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Mastering Clamshell Lighting: Essential Techniques for Stunning Portraits

6/02/2023 Matt 0 Comments


Clamshell lighting is a popular technique in portrait photography that involves the strategic placement of two lights to create a beautiful and balanced illumination. In this video, Daniel Norton will explore the key principles of clamshell lighting and how to master this technique for capturing stunning portraits.

Clamshell lighting consists of a key light positioned above the subject and a secondary light placed below. The key light serves as the primary source of illumination, while the secondary light acts as a fill light, reducing shadows and providing additional softness to the overall lighting setup.

Daniel Norton

When to Use Clamshell Lighting:
Clamshell lighting is particularly effective in beauty shots where using a reflector or on-axis fill isn't feasible. For example, when working with a beauty dish with a grid, it becomes challenging to position a reflector effectively. In such cases, clamshell lighting can provide the perfect solution.

 Proper Placement of Lights:
To achieve the desired results, it is crucial to position the lights correctly. The secondary light should be slightly tilted up and placed in front of the subject, not directly under the chin. This arrangement allows the light to spread and create a soft shadow, adding depth and dimension to the portrait.

Achieving Balance:
To create a well-balanced clamshell lighting setup, the fill light should be set approximately two stops underexposed (more or less) compared to the key light. This ensures that the fill light provides enough illumination to cover the face while still allowing for subtle shadows, resulting in a natural and pleasing look.

Fine-tuning the Setup:
Once the initial setup is complete, it's important to experiment and make adjustments to achieve the desired effect. By switching to manual mode and fine-tuning the power of the fill light, you can further customize the lighting to suit different subjects and preferences. Remember, every face is unique, and slight adjustments may be needed to find the perfect balance.

So go ahead, grab your camera, and explore the creative possibilities of clamshell lighting in your next photo shoot!

Maybe you also like: How to use a Reflector: A Guide by Daniel Norton

About Daniel Norton:

I am a NYC based Photographer, educator, lighting consultant and filmmaker. This channel will be the home to my short films, BTS video of photo shoots and instructional videos on Lighting, Photography and Cinematography.

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Image and video via Daniel Norton Photographer