I started using studio lights bare, but quickly moved in to collapsable softboxes made my my light manufacturer, Alien Bees and White Lightning. But shortly after, I grabbed a beauty dish, and then a second. I religiously used the beauty dishes whenever possible, trying to understand how they affected my light. Softboxes are easy to understand. Giant light sources with lots of output, and a great, soft light that falls off beautifully when applied correctly.

But beauty dishes completely threw me. I couldn't understand how to make them work for me, despite understanding the basic tenant of lower output, supposedly more wrapping light. I tried them in every situation, even when it may not have been the best choice of a modifier solely for the fact I wanted them to work. I needed them to work.

Keep reading after the jump.

But not matter what I did, I was unable to wring out anything exceptional with the beauty dishes. They did work great at the AMP workshop when I used them all day long without even having to think about it. But when it came to indoor studio work, I was stymied. I went back to my giant softbox and realized, despite its aggravation (this thing is nearly as tall as I am, and I'm not exactly short), the softbox was exactly what I needed, indoors and out.

I got the softboxes after using umbrellas for a while, first with hot tungsten lights, and then with my first set of Alien Bees. Umbrellas are great modifiers, and I'm learning to appreciate them again, but its a little hard for me to shake the feeling of being a mall photographer with the two umbrellas in backwards lights. Seeing Annie Leibovitz and Jill Greenberg using them made me feel much better, so two or three giant silver umbrellas are on my list now.

The reason I left umbrellas in the first place was the light spill in studio, which softboxes have very little of. I learned how to control the softboxes easily, they're very directional and give great even lighting. However, outside on location photography, umbrellas will light a huge area without any distracting dramatic falloff, if one should choose to avoid that. Softboxes are great for outdoor closeup portraits, but for environmental pictures, lots of harsh shadows can be caused by having light thats too directional.

But those #(@* beauty dishes drove me crazy. Hot spots, never able to get the correct exposure no matter what I adjusted. I almost threw them away, which would have been very bad. At the least I would have turned them into giant salsa and chip bowls.

I haven't yet accepted beauty dishes into my life again. I'm not ready for that commitment until I have a studio with an infinity wall and a mannequin to practice on. No model has the inhuman patience I expect this to take.

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