Clamshell Lighting – Studio Photography Lighting Tips
Clamshell lighting is a simple way of lighting a studio portrait. For this you need two light sources. It can be done using speedlights or studio flash units. In this example I am using a pair of Elinchrom Quadra lights, one with an Octabox diffuser and the other using a shoot-through umbrella. You can also do this using 2 softboxes or possibly even 2 umbrellas, for example.
You need to position your lights on stands so that one is above the head height of your subject. Angle it pointing down about 45 degrees and place it directly in front of your subject. Then, take your other light and lower it right down. Angle it pointing 45 degrees upwards towards your subject. Position it underneath the first light. This gives you a shape a bit like an open clamshell – which is why it is called clamshell lighting.
The camera shoots between the two lights. So, everything is facing the subject – both the lights and the camera are straight on.
The idea of clamshell lighting is to fill in the shadows that you would get from just using one light. It is especially good if you want to stop wrinkles and other features being too prominent (obviously not a problem for the model in these shots!). With one light you will get shadows falling as it hits the contours of the face. The clamshell lighting set-up is designed to minimise those shadows and give you a relatively flat light that looks pleasant.
In the video, you will see an example with a black background compared to a single light version. Then, we shoot the clamshell lighting as you see it in our lighting diagram with a white background. The white looks grey because there is no light on it and it is a little way behind our model. In the final image, we’ve added a speedlight with a wide diffuser to make the background behind the model’s head a nice crisp white (see top of page).
I do hope you will give this simple clamshell lighting set-up a go. It is great for headshots and works very well if you need to do several people quickly. If you enjoyed the video, why not subscribe to our video channel to keep up to date with out future video releases.
© Joe Lenton, November 2015