WAY too big.

    Ring flash's are direct lighting strobes that are not diffused or bounces in any way, and generally shot through. The lights are actually a ring. Bouncing light off the bowl diffuses it. This is also different in that it is a modifier, instead of a strobe. It is used as an accessory for speed lights, giving it the obvious advantage of versatility of over ring flashes.


    You know, i'm really not sure. I'm starting to think this is an off-camera ring flash. I think the bowl in the center needs to be as small as possible.