How to Take Western-Style Panoramic Portraits With a Beauty Dish

Although wide-angle lenses are ideal in many portrait situations, they may create undesirable distortion around edges of the frame. Why not experiment with other types of cameras and other formats, such as traditional film? Photographer Joe McNally explains how he used an old panoramic camera and beauty dish to push the boundaries with portraiture:

Panoramic cameras were not traditionally used for portraiture, but photography knows no boundaries! The unique frame of the panoramic paired with the dramatic lighting of the beauty dish work well for McNally’s Western style portraits.

His subjects are placed off to the side of one of two scene setting structures: a simple wooden church and a ramshackle barn. The 16:9 panoramic camera is set up just in front of the subject, and the beauty dish is as close as possible without being in frame.

The beauty dish, an Elinchrom 27” Softlite Reflector, is a stunning light source in more than one way.

“It produces a hard light that has edge, but it also is very defining and in a certain way beautiful—even though it is very crisp and very, very sharp…”

A ‘sock’, or diffuser tones down the light just a notch. The result is a light source of equal match to the harsh New Mexico sunlight. The bright light of a full powered bulb creates a very high f-stop, allowing for sharpness in subject and background.

panoramic portrait beauty dish joe mcnally
black and white film beauty dish joe mcnally
western style portraits

The images were shot at 45mm, f/16, and 1/125 of a second. The 100 ISO black and white film adds an authentic (and certainly nostalgic) feel to the images. And for all you ‘film’-buffs: the 16:9 panoramic creates a wider film negative, with 20 shots per roll.

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