How to Use Clamshell Lighting for Portraits

Clamshell lighting is one of the most classic and commonly used setups for portrait photography, and when done right, it can produce eye-catching and flattering results. If you have not used it before, check out this great video tutorial that will show you how to create a proper clamshell setup for portraiture. 

Coming to you from John Gress, this excellent video tutorial will show you how to create a clamshell lighting setup for portrait photography. The setup is so named because it places two lights at 45-degree angles, one facing up and one facing down, mimicking the shape of a clamshell (it can also be done with a light above and a reflector below). The overhead light is the key and is typically something like a beauty dish. The bottom light serves as fill to soften the shadows of the overhead light. This creates flattering light with soft features and a noticeable double catchlight. Clamshell lighting is a very versatile setup and one every portrait photographer should know. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Gress.

If you would like to continue learning about how to light a portrait, be sure to check out "Illuminating The Face: Lighting for Headshots and Portraits With Peter Hurley!"

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Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Hey, Alex, I think that lead image was supposed to be an embed video:


Oh heck. Thank you!

I always found it easier and less "overlit" to use a fill card. ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯
But I am not a huge fan of the Hurley tri light surround either.