Facebook Pixel The Killer Clamshell - A Two Light Setup Guide

The Killer Clamshell – A Two Light Setup Guide

Image: Awesome Two Light Clamshell Setup - A Real Beauty

Awesome Two Light Clamshell Setup - A Real Beauty


If you’re just getting started in off camera flash and studio photography then single light setups are a fantastic, uncomplicated way of getting to grips with lighting techniques.  Despite the wide range of effects that can be achieved with a one light setup, working with multiple lights provides even greater range of creative options and my favourite multi light setup has to be the clamshell.  This lighting setup can be used to produce a soft wrapping quality of light; a perfectly white background and stunning catch lights resulting in a classic beauty look ideal for photographing female models.  Best of all it’s incredibly easy, so hopefully with the following guide you can also have a go at this great lighting setup.

Setup & Equipment

The basic idea behind this setup is to use a single large light source both as a backdrop and to provide wrap around light.  The subject is then illuminated from above using a second light with any remaining shadows filled in using a flat reflector.

For this setup you will need two light sources; ideally strobe heads although speedlights are also fine but might take slightly longer to recycle given the higher power required.  To achieve the soft quality of light both lights should be shot through large soft boxes, although if you don’t have these then you could us a large sheet as a background and something like an umbrella for the main light.

The basic setup is as follows; the key point to remember is to ensure the backlight completely fills the background.

Image: Lighting Diagram - A Simple Two Light Setup

Lighting Diagram - A Simple Two Light Setup


Metering for this shot is actually fairly simple and whilst a light meter can be helpful in speeding things up it’s easy enough to set the exposure for this shot by eye.  The main steps are as follows:

  • Start by leaving your flashes off and start with your camera settings.  Set a small aperture, (something like f8 or f11), a fast shutter speed (around 1/200 to 1/250) and set your ISO to its lowest setting.
  • Turn your back light on and starting with a low power take a test shot and check the image preview on your camera to see how ‘white’ the background is, a properly exposed background should be solid bright white.  A good way to check is to take a look at the image histogram, most of the reading should be to the very right hand edge of the graph indicating that the tones in the image are tending towards solid white.  If the background isn’t exposed properly increase the flash power and repeat.
  • Now it’s time to get your model in position and check the amount of wrap around light from the background.  Place your model in front of the back light and take another test shot.  Vary the distance between the subject and backlight to change the amount of light wrapping around your subjects head and shoulders.  The purpose of the wrap is to provide some separation and help add definition, so all you need to do is highlight the edges of your model.
  • Now turn your subject light on and take a test shot.  Check the overall exposure and vary the power/position of the light until your models face is correctly exposed.
  • Finally position a reflector below your subjects jawline and use this to bounce fill light into any dark areas of the shot in particular under your models chin, nose and eyes.


Hopefully the steps above are simple enough to convince you to give this lighting setup a try.   Not only is this a great way to try working with multiple lights but it also results in a really satisfying and flattering image and of course double the lights means double the creativity!

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Russell Masters
Russell Masters

‘is a photographer, blogger and international man of meetings. Check out his work at eightfiftytwophotography.com and drop him a message via twitter @russmasters.

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