Clamshell Lighting Techniques for Portrait Photography

Traditional clamshell lighting is used frequently by photographers to bring out the best in their subjects. The even light produced by placing one light angled above the subject and one reflector or light source below the subject serves to flatter most faces. Slightly modifying the setup can significantly change the look and feel of an image to emphasize a subject’s individual characteristics. Watch this demonstration where Lindsay Adler introduces a clamshell technique for bringing out muscle shapes and emphasizing physique:

The clip above demonstrates how the placement and angle of lights portray a subject. If the light had been directly in front of the subject, his muscles would have looked flat in the resulting image.

Instead, Adler used modified clamshell lighting to make her subject look strong and contoured. A silver dish with a ten degree grid served as the lower light, while a larger gridded dish was angled above the subject. The back rim lights in her setup give definition to the model’s muscles and hair. By shooting from a low angle and having the subject look down at the camera, she highlighted his musculature.


Clamshell Lighting Setup


Final Image

This clamshell lighting pattern is ideal for photographing athletes or making any subject look tough. But other looks can be achieved with similar techniques. Tweaking traditional lighting setups to create varied looks is a creative way to get more out of your lighting equipment.

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6 responses to “Clamshell Lighting Techniques for Portrait Photography”

  1. Susan says:

    This is NOT clamshell lighting. Clamshell lighting is not just about the position of one flash to another, it is how they are directed at the subject. What you have created is appalling and the results of an amateur. Please learn to shoot properly before publishing such God awful tripe. The images are terrible. You should be ashamed

  2. Alec says:

    I totally agree the images look terrible and the tuition it’s the same. You should be ashamed.

  3. Max says:

    What this is an example of is great equipment and bad photography. The lighting actually looks flat, because the light from underneath is too bright. The pose is not flattering. It actually makes the model look as if he has a wide waist instead of a classic “V” shape.

    Fancy equipment and lots of assistants cannot make up for poor pre-visualization and lack of creativity. This could have been done with cheap speedlights had the “photographer” actually put more effort into the concept than the showcasing of a fancy studio.

    Go back to school, bubby.

  4. Photo Don says:

    I like the photo and the behind the scene shot. Thanks for sharing. Don

  5. Pixy says:

    @Susan . This is very tough comments !! but true

  6. Ale says:

    I thought Adler was a pro. This is the work of an amateur. Terrible, absolutely terrible!

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