Big Light Modifiers Part 1: Beauty Dish

UPDATE: Although the purpose of this post was not a step-by-step tutorial, I have added a few more pictures that detail the construction and the various parts of the finished dish.  

Last time, I talked about making the jump from speedlights to A/C powered strobes. In addition to the new lights, I also got a pile of new modifiers.  I really spend a lot of time researching the types of modifiers that fit my style of lighting, and more importantly, which ones are cost effective on a limited budget. I think everyone would like to have a full closet of Profoto/Broncolor/Chimera softboxes/paras/striplights/reflectors but when you break it down, the amount that you use any of those pieces of gear has to be enough to justify the cost.

Frugality was the very reason I was so excited to find this DIY beauty dish project by Todd Owyoung of I actually found this DIY a long time ago, but I didn't really have an opportunity to build it until now.

The original plans were for designed for a speedlight, but it was really easy to modify it to work with a standard speed ring adapter. Those who know me know that I am a sucker for DIY and I have quite a few pieces of home built gear in my kit. I am, however, not a fan of so called "duct tape DIY", if I'm going to build something it has to perform as good or better then an off-the-shelf option and has to look somewhat respectable too. Todd's design is beautiful in it's simplicity and in the quality of light that it produces. I got the chance to test a dish made by Norman, and I really can't tell the difference between the light made by that and the dish that I made.

All of the parts for this dish are available off of the shelf. Todd says on his site that he found everything for the project locally at a restaurant supply store for under $20. I would definitely check around locally first, as that will probably be cheaper, otherwise you can do what I did and order what you need from Amazon. I used a 20qt stainless mixing bowl and 8" aluminum pizza dish. You could go a little smaller with a 16qt or you could go as big as you can find. I would say that if you are planning to use it with a speedlight then use the 16qt bowl, with big lights-use the big bowl.

The construction was pretty simple, I just followed the instructions HERE and the video tutorial HERE. My design eliminated the flash bracket and replaced it with the speed ring adapter. The whole unit is held together by three 1/4-20 bolts and the reflector is adjustable along the length of the bolts.

The same bolts that hold the reflector to the main dish hold the speed ring adapter to the back side. The spacing of the holes here are very important, washers could be added to allow a more secure hold on the adapter. I've been using this a bit so there are already a few bumps and bruises, but overall the unit is holding up great.

A set of jam nuts on the inside of the dish allow the adapter to be tightened independently of the reflector, washers are not needed here but you can add some if you are worried about chipping the paint or are planning on swapping out the adapter for different brands of lights.

Another set of jam nuts are used to hold the reflector in the correct position. The reflector is held on from the front by cap nuts, here again you can use washers, paint the nuts white, etc. If you will be swapping mounts for different lights, you can use wing nuts to ease the process of setting the reflector to correctly focus the output of the different lights.

The beauty dish is finished with an enamel paint, satin black on the outside and flat white on the inside and on the reflector. A variation would be to paint the interior silver for a little more specular look. I like the evenness of the white, so that is what I used. The whole project only took a few hours+paint drying and the result is a very nice looking light source.

In part 2 we will talk about some of the other modifiers that I have been using recently and what I would purchase on a few different budgets.