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DIY Beauty Dish Video Tutorial

Best DIY Beauty Dish: the Chinatown Special

But wait, there’s more! While Chris and I were building the Mark II edition of the “Chinatown Special,” we also shot video during the whole process.

Got four minutes? Here’s the walk-through of how to make what Chris and I think is the best DIY beauty dish.


For the full 10-step instructions, more photos of the design, and the complete parts list, check out the full write-up for this DIY beauty dish design.

We made it for the Nikon SB-900 speedlight, but you can make it for any speedlight flash.

You can see more examples of the Chinatown Special in my band promos and portraits.

 (TODD OWYOUNG)

End Notes:

If these instructions have been helpful to you, please drop me a comment, share this link, and go make a DIY beauty dish. Or, if you’re so inclined, buy yourself something nice through my affiliate links through B&H Photo in New York.

Also, if you enjoyed this video and would be interested in seeing more videos about gear, technique, and workflow tutorials for music photography, let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

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There are 104 comments

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  1. Kevin deLeon

    Awesome Todd…This is a great how-to and basically looks exactly like my Paul C Buff dish. I love shooting with a beauty dish…They are so versatile, and give a bit more edge to pictures than soft-boxes do in my opinion.

    • Todd

      Hey Kevin,

      Thanks for the kind words, always appreciate your comments here and your support. Glad to hear that this design looks similar to the Paul C. Buff beauty dish – I’d love to hear that it looks like the light, too!

      I’ve loved shooting with this beauty dish – this size here is perfect for individuals or small groups.

      • Kevin deLeon

        Todd,

        The light is very similar indeed. The falloff looks pretty spot on.

        I have a few shots I am editing this week that were shot with my PCB beauty dish. I’ll send you a link when I get done so you can take a look to see how your dish compares. I would have to say it’s going to be pretty close.

  2. Matt Vogel

    Todd – thanks for what you do. Nobody makes you share your discoveries or secrets with other photographers but you do it anyway. Much respect. I always look forward to these updates and tips, thank you!

    • Todd

      Hey Matt,

      Thanks for the support. I’ve been stung by sharing information and have had people better their own situation at the expense of mine because of it, but I really do feel that sharing is important.

      With this particular DIY beauty dish, I think of it as just one in a family or lineage, if you will. So, I’m happy to share.

  3. Tina

    Best, most professional looking DIY Beauty Dish I have ever seen! Sadly I am not very good at the DIY. I think you should take orders ;) .

    • Todd

      Hi Tina,

      I’d love to fulfill orders for beauty dishes, but I do worry a bit about my brain cells – doing it with spray paint and the polycrylic, all the fumes get to you.

      The toughest thing is probably cutting the hole for the speedlight – everything else isn’t too bad.

      I will say that a DIY beauty dish is a great way to have fun, but not necessarily money. It doesn’t cost too much to build, but the time it takes can be consuming to say the least. And, as they say, time is money.

  4. Garrett Gibbons

    It’s beautiful, and you guys are awesome for putting together both an informative video and a really exhaustive blog entry on the whole thing. It’s a wonderful service to the photography community.

    That said, I’d rather pay $80 than do all of that! I guess it would be different if I had the tools on hand. Brilliant design, and very professional-looking output.

  5. Iain Grant

    Hey Todd

    A video too….wow, you’re really spoiling us now mate!

    Mine is almost complete (pictures will follow eventually- I promise). I had a lot of fun (and sweating) using a dremel for the first time. Everything looks spot on, except you can’t get that Minwax polycrylic spray over here in the UK and I’ve already damaged the rim just by turning it over to spray the black back (it obviously wasn’t totally dry and peeled at the edge) so I must repair the damage & find a suitable matt varnish to protect this work of DIY art before I can finally assemble this badboy.

    Thanks again for the tutorial- you’re a genius…

    Oh yeah- I hope you moved your car out of the garage before you started spraying!!!!!!

    All the best,

    iain

    • Todd

      Hey Iain,

      Thanks for the kind words – looking forward to seeing photos of how your dish turned out. Yes, Dremels are fun, but it can be a little nerve wracking cutting into the metal. On the first version of the dish I made, I definitely messed up the edge a bit before spraying it with polycrylic – the good thing is that it’s relatively easy to touch up, you just need more white spray paint. I’d suggest taping up the edge and also taping a plastic bag over the back of the dish so that the black paint is protected from any over-spray/misting from the white.

      Cheers, and great work on your site – love the landscapes.

  6. TIna Patenio

    Todd,

    Awesome tutorial; thanks for sharing your DIY findings! I’m going to work on this and the snoot this weekend. They’re definitely the most professional looking DIY photo projects I’ve seen out there.

    Have you ever considered fab’ing up a DIY ringflash for a speedlight? I’d be interested in seeing something like that from you, though I might give it a go if I finish the Chinatown Special + snoot in enough time this weekend… Here’s to trial and error!

    -Tina

    • Todd

      Hey Tina,

      Thanks for the comment. Let me know how this works out if you end up making it this weekend.

