How to Use Clamshell Lighting for Portrait Photography

Glamorous studio lighting is not only for celebrities and models. Add a soft glow and polished finish to your own portraiture with continuous clamshell lighting. Photographer Terry White explains the potential of this simple but effective studio lighting style:

Appropriately named, clamshell lighting uses two opposing light sources—one from above and the other from below— in order to create a smooth and natural look. White uses two Westcott LED Skylux soft boxes: a Rapid Box 36” Octa XXL  and a 12”x 36” Strip Bank. These lights are dimmable from 100 percent (the equivalent of 1200w output) to 30 percent power, making them efficient and easy to work with.

White sets the key light from above at 100 percent, creating a sharp, full light. The lower light (with an added diffuser) is set at 40 percent, which helps to fill in the spaces and create natural light fall on the model. To create distance and pull the subject off the background, a third Skylux lights the backdrop. White shoots at f/2.8, 1/100 of a second, and at ISO 200.

clamshell continuous lighting

Clamshell Lighting Setup

The biggest plus to shooting with continuous lighting is the ability to shoot without waiting or guessing. “What you see is what you get.” There is also no need to wait for recycle times or sync speeds.White explains,

“It was just so easy to set it up…see what I was going to get, make all my adjustments without ever picking up the camera until I was ready to do the shoot.”

The look is great for fashion and beauty shoots, as well as general portraiture

clamshell continuous lighting

Clamshell lighting produces flattering catchlights.

If you don’t have a second light source, use a reflector to light the chin, neck and chest from below. Get your subject to look in the direction of the light source in order to capture beautiful catchlights in the eyes. White also suggests using big, bold jewelry in fashion shoots for added interest.

clamshell continuous lighting

Final Image

Clamshell lighting is a great portrait setup that flatters practically any face.

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