DIY Ikea Beauty Dish

A beauty dish is a great light modifier and they are used quite a bit in fashion photography. However, if you’re a speedlight user they can be a little hard to come by unless you create one yourself. Today I’m going to show you just how I made my very own beauty dish from a light I picked up from Ikea for $25.00.

Here’s what you’re gonna need to get this thing together:

  • Ikea SEPTIM Pendant Lamp
  • A small sheet of steel (something fairly thin; I got mine at Lowe’s)
  • Jigsaw and/or Dremel with cutting wheels
  • 3 – 3″ bolts
  • 9 – nuts for 3″ bolts
  • Drill with drill bits
  • Sandpaper
  • Gaffer’s tape or duct tape

Once you have all of your materials together and have a place to start your work, the real fun begins. This isn’t a hard project but it does take a little bit of patience.

The first step is going to be to cut off the top of the lamp shade. BTW, you can dispose of (or find another use for) the light fixture and chain that comes with the lamp. Carefully cut the top part of the lamp shade off with a Dremel or jigsaw. Be sure not to cut too much, as you want this thing to fit securely around your flash.

Once you’re done cutting, be sure to sand down the edges so that you don’t cut your hands. Not to mention the fact that this is where your flash will be going and you don’t want sharp edges tearing up your speedlights!

The next step is to cut four slits into the top of the lamp (see above) so that you essentially have four tabs to work with. You will be able to bend and shape these tabs to better fit your flavor of flash.

Next, I covered the sanded edges with white gaffer’s tape to be sure that I had some protection in place for my speedlights. A couple of layers will do just fine. If you’re paranoid about your flashes, then you can add more if you like.

The pictures above illustrate what my SB-800 looks like inserted into the beauty dish (in it’s early stages).

Now it’s time to cut out the reflector to use in our beauty dish. I wanted a reflector that was 6 inches in diameter and I just so happened to have a paper towel holder in my garage that had a base that was exactly 6 inches. So I used that to trace a circle with a Sharpie. Once I had my circle traced, I used a jigsaw (with a metal cutting blade) to cut it out of my sheet of steel. (For safety reasons, I didn’t take a picture of myself trying to cut out the reflector. That would be bad.)

The picture above shows what my reflector looked like after I cut it out. Be sure to sand down the edges on this piece too so that you don’t cut yourself on this part either. Sharp aluminum and human flesh never are a good match.

Now we’re ready to drill the holes for our bolts that will bold our reflector in place. I drilled three holes about 1 inch away from base of the “flaps”. I drilled them in approximate, equal distances apart from each other. Be sure you drill holes with a drill bit just big enough to accommodate your bolts. Once your holes are drilled, insert the three bolts into the holes from the top of the lamp down. Use a nut to secure each bolt into place. Once you’re done with that, then you can get ready to mount your reflector.

Next, take your reflector and drill three holes into it for your bolts. Since the reflector is pretty thin, I recommend that you drill them on top of a 2×4 or other piece of wood. It will make your drilling job much less complicated. After your holes are drilled then place a nut on each of the 3 bolts. Screw the nut down until it’s about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch down from the end of the bolt. Then place your reflector onto the 3 bolts.

Now take 3 more nuts and place one on each of the 3 bolts to hold your reflector in place. The great thing about using this method of mounting the reflector is you can move the reflector closer or further away from your beauty dish so you can experiment. Once you have your reflector securely in place you’re all done! Now it’s time to take it for a test shot or ten!

Here’s a test shot with mine (my daughter was kind enough to model for me):

So far this design seems to be pretty efficient as I shot the image above at 1/16th power at f8 1/60th. Not bad if you ask me. (Reflector Tip: If you buy a sheet of steel that isn’t very shiny you can cover it with aluminum foil.)

There you have it, another great way to modify the light from the most portable light source ever, speedlights. Now go out and put this info to good use and build your own! Post links to your own design in the comments. Have a great day and happy lighting!


Tuesday News & Updates

Welcome to another addition of Tuesday News, brought to you by none other than myself. Ok, enough corny dialogue.

