I've heard of Clamshell Lighting. What is it, and when should it be used?

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    "I've never heard of Clamshell Lighting. What is it, and when should it be used?" :)
    – mattdm
    Jan 13, 2011 at 14:21
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    I'll give it a shot, it should work at least until Jay comes in here and shows us what it really is about;-) Jan 13, 2011 at 14:30
  • I found a nice and simple explanation to hold things over until Jay sets things straight. In reading it I plan to try this out with a DIY rig at home to mimic the effect.
    – kacalapy
    Jan 13, 2011 at 14:59
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    You guys are funny. :-) I teach studio lighting so I guess I do have somewhat of a handle on everything (at least in terms of trying to explain it), but I'm completely supportive of anyone else who chooses to answer these types of question. Certainly not claiming to be the only guy with some lighting experience on photo.se.com. In fact, I can't give anyone grades here, but if you were in my class, I'd count both these answers as correct, so the best I can do is see that everyone gets a +1 from me. Also, see my answer below for my take on Clamshell Lighting. Jan 14, 2011 at 6:10

3 Answers 3


Clamshell lighting is a common way to photograph a head shot, often used in the fashion world. The general idea is you take 2 light sources, or a light source and a reflector. Both of them are roughly on-axis with the center of the person's face. You put one of them above pointed down, and the other lower pointed up. The end effect is that there are reduced shadows from any imperfections in a person's face. See this site for an example setup picture.

The reference I originally heard comes from PhotoFocus as a method of reducing wrinkles, scars, etc in a person's face.

  • First link is dead - do you have a replacement? Mar 15, 2017 at 15:18

Well, I'm afraid I don't have a snazzy diagram or picture for Clamshell Lighting... Because Clamshell Lighting = Butterfly Lighting, and thus the diagram is over on my Butterfly Lighting question/answer. :-)

Now I will say this, there are some who argue passionately that Clamshell Lighting and Butterfly Lighting are different because (so the argument goes) "Clamshell Lighting MUST use two lights! One above the head pointing down at 45 degrees and the other below the head pointing up at 45 degrees. Clearly this is COMPLETELY different from Butterfly Lighting which uses a light above the head pointing down at 45 degrees and a reflector down below pointing up at 45 degrees."

Personally that's too much stuff for my little head to contend with, so for me (and for a great many) photographers, since the setup is exactly the same for Clamshell and Butterfly lighting, and the outcome is the same as well... Clamshell Lighting = Butterfly Lighting.

In fact, I'll go one step further to alleviate (hopefully) all the synonyms... Clamshell Lighting = Butterfly Lighting = Paramount Lighting = Beauty Lighting = Glamor Lighting

I've updated the Butterfly Lighting article to reflect all the synonyms.

  • I was going to try to catch you in chat and asked you about this, because Clamshell and Butterfly sounded so similar... Good stuff
    – rfusca
    Jan 14, 2011 at 6:14

It’s called clam shell simply because you rig two softboxes as a giant gaping clam shell.

A common setup is to build your clam shell with a larger upper softbox and then a lower smaller stripbox. The upper softbox is about one stop higher than the stripbox. Using two softboxes gives you good control of the light.

Here is a link to the full article on clam shell lighting.

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    @kacalpy -- that photo isn't licensed for use on this site -- read what it says right on it. :( (Also, apparently not on the blog entry you've linked to -- which, I note, has captioned it as being a poor example anyway.)
    – mattdm
    Jan 13, 2011 at 15:02
  • @mattdm thanks. It looked identical to the type used in other answers previously. So naturally I thought it was ok to use.
    – kacalapy
    Jan 13, 2011 at 15:06
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    They may have been created in the same software, but it's the creator who has the copyright and makes that decision. In order to post an image here, you need to either hold the copyright yourself or have permission to distribute it in a manner compatible with the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license -- see the bottom right corner of the site.
    – mattdm
    Jan 13, 2011 at 15:10
  • Interesting, I never clicked that before.
    – kacalapy
    Jan 13, 2011 at 15:31

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