Clam Shell Lighting for Photography

Sep 14, 2023

Clam shell lighting is a popular technique used in photography to achieve flattering and soft lighting on the subject. It involves using two light sources positioned above and below the subject, creating a natural and even illumination. This technique is commonly used in portrait photography to highlight facial features and minimize shadows.

clam shell lighting

How Clam Shell Lighting Works

Clam shell lighting consists of a main light placed directly above the subject and a fill light positioned below. The main light, often a softbox or umbrella, provides the primary source of illumination. It helps to create a soft, diffused light that wraps around the subject's face, reducing harsh shadows and minimizing imperfections.

The fill light, usually a reflector or a smaller softbox, is positioned at a lower angle to fill in the shadows created by the main light. It provides a gentle, secondary light source that helps to balance the overall lighting and soften any remaining shadows. The combination of these two lights produces a beautiful and flattering effect on the subject.

Setting Up Clam Shell Lighting

To set up clam shell lighting, you will need two light sources, a main light, and a fill light. Position the main light directly above the subject, slightly angled downwards. This light should be the brighter of the two and provide the primary illumination. Experiment with different distances and angles to achieve the desired effect.

The fill light is placed below the subject, angled upwards towards the face. It should be positioned closer to the subject than the main light and set at a lower intensity. The fill light's purpose is to fill in the shadows created by the main light, so it should be softer and less intense.

clam shell lighting setup

Tips for Using Clam Shell Lighting

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of clam shell lighting:

  • Use a larger light modifier, such as a softbox or umbrella, for the main light to create a broad and diffused light source.
  • Position the fill light slightly off-center to avoid creating a flat lighting effect.
  • Experiment with different light intensities and distances to achieve the desired balance between the main light and fill light.
  • Consider using a reflector as the fill light to bounce light back onto the subject and further soften shadows.
  • Adjust the positioning and angles of the lights to flatter the subject's features and minimize any imperfections.

Benefits of Clam Shell Lighting

Clam shell lighting offers several benefits for portrait photography:

  • Soft and flattering illumination: The combination of the main light and fill light helps to create a soft and even illumination on the subject's face, minimizing harsh shadows and highlighting their features.
  • Natural and appealing results: Clam shell lighting produces a natural and pleasing lighting effect that enhances the subject's appearance without looking overly staged or artificial.
  • Minimized imperfections: By diffusing the light and filling in shadows, clam shell lighting can help to minimize imperfections, such as wrinkles or blemishes, resulting in a more flattering image.

clam shell lighting example


Clam shell lighting is a versatile and effective technique for achieving soft and flattering lighting in portrait photography. By using a combination of a main light and a fill light, you can create beautiful and natural-looking images that highlight your subject's best features. Experiment with different setups and modifiers to find the perfect clam shell lighting setup for your photography.