  • Kodak has entered the competitive printing market with their new ESP line of all-in-one printers that boast lab-quality photo prints and a 50% savings on ink. They use pigment-based ink to resist fading and prices start at $129.99 (MSRP). Check out Kodak’s website for more details. Here’s the link.
  • Fellow San Diego photographer Ken Rockwell is threatening to dump all of his Nikon gear! According to his blog, this outburst seems to have been sparked by Nikon setting the price of the new D3X at $8,000.00 (MSRP). When you click the link I’ll provide, scroll down to 28 December 2008 and read what Ken wrote. Very interesting. Here’s the link.
  • Don’t forget that our D90 Photo Contest opens up for entries on New Year’s Day! Full details about how to enter will be posted on the Photo Contest page beginning on January 1st, 2009. Get your best work (shot with a D90 of course) ready and give it a go. You never know, you could be the winner of a brand new Nikon MB-D80 Battery Grip to go with your D90.
  • If you’re looking for a more reliable solution for off-camera, wireless flash than what the Cactus V2s triggers provide, then check out the CyberSyncs from Paul C. Buff, Inc. Those are the same great folks that bring us the Alien Bees and White Lightning studio strobes. A transmitter and receiver will run you $130.00 (models CST & CSRB) and they’re only available direct from the manufacturer. Here’s the link.
  • If you’re a Lightroom user like I am, then be sure to check out the Lightroom Exchange over at Adobe’s website. There are a lot of great downloads, plugins, etc. for Lightroom that are available there and they are mostly free. Here’s the link.

That’s it for today. Be sure to check back tomorrow for a really cool DIY tutorial for making your own homemade beauty dish! See you then!

Why I’m Committed To Lighting With Speedlights

Some people may think I’m crazy, but I’m committed to lighting with speedlights. There are several advantages that speedlights have over studio strobes (in my opinion anyway) and they’re what I prefer. I still get asked quite a bit why I’m not using studio strobes, so today I’m going to provide some insight into why I’m the way I am when it comes to my lighting.

Speedlights are the absolute best portable, artificial light source for the money, bar none. Whether you buy one new or you buy one used on eBay, you’re getting the smallest, most powerful flash for your cash. Speedlights don’t take up much room, they’re really light, and you can power them with AA batteries that you can find anywhere. If you’re out in the field with a studio strobe and power back, you’re screwed if you’re power pack battery dies. There’s no running to town to pick up some batteries at the local store or Wal-Mart.

I can put a one of my little SBs anywhere. Since they’re nice and small, I can put them anywhere I need to in order to get the light that I’m seeking. Studio strobes aren’t so good at that. With a Justin Clamp I can clamp my speedlights on just about anything and know that they’re safe and won’t fall. I wouldn’t have the same confidence with a studio strobe. I’m sure there are devices out there that allow you to mount studio strobes in a similar way, but they’re bound to be expensive. A Justin Clamp is $50.00 and it already comes with a hot shoe adapter to mount your speedlight.

Also, my SBs can fire at 1/128th power, giving me the ultimate control over my light. Alien Bees (which would be my choice of studio strobe) only go down to 1/32nd power. It’s a lot harder to knock down the light if you need to.

Speedlights are powered by AA batteries (as I mentioned above). I use Kodak AA rechargeable batteries and chargers. I can charge 4 batteries in about an hour with one charger. The rechargeable batteries last longer than traditional AAs and the recycle times are a touch faster too.

True Wireless Freedom
A speedlight on a stand with a wireless trigger means true wireless freedom. With studio strobes/power packs you still have some wires involved. Wireless triggers like Cactus V2s (what I use), CyberSyncs, or Pocket Wizards are the tool of choice for most photographers.

Q & A:
Q: What if you need more power than one speedlight can provide?
A: Easy, I use more than one from about the same location.

Q: Can you modify the light like you can with studio strobes?
A: Sure. I use several DIY light modifiers that work in much the same way that studio strobe modifiers do. There are even several mass produced light modifiers out there that work great too!

Q: Why don’t you want to follow traditional lighting practices and use studio strobes?
A: Call me a rebel, a renegade, or whatever else you want. The most important part of lighting is the image. The final result. How you get there is up to each photographer individually. I like to break the rules and try different things. That is what gives each person their own “style” so to speak.


Take a look at the image on your left. I shot this in my home studio (garage) using three speedlights, two umbrellas, a couple of light stands and a Cactus V2s radio trigger set. I shot at f9 1/160 and had gobs of power to spare with the speedlights. If I can do this with speedlights, why would I want to step up to studio strobes and clutter up my setup? Personally, I wouldn’t and therefore I don’t.

My goal with today’s post was to allow you to get inside my head (a little) and find out why I light the way I do. My way is certainly not universal and I understand that. Each of us as photographers have to come up with the methods that work for us individually and go with that. With that said, how do you light?

Tuesday News

If you’re a Lightroom user and haven’t heard yet, Lightroom 2.2 is out on the street. I have been playing a bit more with some of the cool new features in Lightroom 2 in my workflow. The Adjustment Brush and Gradient Tool are two really powerful features that I had kind of ignored and was still going to Photoshop to use. I recently processed an entire shoot entirely in Lightroom, including retouching too! (More on that shoot later.) Adobe is constantly working to improve Lightroom so that photographers have a tool that is not only powerful, but saves them time as well. I’m hooked on Lightroom.