      I haven’t made a ringflash, but who knows – maybe that should be a project as well. If I did make a ringflash, I’d want it to be fairly large in diameter, if at all possible.

  7. Zepouet

    Thank Todd,

    I did it myself this weekend. I am waiting the painting is dry to use it. Silver paint to recover the internal surface :-) I hope it will be good.

    Thank to share your experience ! You are a king !

    Best regards,

    • Todd

      Hey Zepouet,

      Thanks for the kind words, happy to share this design. Do you have any photos of the completed dish? I’d love to see them.

  8. JoelPilotte

    I have a quick question for you Todd if you have time. I just came up with an idea for a more homemade style beauty dish, i was wondering what your thoughts would be on a plastic bowl lined with tin foil? It is just much easyier for me to cut through. Could this potentially work? Any input would be awesome, thanks Todd.

    Joel

    • Todd

      Hey Joel,

      I think a plastic bowl would work just fine. As for the tin foil, it’ll certainly reflect light, but it’s going to give a different look. You can always paint the bowl white or silver if the tin foil doesn’t work.

  9. Phillip

    i have a similar question with the person who posted above–

    would using a plastic bowl work also? (if so, would it work just as good?)

    and would buying a glossy white have a better (or worse) affect on the inside?

    thanks for the guide btw, great work.

    • Todd

      Hi Phillip,

      A plastic bowl will absolutely work – the shape is going to be the most important thing here; the materials are really secondary.

      From what I’ve seen, glossy white paint may produce some hot spots, depending on the shape of the bowl. I’d go with a flat white or possible matte silver if you want to try more punch.

  10. Scott

    I used a steel toilet seal retainer ring to stiffen up the back of the beauty dish and have something to attach the bracket to. It is just the correct size. Works great. Thanks for the tutorial

  11. Tonny Liautanto

    Hi Todd,

    Thx for sharing this lovely diy project. I’m find it more useful and very easy to bond w/ it. Thx though.

    Regards

  12. John O'Connell

    This dish looks great alright!

    I don’t have a dremel so I’ll probably use a stiff plastic bowl instead and use a drill / hacksaw for the edges – You’re using a pizza dish for the reflector – is there something to be said for using a curved surface almost like a really flat bowl for the reflector to bounce more of the light out to the sides of the dish? The pizza dish looks quite flat so would a lot of your light end up being bounced back towards the flash? Or is it a case that your matte white paint is softening the lighting coming back from the pizza dish?

    Really good job!

  13. Kitchen Tools with Alternative Uses | Mission Restaurant Supply

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  14. Jake

    Hey Todd, I’m gonna start drawing up some plans to make one of these and I had a question but first thanks for the great writeup of the build, it will make things much easier. Now my question: do you think that a single speedlight is plenty enough light for this mod or would I be better off designing this to hold two flashes? Thanks again, Jake.

    • Todd

      Hey Jake,

      If you’re using a flash like the Nikon SB-900 or Canon 580ex, you’re going to be good to shoot at around f/8-11 at ISO 200 or so, depending on how close the flash is.

      Two flashes is going to give more power and flexibility, so if you really want to overpower daylight, I’d go for two flashes.

      Let me know how the build goes for you, and good luck.

  15. Tom McKean

    Hey Todd!

    I like your beauty dish better then the one from Strobist! Thanks so much for your video.

    Now I can have a nice Beauty dish in my bag of umbrellas, Lastolites, Etc.

    Tom

  16. mark

    LOVE it! Thanks for the great info on making the beauty dish. Can I ask a silly question and I apologize if you addressed it above. I notice on the video before you cut the hole for the speedlite you showed where the holes will go for the mounting bracket. I notice the next shot is all the holes are drilled. How did know where to place the holes for the reflector (pizza pan)? Are all the holes within the same radius of the holes on the ezybox mounting bracket?

    Thanks,

    Mark

    • Todd

      Hey Mark,

      For the holes, it’s going to differ with every design – but since I had the “speedring” from the bracket, you can actually just lay that down and use the very holes you’ll be using for mounting to mark where you’ll drill.

  17. Robert

    Great post and video.

    I’ve just finished my first DIY beauty dish but it isn’t too big. I’d really like to make another one that is at least 45cm in diameter but I’m having a real hard time trying to find in Mexico a metal bowl that size.

    I made two minor changes compared to your build:

    The edge of the hole is sharp evening after sanding. To fix that problem I got some old spare electrical wire (white sleeved) and sliced it length wise with a sharp cutter knife. Next I removed the copper strands then used the sleeve to trim the edge of the hole. It grips fairly well to the edge of the hole but to be on the safe side I applied some two part epoxy resin to make sure it wouldn’t fall off.

    The only other difference is that I used wing nuts to hold the bracket assembly to the dish as you can’t get a good grip when hand tightening normal nuts and I don’t really want to carry around a wrench or pliers on every shoot.

