Clamshell lighting is a common way to photograph a head shot and beauty close-up, often used in the fashion world. The general idea is for you to take 2 light sources, or only one light source and one reflector from the front.

This lighting design is called clamshell because the main light source is arranged in front of the model in a way that resembles the look of an open clamshell (V-angle).

Results Imagery - Clamshell Lighting - Topless Portrait Series with Melisa Mendini

What’s It For?

Imagine that you are using “fashion-inspired lighting” for your nude portraiture – I think that’s an interesting design because you cross borders with it. I always recommend to mix genres (like with my guide fashionNude Poses where you leave the stiff, common and dusty glamour posing behind!)

In short: it’s super easy and simple to setup, and it flatters everyone.

A Word about Limitation – …And Uniqueness

Your shooting axis and freedom of movement will be very limited due to the light arrangement. There will be light modifiers on front top and bottom that will interfere with your framing and angles. It’s a static setup. Also the model’s ability to pose with her body is very limited. With this light design it’s all about your model’s facial expressions and the subtle play with her upper body, shoulders, arms, and hands. And believe me you can shoot a gorgeous topless beauty series!

Despite all the bungling and „limitations“, you will go with a fantastic lighting and creating unique beautiful catch lights in your model’s eyes!

Results Imagery - Clamshell Lighting - Topless Portrait Series with Melisa Mendini
Behind The Scenes Documentary - Clamshell Lighting - Topless Portrait Series with Melisa Mendini

Lighting Concept

Principle

The key is above your model’s head pointing down at 45 degrees and the fill is below her head pointing up at 45 degrees.

Key Light & Fill-In

For this shot I use an 2.5x4’ (80x120cm) softbox as key from front top. For the fill I also go with an 2.5x4’ (80x120cm) softbox but this time from front bottom. The reason for this kind of setup is that I want to create almost identically shaped catchlights in my model’s eyes.

I could go with an octobox as a key and a square softbox as a fill. But then one catchlight would look round and the other one square. I don’t like this mix as it comes across very disturbing.
Alternatively, you can use two shoot-trough umbrellas for key and fill (= 2x catchlights, round in shape).

Background

To get the white seamless paper background more illuminated and create a graduation, I simply popped a Ø4’ (Ø120cm) octobox towards it to brighten up the right backdrop area.

3D Lighting Design Simulation - Clamshell Lighting - Topless Portrait Series with Melisa Mendini
3D Lighting Design Simulation - Clamshell Lighting - Topless Portrait Series with Melisa Mendini
 2D Set Plan Clamshell Lighting - Topless Portrait Series with Melisa Mendini

Tech DNA

  • 3x 400 Ws Monoblocs
  • Key Light: Softbox 2.5x4’ (80x120cm), powered @around 250 WS
  • Fill-in Light: Softbox 2.5x4’ (80x120cm), powered @around 190 WS
  • Background Light: Octobox Ø4’ (Ø120cm), powered @around 280 WS
  • 85mm
  • f/8
  • 1/125
  • ISO 10
  • 5200K

Photo Production Team

BESTSELLER: 19 Complete Studio Lighting Blueprints (+ Training Exercises)

ESSENTIALS. Studio Lighting for Nude Photography feat. Jenni Czech & Melisa Mendini

ESSENTIALS. Studio Lighting for Nude Photography

Lighting Blueprint. Theory, showcases and exercises. Extensive theory part to strengthen your practical work. 19 all-inclusive case studies/lighting setups for 1, 2, 3 & 4 lights. Featuring Jenni Czech & Melisa Mendini. Sexy Women Photography at its best!

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