Clamshell lighting produces a soft glamour style with minimal shadows, making it popular for beauty portraits. Setup is simple: Resembling a clamshell, place one light tilted high, just above the subject’s eye line, and a second just below, tilted with the subject in the middle. Normally used in a studio environment, here’s how to achieve clamshell lighting on location using natural light.
Set your camera in Aperture Priority and shoot in continuous mode
To make life simple, set your camera in aperture priority with an aperture between f/2.8 and f/4 with a focal length of 85mm or higher and an ISO at your lowest setting — usually 100. Aperture Priority will let the camera calculate the shutter speed. To avoid camera shake, increase ISO if the shutter speed is lower than 1/160s. Select continuous or burst mode if the subject is blinking a lot due to light sensitivity — normally subjects with blue or green eyes. Once you have a proper exposure, you can dial in these settings and shoot in manual mode if you prefer.
Find a pleasing background and backlight the subject with the sun
Scout the location and find a pleasing background with the sun behind the subject. This will backlight the subject and supply the light needed in the next step when we bounce light back onto the subject. At this point, if you took a photo of the subject they will appear dark.
Use two reflectors to create clamshell light
Place one reflector tilted high just above the subject’s eye line and a second tilted just below the subject. The reflectors will bounce the backlight onto the subject. If the subject is too dark or too light, adjust the exposure by either using exposure compensation or switch to manual mode then adjust the shutter speed to achieve a proper exposure.
The next time you find yourself on location and want to try something new, use clamshell lighting with natural light to capture a soft glamour beauty portrait. Don’t forget to share your results with the Photofocus Facebook, Flickr or Instagram groups. If you want a critique, add “CC Welcome” — CC stands for critique and comments. As always, follow-up questions are encouraged.
Currently he is teaching workshops, writing for Photofocus and creating tutorials for various plug-in companies and for the Vanelli and Friends series.
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