Captivating portraits: The enchanting beauty of clamshell lighting

Captivating portraits: The enchanting beauty of clamshell lighting

Lighting is undoubtedly one of the most critical elements that can make or break a photograph, especially with portraits. Among the various lighting techniques that photographers employ to create stunning portraits, one technique that has consistently stood out for its elegance and versatility is clamshell lighting. Known for its flattering effects and ability to highlight the subject’s best features, clamshell lighting has become a favorite of mine.

Understanding clamshell lighting

Clamshell lighting is a portrait lighting setup that involves positioning two light sources. One is larger and positioned overhead, and the other is a smaller one positioned below the subject’s face. The arrangement also resembles the opening and closing of a clamshell, hence the name. The larger light source, often a softbox or a large diffused light panel, serves as the main light and provides the primary illumination for the subject. The smaller light source, typically a reflector or a smaller softbox, acts as a fill light, reducing harsh shadows created by the main light.

80cm Beauty dish plus reflector
80 cm Beauty dish plus reflector

Flattering effects of clamshell lighting

One of the most appealing aspects of clamshell lighting is its flattering and soft illumination on the subject’s face. The overhead light source, positioned directly above the subject, casts even and gentle light across the face. Helping to minimize imperfections, wrinkles, and blemishes. This soft and diffused light effectively wraps around the subject. As such, it produces a three-dimensional effect that adds depth and dimension to the photograph.

Placing the fill light beneath the subject’s face lifts shadows that the main light may cast. This creates a balanced illumination that maintains a natural appearance. It also ensures that the subject’s features are well-defined without unsightly under-eye shadows.

80cm Beauty dish plus stripbox
80 cm Beauty dish plus stripbox

Versatility and adaptability

One of the reasons clamshell lighting has gained popularity is its versatility. You can use this technique across various genres of portrait photography. These include classic studio portraits, beauty shots, fashion editorials and even headshots. This adaptability can produce results that range from softly romantic to strikingly dramatic, depending on the photographer’s creative intent.

Furthermore, you can easily modify clamshell lighting by adjusting the intensity of the lights. This includes the distance between them and the subject, and the angle of their position. With this flexibility, photographers can fine-tune the lighting setup to match the subject’s unique features and the mood they want to convey in the final image.

90cm Octobox with 45cm beauty dish
90 cm Octobox with 45 cm beauty dish

Creating intimate connection

Another remarkable aspect of clamshell lighting is its capacity to create a connection between the subject and the viewer. The soft, balanced illumination generated by this technique can evoke a sense of intimacy and familiarity. The absence of harsh shadows and the even lighting on the subject’s face draw attention to the eyes and facial expressions. This also allows the viewer to connect on a deeper emotional level with the subject.

Modifiers to use

My favorite modifiers are my 90 cm Octobox on my Godox AD400 Pro lights, my Neewer curved reflector, or a 45 cm beauty dish also on a Godox AD400 Light. The curved reflector is new and absolutely fabulous for clamshell lighting, even for models wearing wide-brimmed hats.

90cm Octobox with 90cm curved reflector
90 cm Octobox with 90 cm curved reflector

Clamshell lighting is a beautiful and versatile lighting style for portrait photography. Its ability to flatter, illuminate, and evoke emotions makes it a valuable tool in a photographer’s repertoire. Clamshell lighting contributes to crafting portraits that are not just beautiful and captivating. As photographers continue to explore this timeless technique, it’s evident that clamshell lighting will remain a cornerstone of portrait photography for years to come. It also adds a touch of enchantment to every frame.

Want to learn more about studio lighting? Check out The three best lighting techniques for portraits.

Models: India Woolard, Tayla Newitt, Andrea Gardiner

MUA: Teihen Felton and Em Mrietta