Barnet Workshops » Sharing Experience, Information, Inspiration

Head shots with Clam Shell Lighting

After our last OCF Class at our studio, Mirta and I played a little with “Clam Shell” lighting. We’ll cover this great headshot lighting style in our Advanced Studio Lighting and Posing workshop coming up Sunday, March 13th. Here are some basics on Clam Shell lighting: This technique, usually associated with fashion head shots, produces beautiful results and is very simple to do. The name comes from the fact that you have a light source very close to the model, centered and aimed down, providing “Butterfly” or “Paramount” lighting. Then you have another light source (or a reflector) right underneath and centered, pointing up to reduce the shadows from the main light. Together, they act as the 2 shells of a clam.

The image of Mirta below, was created with 4 light sources, but in the foreground of this first image, to the right, you can see a square, Westcott silver reflector on a short stand that can be used instead of the small Chimera soft box you see in the image providing the fill light from below. The reflector works very well, but for it to be as efficient as possible, it has to be positioned very close to the model’s face. After all, it’s only reflecting light. The soft box, with it’s own light source, gives you more placement flexibility.


For this 4 light set up, the main modifier is a Mola Demi beauty dish, fitted with a white grid. The fill is a Chimera small soft box, the hair light is a small Profoto soft box, and the background light has no modifier. The main and fill are Profoto 500 w D1 mono lights and the hair and background lights are Profoto B1’s. We like the B1 heads for hair and background lights because not having cords on them makes it very easy to move them around. The main and fill are mounted on roller stands with mini booms, the fill is on a short roller, also with a mini boom, and the background B1 is mounted on a background light stand with a very short flexible post. Because a good amount of counter weight is needed for these set ups, as you can see in the first image, roller stands make placing the lights exactly where you want them, and adjusting them, much easier than stands without wheels. The background paper is “Thunder Gray”, from Savage. My gray studio paper of choice, especially for head shots is “Fashion Gray”, but Thunder Gray happened to be what we were using earlier. We used a Nikon D3s with a 70-200 2.8 VRII lens and the Profoto Air remote.


Here is one of our final images, color corrected in Lightroom only. In hind sight, I would have used more background light, especially with the dark  Thunder Gray paper. And also, more hair light, for Mirta’s dark hair, the model we had for our class had lighter hair. With this kind of image, I like to have the background lighter at the bottom, fading up, and using the hair light for separation.

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The image below was retouched by Mirta herself. In this example, the majority of the retouching is in knowing where to dodge and burn the subject to minimize facial lines, open up the eyes, and smooth the skin. Mirta will show exactly how she does her retouching at her upcoming Digital Workflow for Event and Portrait Photographers class on Saturday, April 30th. If you are interested in learning workflow and retouching, you can sign up here.

If you have any questions about this post, feel free to leave a comment!

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