Anyone who has modeled for me and/or followed my flickr photostream for any amount of time knows that I love using the clam shell lighting technique. This is my “go to” set up for most headshots. I love the simplicity of this basic lighting setup! Two lights and a subject. That’s all you need.
I invited my friend and ever-ready model, Nakema, over a couple days ago to help me demonstrate this lighting technique. This photo is an example of the basic clam shell setup. One light, high, with an umbrella at 1/8 power (this is your key light) and one umbrella, low, also with an umbrella at 1/16th power (this is your main fill light). These lights should be relatively close together, the bottom of the key light umbrella and top of the main fill umbrella should be almost touching, resembling an open clam shell. The photographer stands behind the lights and shoots through the opening, between the umbrellas.
This lighting setup creates nice, even light on your subject. By adjusting your power settings slightly you can create a more dramatic look or a soft glowing complexion. I’ve found that this setup works for all face shapes and skin tones beautifully.
You can experiment yourself but I’ve found that I like having a slightly larger umbrella on my key light. It helps wrap the light in a soft but more complete way.
For a basic clam shell setup like this it’s important to think about your background. For someone like Nakema, who has very dark hair, a dark background wouldn’t work as well as you’d lose a lot of the detail in her hair in the background. What do you do if your subject has dark hair and only a dark background is available?