  18. jakob de zwart

    hi Todd,

    Mate I finally got around to building the chinatown special and wow! I even surprised myself, as per other posts here, yes the cutting was the trickiest bit, I ended up drilling a lot of holes first and the used the cutter. I sprayed in a large warehouse, if you did this in a tiny garage you would definately leave you a little short of brain cells, the white paint needed 2-3 as much coverage too. It turned out brilliantly though, problem now is all my mates want one! Thanks again Todd, awesome work!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jol-e/sets/72157625380324874/

  19. Portrait Photography: Helen {Houston Bridal Portraits} – Katherine Love Photography

    [...] I think you’ll be impressed to learn that Helen’s mother Anne fashioned the bouquet herself. And I’ve been remiss to mention that since the portrait session I did for Janice, who now dwells in Dublin, I’ve been using a DIY beauty dish my husband and trusty assistant Benjamin and I made together. All the details for the best DIY beauty dish can be found at the blog of the brilliant Todd Owyoung. [...]

  20. Charles Little

    I’m really loving this dish and plan on heaading into my garage to craft one myself…I’m curious about the circular “sanding” marks that I see on the mixing bowl. Did you guys add these marks to affect the quality of the light output from the dish bounce or is this intended to give the paint a surface to adhere to?

    I’m really thinking of building one which is white and one which utilizes the metal surface of the mixing bowl for a harsher light which will throw farther. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts though.

    I’ll be building my dishes to fit a canon 580EX II speedlight.

    I wonder if I could do the same thing with a ring flash intended for macro shooting and adapt a beauty dish modifier for that? Then I could take this large soft diffused light source out with me without giant battery sources and whatnot…I wonder if the output would really be worth it..hmmmm…..

    thanks for this awesome research and sharing your findings.

    happy shooting!

    http://charleselittle.com
    follow me @charleslittle2

  21. Presley

    hanks, Todd, thats was an awesome DIY beauty dish. I’ve serached all over the net and i like this one the best. WIll you be doing more DIY tutorils? if you can do one for a ring light, that would be cool.

    Anyway, thanks again.

    Presley

  22. Billy

    Hey Todd,
    This is amazing and am looking forward to making it. I just have a quick question before I make it. I have cactus V2s for my sb600s and from watching the video it seems like using external hotshoes is not an option. Am I missing something. Sorry if I am. Thank you very much :)

  23. Bob Shupe

    Hello!

    This is a great tut and I thank you for posting it. I know its old so Im late to the party with your website etc. but I still thought I would post to encourage you and also to ask a question.

    1. Do you find the weight of the stainless bowl to be a problem vs. a plastic bowl? 1.a. do you think a plastic bowl would be too weak even though it would not be carrying any weight but its own since you’re using the store-bought bracket?

    2. Did you try with the larger bowl and find it to not be sufficient gain in photo quality to justify the additional weight/size to pack around etc?

    Thanks again!

    Bob

    • Todd

      Hi Bob,

      1) A plastic bowl would work just fine, I don’t think the strength would be an issue. I used a metal bowl because the shape worked the best for my needs.

      2) A slightly larger bowl – say, 20qt vs 16qt – was much more expensive, and for only a very marginal increase in overall diameter. So, it was more of an issue of cost than size and weight.

  24. Leia Smethurst

    HI!
    Great tutorial, and great video! I haven’t seen any questions on light setup, so I thought I’d ask. The self portrait you posted at the end was great, the lighting is something I’ve been trying to ‘get’ for some time now. Do you need a beauty dish to get the lighting you’ve demonstrated in the photo? I have 2 umbrella lights, 2 softboxes, and a speedlight. Is it possible to get the lighting you have in your portrait with the equipment I have? Also, what is that type of lighting called?
    Thank you in advance.

    • Todd

      Hi Ray,

      Thanks for the comment. I never did make a grid for this beauty dish. If you do want to pursue a grid, I’d suggest making it out of something like an airflow straightening grid.

  25. René

    Hi Todd!
    Thank you very much for the tutorial.
    I went with an hybrid solution, I used a plastic bowl and the pizza tray, and it worked!!
    Here some pictures of my results!!

  26. Kye

    Hey guys,
    I don’t know if you’re still responding to questions on this DIY, but I’ve nearly got all the tools in place to get started. I have one question about lining your holes so the dish and reflector (pizza tray) line up properly. Do you have any tips on aligning the pizza tray so that the holes for the 3″ machine screws through the tray and the bowl align perfectly. I’ve got some ideas about it, but I’ve only got one shot (because I had to get the dish and tray online) and I wouldn’t want to mess up and have to wait two more weeks for new parts. I was just interested in finding out what worked for you.

    Thanks,
    Kye

    • Todd

      Hi Kye,

      Use the same template for both the dish and the pizza tray and try to drill exactly on the mark. The screws are long enough that you’re going to have a little wiggle room, so the holes don’t have to match up exactly, too.

  27. Gen

    This thing is seeeeeexy! I’m gonna have to be that chic at Lowe’s tomorrow buying a Dremel, spray paint and some machine screws. BOOM! Thanks for an awesome DIY.

    • kye

      Oh this thing works so well. Start up costs may make you think, “I could’ve bought one for this price,” but it’s worth it. Plus I’ve used the Dremmel for so many things after making this. I even made a sock from fabric and sewed an elastic band around it. This thing is the TRUTH!


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