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Re-Diffuse! How Joe McNally Softens His Lights

Editor’s Note: We’re please to feature this guest post from one of the most talented guys on the planet Joe McNally. Joe is a speaking in Las Vegas the first week of September. His great blog was also named to Resource Magazine’s must read list.

The beauty dish is a fave of fashion photogs everywhere. I call it a cheekbone light. It is short, sharp and it clearly, definitively crisps out human facial architecture, especially architecture thats been facialized, powdered, defined, beautified, and otherwise made to look all sorts of crackling super humanin other words, a thoroughly worked over fashion models face.

But sometimes, even for one of those extraordinary faces, I feel the beauty dish is a little much in terms of contrast and definition. It can also, at least occasionally, produce a bit of a blasted highlight on someones forehead, especially with those subjects who might be follically challenged. So I baffle it a little bit. Confuse it. Redirect its mission. With another layer of diffusion.

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In the photo above, the absolutely lovely model up on the Great Wall of China is looking directly into a beauty dish. But she can’t see it. Because in front of the dish is a 33 Lastolite Skylite Panel, hand held, slowing down, mushing about, and just generally softening up the resolute flow of adamantly contrasty photons a beauty dish generally produces.

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Heres the process. This dish is a knock off I bought in China, adapted for an Elinchrom Ranger head. That flash head pumps a blow of light into the beauty dish deflector, which then radiates the light around this salad bowl of a light shaper. The light then hits a sock, or diffuser layer Ive covered the dish with. (This dish has a white interior, by the way, not a silver.) Then, not liking the edgy shadow play on the models face, I intersected the flow of light with another layer of diffusion, in the form of the panel. The result is that the light is directional, but not slam dunk hard. It defines the models face, in more of a caress than a slap of light. Which I liked, at least at that moment, with daylight fading on the Great Wall, and three more outfits to shoot.

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