How To Use Clamshell Lighting for Beautiful Portraits

With so many lighting setups, it can be difficult to narrow down which ones to use. One of my personal favorites is described right here, in-depth, in this behind-the-scenes video: clamshell lighting.

When I shoot, I typically don't use that many lights. I'll have a key light, then I'll opt to use reflectors or black cards to control the shadows. I will sometimes use rim lights and practicals for depth, but I rarely use two or three primary lights. One of my favorite setups is using two lights and a reflector for the clamshell setup. I do a similar key light to the one in this video, with a large octabox and grid pointing down at the subject for the butterfly lighting style. I then use a reflector as the bottom half of the clamshell to soften the shadows and make the light more flattering.

One of the merits of clamshell lighting is that you don't get harsh shadows on the face. Have you ever noticed that while skiing people look healthy and bright-eyed? Well, that's usually because you're in a giant clamshell lighting setup. The sun and sky is brightly illuminating you, but the snow is reflecting that light upwards and softening all the shadows. This is particularly effective for making people look younger as it fills in wrinkles and bags under the eyes.

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derek j's picture

This is helpful. What was the lighting ratio of the top to the bottom light?

Bert Nase's picture

just listen what he's saying! If both meter at f11 than it's what ratio?