A beauty dish is a type of light modifier popular among portrait and fashion photographers. The metal disc is attached to a light source, and its parabolic shape reflects back into and out the sides of the dish. The result is dramatic lighting that wraps around the subject.
Beauty dishes produce semi-hard light — softer than a strobe but harder than a softbox — with soft edges. They’re popular for portraits because they create contrast and can highlight cheekbones, muscles, and other facial features. Some photographers like to set up the beauty dish to point downwards at the model to accentuate bone structure and highlight the eyes, lips, nose, and chin.
Rather than diffusing light, as many other modifiers do, beauty dishes reflect light and distribute it towards a focal point. And because the light wraps around the model, there is no “hot spot” in the middle, as there often is with other types of reflectors. To create softer lighting and a dramatic effect, the beauty dish can be covered with a diffuser called a honeycomb grid or sock.
Beauty dishes have a sweet spot where they work best. You’ll want to experiment to see where it best accentuates your subject’s features. Typically, they’re placed close to the model — about 6 inches to 2 feet from their face. To see some examples of setups, check out these sources: