22 inch Beauty Dish

Catchlights What’s your favorite set up? Octoboxes, Grids, Ring Lights, Umbrellas, Soft Boxes, Beauty Lights, Florescent Tubes?

86 inch reflective paul c buff umbrella
86 inch Buff Reflective Umbrella with Diffuser


In my initial quest for the softest light quality, I went first via the route of seeking and trying ever larger light diffusion systems which I could reasonably find …

Having tried several light modifiers, the quest for larger and softer culminated for me with what Paul C. Buff calls their PLM™ Parabolic Light Modification System.

This PLM is an 86 inch opaque umbrella with a white diffuser attachment.

The quality of the light is superb and very soft as you can see in the photo on the left.   Love to know how you are feeling about it?

My message here is this, I was looking first for ever softer light quality.

Since we are looking at catch lights, we may need to blow the photos here up a little.

Therefore, I have provided several photo size options available for you to choose depending on your interests and connection speeds.

Let me explain …

To view photos larger a bit larger, simplest and quickest is just click on the photo itself.

To view even larger still, click links below:

SmugMugis one way I warehouse, display and distribute my photographs.

On SmugMug, we may display an unlimited amount of photographic work, in JPG format while maintaining all our copyrights too.

Doesn’t get much sweeter than this for now, does it?

What does your work flow process look like and how to you warehouse and distribute your photos?

Anyway, thanks for reading the plug.  Your use of our quality sponsors is part of how we keep the lights on.

Back on the subject of lights …, the Umbrella is huge.  Notice how the quality of the light is very flattering to the figure of the lovely lady?

What about when we blow up the shot and get a good look at the catch light?

Notice the round catchlight?

Do you see the long line of the light stand and the outline of the Alien Bee 800 flash unit smack dab in the middle of the umbrella diffuser?

If you were wondering, the light stand and flash head shadows are the give away on these reflective umbrellas.

As I got more comfortable with the softness of my lights, I started to pay more and more attention to catch lights.

Prior to this, I used catchlights in other photographers’ works to determine how they lit a photo.

Now I was looking for how well I preferred the catch lights themselves.

Octobox 47 inches with Grid Buff Blonde Blue Eyes Black and White
Octobox 47 inches with Grid


Before graduating to my large umbrella, I had first tried a Paul C. Buff 47 inch Octobox.

See example on left.  I was doing a lot of experimenting with grids at this time.

Again, this is a nice soft light.

Very flattering for female models and makes the octagonal catch lights.

If you look close, you can also see the dark square grid pattern lines in the catch light.

Let’s review my learning on Paul C. Buff soft grids:

  • Difficult to take on and off without tearing the grid
  • The catch light pattern with them is kind of distracting
  • Takes a lot of time to take grid on and off

What I primarily like about grids is the directional control they provide.   For example, grids can keep the soft lights from spilling onto back drops or other undesired areas.

I do not like taking these soft grids on and off.  Generally, I do not prefer what soft grids do to the catch lights in eyes.

So, I do not use grids on boxes and umbrellas for tight head shots.  ( I do like grids on 7 inch metal reflectors for tight direction control, spot lighting and the like. )

You may have noticed by now, that in the small versions of these shots, while catch lights are visible in the eyes, their shapes are not so discernible at these smaller scales.   The smaller the pictures (and especially eyes in the pictures),  the more catchlights tend towards looking like flashes or points of light, regardless of the actual light modifier used.

This is an important point to keep in mind when planning the lighting.   What is the final photograph scale intended to be?

After the large reflective umbrella, I was considering a shoot through umbrella, as I have seen great light quality from smaller shoot through umbrellas used by other photographers …, then I starting thinking more about catch lights.

22 inch Beauty Dish
22 Inch Beauty Dish


By this time, when shooting outdoors, I was often using a 22 inch Beauty Dish.

What I really like about the Beauty Dish, especially for outdoors is, it gives me my softest strongest light source in a sturdy package.

I also feel the catch light is a realistic one.  We are used to seeing pin point catch lights in the forms of reflected light bulbs and the sun in people’s eyes.

At a distance, the beauty dish produces pretty much just such a circular pin point catch light.  Like the sun.

We do not tend to question the shape of these largely circular catch lights.  Circular catch lights help harmonise the unconscious mood of the viewer in this way.

The other issue outdoors is wind.   Boxes and umbrellas are like big sails, always tipping over or flying away.

For me, the beauty dish is a great accessory for outdoor soft light sourcing.

Continuous Florescent Tube Lighting, Shoot Through Square, 48", 48 inch, 4 foot, 4', blonde glamour photo, poka dot hat
Continuous Shoot Through Fluorescent Tubes


Another great soft light source is the 4 foot ring of fluorescent tubes.  I had these built after reading Rolando Gomez’s “Garage Glamour”.

The light quality is very soft.  I often find the use of continuous light a great ice breaker when working with new models.

Click click click click click…. They get over it so much faster and relax. Good shots often are taken within minutes.

The catch light is a funny one.  Some people find it annoying.

The contraption itself is a bit awkward.  I still love it for what it does.

Care must be taken to avoid motion blur and watch depth of field, cause it isn’t so much light.

Ring Light 10 inch ABR800
Ring Light 10 Inch ABR800, yes she has two different color eyes


This takes us to ring lighting.

While the Buff ABR800 AlienBees™ Ringflash is cumbersome, and the soft box for it is impossible ( I stopped using the soft box a long time ago due to being practically impossible to see around and to take on and off) ….

This ring light is a great portrait light source.  Even though is technically a hard light, coming from all around the camera lens axis, it has a very soft feel, especially for close ups like head shots.

Do not use this ring flash when first working with your model.

Trying to see around the ABR800 creates additional separation between model and photographer.  Use it only after you have established rapport and know the model is responding well to direction.

Centered in the pupil, the ring light makes a very cool concentric catch light.

It is down right catchy…

So while I love the results, the Buff ring flash is huge, cumbersome and heavy.

Love to have a smaller form factor ring flash.  Anyone use a ring flash they love?

My favorite?

Was thinking of using the shoot through umbrellas when I thought more about light.  Looking at more and more catch lights, I found that I generally preferred point sources, like the sun.  Sources which I was used to seeing in nature and around the house when looking into people’s eyes.

"Bright Lights, Big City"  Two large rectangular Soft Boxes
“Bright Lights, Big City” Two 30 by 60 inch soft boxes


What I realized is that rectangular catch lights occur most naturally in most man made spaces.  Windows and doors all throw off rectangular catch lights.

So, I got the two biggest rectangular boxes I could locate, 30 x 60 inch boxes.  Two of them set side by side, and me shooting between them.

Combines the even soft lighting effect of ringing, that I liked from my Garage Glamour and ring flashes along with the large area soft lighting of huge umbrellas.

These two 2 1/2 by 5 foot boxes between them provide 25 square feet of soft light which I can place within a couple or few feet of my models for a very even soft lighting.

And the catch lights?

Some even feel it helps makes my dude look like a lady.

I love them.

They seem like a couple of large close by window panes.  Very natural.

Multiple separate circular or odd shape catch lights can be very confusing to viewers.

Indoors, we are naturally used to seeing multiple rectangular catch lights created by multiple windows and doors.  So long we maintain a few rules like keeping orientation directions similar, etc.

All shots taken on this page used a Nikon D90 with a variety of lenses.

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