Have you ever walked down the makeup aisle at a store and just stared at the images? Trying to understand what lighting setup they used to light that model/celebrities face? I do it all the time. In fact, sometimes I have to purposely avoid that section of the store so I won’t get sucked in.

The answer … clamshell lighting! It will be your new favorite go-to lighting for women, and below I’ll show you how to achieve it using a speedlight.

What Is clamshell lighting?

Clamshell lighting is commonly used by fashion and beauty photographers to create flattering, glowing light that makes models and women look flawless. It’s really bright and airy not a lot of contrast or harsh shadows, making for a very delicate look.

Why would you use it?

Clamshell lighting is what women dream of! There isn’t a woman that will stand in front of your camera and not tell you something they don’t like about themselves. It happens every time — trust me.

When women stand in front of a camera all their insecurities and doubts about their beautiful selves come to head. They start commenting on things like “Can you Photoshop this? Cover this? I don’t like my nose! My hair is so flat today.”

You get the idea. The list just keeps going. Clamshell lighting is Photoshop in light form. It is dodging, burning and liquifying all without actually doing any retouching. It’s what I like to call “the magic light.”

How do you set it up?

Clamshell lighting needs two frontal light sources to illuminate the subject, helping to minimize shadows, blemishes and imperfections. It really gives your client that glowing flawless effect.

When I say your two front light sources, I don’t mean you have to actually have two lights. You can just use one speedlight and a reflector. For your main light, you want it relatively centered on the subject up at about a 45-degree angle in front of your client’s face. That way you can get some nice sharp shadows under the cheekbone and neck. (We know that every woman loves a little extra definition in those areas.)

That light source creates a flawless complexion for your client.

You can eliminate hot spots on their foreheads or the nose by using a large softbox or diffusion panel in front of your light. Try different modifiers and switch up the height of your light source as well to see what that does for your client.

Your second light source, or reflector, is generally placed between the chest and belly button height on your client. Don’t have a reflector? Head to your local dollar store and pick up one of those foldable car shade window protectors. White Foamcore is also a great, affordable option. Here are some really high-quality affordable collapsible reflectors.

The object of that light source or reflector is to fill in and soften those shadows. It evens out their complexion and creates a really beautiful catchlight in the eyes of your subject.

Since it’s called clamshell lighting think of your two main light sources as forming the shell with your subject centered in the middle. An easy way to spot if a photographer used clamshell lighting is to look at the catchlights in the eyes of their subjects. Generally, you will see one catchlight at the top of the iris and another at the bottom.

Clamshell lighting is simply timeless. I use this lighting setup on moms and models, and I don’t feel like it will ever go out of style. So I hope you give it a try and fall in love with it like I did.