How to Gel a Beauty Dish, v.2.0

One thing I have learned about light and lighting: there's always different—and often better—way to do something.

A few months ago we ran a piece on gelling various soft light modifiers, wherein I listed my go-to ways to color soft light. But someone in the comments offered a different way—a way better way—and I have been using it ever since. Here's what he suggested.

First, if you are interested in ways to gel other big light sources, the original post (beauty dish portion since updated) is here. And many thanks to commenter Andrei Popovici for the tip.

What Andrei suggested, and I have since adopted, is to strip-gel the space between the dish and the internal shield/reflector. It works great, with perfect coverage from just a 12x12" gel, as you can see above. And if you do a good job cutting the gels you don't even need any gaff to mount it.

Here's how:

First, measure the distance between the internal base of your dish and the bare-bulb blocking shield. Add about a half inch to that, as that will make things easier.

I was able to cut my 12x12" gel into three strips with enough coverage depth. Next, I taped them into one long strip and measured a snug fit around the light blocker assembly. Do this tape-measure style and keep your cut lines perpendicular and you'll thank yourself later for the smooth, friction fit. Otherwise, you'll have to use tape to mount it.

With the long strip taped, measured and cut, I taped the ends together to make a little gel donut:

If your strips are of slightly different widths, you should make sure to align one long edge and use that for the rear contact for no light leaks. To mount it, just slide it onto your dish, thusly:

And there you go. One 12x12" sheet and perfect coverage. Your mileage may vary depending on the dish. Some blockers are smaller, and/or deeper. In that case you'll need more width but less length. I had plenty left over, so I am guessing there is a gel-strip-Scotch-tape puzzle that will work for both.

Reader Dave Bird notes that you could have issues with heat build-up with modeling lights. Agreed. If perfect coverage is not necessary (i.e., for warming of a key light, as is the most common dish-gelling instance) you could always leave a space at the back for air to escape.

And if you are full-covering with a dark gel (as in above) you may want to periodically remove and reinstall the gel to bleed heat. And watch the model light intensity, of course.

But overall I find this preferable. They are super-easy to store and mount, too. And the coverage can be perfect if needed:

Thanks again to Andrei for the tip. We stand on the shoulders of giants.


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Blogger Peter Emmett said...


Couldn't you also gel a flash and then stick that into the beauty dish to light it up in color? I do love the clean light that this suggestion produces though.


November 25, 2013 8:28 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks David, I've been looking for a good way to gel my LumoPro Beauty Dish for quite some time. This will really come in handy for an upcoming holiday card shoot!

November 25, 2013 9:28 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Bravo for the tip, and the inconceivable pun...

November 25, 2013 10:52 AM  
Blogger Kurt Wall said...

"We stand on the shoulders of giants." What an awful, awful, awful pun.

November 25, 2013 11:49 AM  
Blogger emilanos said...


November 25, 2013 1:22 PM  
Blogger Wing Tang Wong said...

Nice. Like Peter, I had wondered why not just gel the speedlight itself, but your article covers speedlight and other lights in conjunction with beauty dishes... nice. Let's you gel a larger surface with a smaller bit of gel.

November 25, 2013 1:40 PM  
Blogger bobusn said...

That's BOB's gel(ly) donut!

November 25, 2013 1:58 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Wing and Peter-

In theory, yes. But in practice, speedlights and dishes do not play together nicely. To get them to work, you have to dome them so they in effect become a point light source. Then stick them in the focal point of the dish, whereupon they will radiate and reflect from it properly.

That's a lot of light loss from an already relatively weak source. Then a nice deep gel, perhaps?

Like turning the AC on in a Chevy Nova while climbing a hill.

November 25, 2013 2:18 PM  
Blogger John Naman said...

With a dark gel, use a hole-cutter for paper (2 or 3 hole notebooks ...), which lets air circulate and only washs out the color a small amount.

November 25, 2013 8:45 PM  
Blogger Kevin B. said...

David, what is the brand of beauty dish you're using with the Einstein in the photo? It doesn't look like a Paul Buff dish or a Profoto. I've been looking for one for my Einstein, but I don't like how the Buff model has only one screw post securing the blocking plate.

November 25, 2013 11:29 PM  
Blogger Robert Lowdon said...

Interesting post, never considered using gels on a beauty dish before.

November 26, 2013 5:29 AM  
Blogger Wink of an eye Digital said...

David nice tip from your reader. If you use theater gels they will survive for a lot longer even with the mod light 100%

November 26, 2013 12:22 PM  
Blogger rpccube said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 29, 2013 11:38 PM  

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