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From my personal experience a beauty dish produces very soft light in the center, almost soft box like. Away from the center light becomes directional, harder. It is just the opposit of what is communicated on the internet and many tutorials. Most often it's not recommended for people with bad skin.

Therefore, I set up a diagram that seems to support my observations:

Diffuse and directional light with a beauty dish

If you feather the dish you will place the subject in the directional light and get harder shadows, while still filled with some indirect light. The center however, is good for "bad" skin, i.e. it weakens details like wrinkles etc..

Of course, the beauty dish must be used in a near distance (1-2 diameters). Too far it behaves like a normal, weak light source. Furthermore it also depends on the form of the reflector itself. It must be a beauty dish, not anything like a deep parabolic reflector.

Where am I wrong?

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    Is your question seeking to discover anything beyond: "Am I right?" If so, what, exactly? – Michael C Mar 3 at 23:31
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Your diagram definitely supports your observations.

Although not currently using one, and taking your diagram into consideration, having used beauty dishes in the past, this is what I found; (most of which is in agreement to what you are saying.)

• Unlike a large softbox, the beauty dish is designed to be used to create shadows.

• Depending on how far back the beauty dish is, if the subject moves, the light will change very dramatically as the subject moves out of the centre soft light and into the outer harder directional light.

• Based on the placement (the distance from the subject) of the beauty dish, you are able to contour and etch out the cheek bones and the chin and retain the center softness of the face. Something that the softbox does not achieve. This is happening because of the low contrast indirect light in the centre hitting the subject in the middle of the face, and the harder directional light feathering on the cheeks.

• By lifting it higher than the subjects face, you can create a fuller looking bottom lip whilst retaining a soft middle part of the face but still have beautifully contoured cheek bones.

• By fixing a diffuser sock in front of the dish, it is able to more closely mimic a softbox as some of the hard-directional light is deflected back in before leaving.

• And as you suggest in your question, depending on the size of the beauty dish and the size of the deflector inside, it is possible to bring the dish in close enough to dramatically reduce skin details, but you have to take the inverse square law into consideration where the sudden light fall off will cause very extreme outer edges.

• To really get a broader soft light, you need to move your beauty dish further back and look at the shadow on a wall and place your subject inside this shadow. This will avoid the outer hard light hitting the subject and you will create a more feathered look. Of course, you will have to bump up the light output.

• And finally, the directional outer light is great at bouncing back off a reflector.

So, I don’t believe you are wrong, but it is possible that some of the articles and tutorials on the internet that you have come across may be somewhat confusing or perhaps just misleading because the Beauty Dish can be used for both hard Edgy light, of very soft low contrast image.

And it is definitely not focused light. to get the soft look, you are shooting in the shadow of the light.

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Youre not wrong, but think of it like this

You have a speedlight a focused point source of light. Next we have a beauty dish (it is a focused bare bulb) so

now a light source the diameter of the dish. But like you are thinking. Inside itself parabolic focal distance you have MANY light sources from 360’ directions

Next you have a bare bulb, beauty didh is removed. No longer is light going out at fromt half of sphere with rear directed light reflected forward and focused Now you have light radiating in all directions equally. This is s a unfocused of soft single point source. It sends light of ceiling floor and side walls. Giving softer studio light with out a modifier.

Lastly we have an umbrella (shot through) or a soft box. What is happening here is, every mm of the box screen is acting like a mini bare bulb. So you now have a million tiny lights side by side sending light in every direction. This is the softest single light source.

Best for bad skin. Multiple light sources

4 light set up Key light centrr above for nice chin Boxes left right as 2 !!! Fills this fixes complexions Add a rim (hair) light if you wish or a background light

Although the beauty dish would seem to diffuse light at a certain distance. Remember it is really letting half be bare bulb and the other half of light be a spotlight. Bigger than a point source. But more. Draw your diagram where all the light forward off the reflector is parallel going straight ahead (not criss crossing)

  • OP is specifically asking about beauty dishes...I don’t understand the point of complicating this answer by referencing speedlights, bare bulbs, and umbrellas. – Hueco Mar 3 at 19:31
  • @RoseEatsRice: The point is, a beauty dish is not parabolic! Therefore, you will not get parallel or even focused light. – Minotaurus007 Mar 3 at 21:09

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