Speaking of Lightroom, if you had downloaded the beta Camera Profiles from Adobe Labs, the Lightroom 2.2 update includes the final version of those profiles. That means that if you have installed 2.2 then you’ll have to go back and remove the beta profiles. Matt Kloskowski wrote a cool little tutorial on how to remove the old profiles. Here’s the link.

Don’t forget that the D90 Photo Contest opens in just one week! Here’s your chance to send in your best photo (that was shot with the Nikon D90) and enter to win an MB-D80 Battery Grip for your D90! See the Photo Contest page for the official rules and info. Entries will open on January 1st, 2009. The winner will be chosen and announce on February 15th, 2009. Good luck!

That’s it for today. I’m taking the rest of the week off to spend Christmas with my family. I’ll be back here on Monday with some more great photos and gouge. I hope you take some time off as well and enjoy everything that this season has to offer. Have a great week!

Nikon D90 & D-Movie: I Learned Something Cool

I am always trying to learn something new, and not just photography. I do my very best to learn something every single day. A couple of days ago I was reading an article on Digital Photo Pro magazine’s website about the full HD capability of the Nikon D90 and the Canon 5D Mark II. (Here’s the link to the article.)

In an earlier post I had complained about the 24 fps frame rate at which the D90 records. Little did I know, that frame rate is the exact frame rate used in digital cinema. Heh. Shows you just how much I know about video. I complained that really fast motion (like helicopter rotor blades spinning) appeared to be in slow motion. Well, that is one of the interesting effects achieved when recording in digital cinema. Pretty cool of Nikon to think about that when they created the D90.

So as you might have guessed, I’ll be spending some more time playing with the D90 and it’s D-Movie mode. The whole convergence movement is going to change things a lot in now and in the future. I would expect more camera manufacturers to be producing DSLRs just like the D90 and the 5D Mark II in the coming months.

My Day Job: What Did You Do Last Weekend?

I mostly write about photography on my blog, but today I’m writing a little about my career and what I do in the U.S. Navy. But don’t click away just yet, as you can see by the image on the left of the page, I’m not leaving out photography.

On a day-to-day basis, I am a Fire Controlman in the Navy. By definition, I operate, maintain, and repair weapon systems. I’ve even been around long enough now that I supervise those performing the job described above. Am I a fire fighter? Yes and no. At sea, there is no fire department to call and every Sailor on board any ship must be trained to fight fires, repair damage, and contain and stop flooding to keep their ship afloat. The reason that the USS Cole (DDG 67) is afloat today is because of the Sailors that were on board the day she was attacked. They saved their ship. But specifically, Fire Controlmen operate, maintain, and repair weapon systems. Damage Controlmen are the Navy’s fire fighters.

Our ship recently conducted it’s Combat Systems trials to test out the performance of it’s weapon systems and ensure that they worked as advertised. I was presented the opportunity to get topside and shoot some photos during a missile firing that I wasn’t involved in. So I grabbed my D90 and headed topside. Thus the image you see above.

We also had a team of photogs and videographers on board to capture the action. These guys work for NAVAIR and they brought all of their Gucci gear on board. They captured the image you see to the left. To get stills, they had a total of 6 Canon 1D Mark IIs and they had 7 killer Sony HD video cameras, including a high-speed video camera. They did a fantastic job!

Check out the video they put together below!

One of my Shipmates asked me if I would like to work for an organization like that doing what they do. While it would seem cool, I don’t think it would be as fulfilling as one might think. For starters, there is a lot of luck involved in getting these shots. The missiles and projectiles from our weapon systems move insanely fast and capturing them as stills and video can be somewhat luck.

For example, the 1D Mark IIs are triggered with a TTL cable trigger system (our AN/SPY-1D radar system renders Pocket Wizards completely useless) and when missiles are about to go, the guy with the trigger blindly squeezes and prays. (Kind of like an insurgent with an AK-47.) All of the cameras are set up on heavy duty tripods and are weighted down with sand bags. The 1D Mark IIs are housed in small Pelican cases that have been customized with pieces of plexiglass and a few other items. The video cameras are housed in a custom metal case with plexiglass on the end with the lens. In between firings a team member goes out with Windex and paper towels to clean the housings. (Pretty sure I’m positive the new guy has to do that.)

Personally, I would get bored with that job in a very short time. I would rather CREATE images based on ideas that I have come up with in my head. Doing the same setup for the same subject over and over and over again would burn me out. (On the other side of the coin, playing with cameras, glass, and Photoshop all day would keep me moderately happy.) There are a couple of firsts every now and then, as the photo above captures the first time that the U.S. Navy has ever fired four missiles simultaneously at four targets during Combat Systems trials.

So there you have it… a little bit more information about what I do on a daily basis, other than photography. I hope you enjoyed the insight on my life as a U.S. Navy Sailor. Have a great day and I’ll see you back here tomorrow for your regularly scheduled photography post.