Who and when first introduced or used a beauty dish? Also known as a softlight reflector.

There's a lot of articles on the net on how to use a beauty dish, and on how it is important for fashion and beauty photography these days. But none are there to reveal its origins.

  • For what it's worth, the first reference I can find in Google Books is from a classified ad for used studio lighting gear in the British Journal of Photography in 1999. This is odd, as Google indexes a lot of old photography/camera magazines (as well as, of course, books) and I'd expect it to show up more.
    – mattdm
    Feb 11 '15 at 13:27
  • I think for a lot of light modifiers there's going to be a big difference between which company first introduced a product, and the photographers that first used it. Photographers are always inventing new light modifiers to meet a need, much of which is never commercialized. Feb 11 '15 at 15:46
  • 2
    @mattdm thanks for the tip about google books! I found "softlight reflector" in a book from 1979, and in one from 1975. Apparently it wasn't called a beauty dish then.
    – sanmai
    Feb 12 '15 at 8:23

I am not sure about who used the Beauty Dish for photography first, but the principle of evenly illumination via secondary reflection is accredited to danish mathematician Piet Hein, who constructed the R(a) - lamp in 1931 to alleviate the harsh direct light from the electric bulb in reading-situations. source: http://www.futuraoslo.no/index.php?/produkter/piet-hein/ (danish/norwegian)

  • I don't read Norwegian, but I'm not sure this is applicable. Hein may have introduced this idea for interior lighting (as in home lighting, not photography), but I'd be very surprised if the same principle wasn't widely known to photographers long before 1931.
    – mattdm
    Feb 11 '15 at 12:56
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    I do read Norwegian, and I'm with @mattdm on this. Piet Hein happens to be one of my favourite mathematicians, because I share his fascination for superellipses, though I doubt that he can be credited for this. He may have been one of the first, or even the first, to express it mathematically, but I'm fairly certain it was known empirically long before that.
    – user36865
    Feb 12 '15 at 15:50

While not exactly a softlight reflector as in the beauty dish, bounce lighting itself was first used in 1956 by Subrata Mitra, but in cinema.

The technique itself was devised to overcome difficulties with exposure that were encountered while filming Aparajito, which is the second amongst the three films of the famous Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray.

If there one considers this, and from sanmai's research, we can narrow down the window of this invention to the two decades between 1956 and 1975.

Not sure if this qualifies as an appropriate answer, but I hope this helps!


I had one in 1971. Made by Photax as part of its Interfit range of tungsten lighting for photographers. It wasn't called a beauty dish back then though. Might have been called a softlight or similar. Still got the Photax stands and standard reflectors. Accidentally trod on the softtlight so haven't got it anymore.

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