With the right light ratio of clam shell lighting, you can rock any headshot!

Clam shell lighting is becoming one of the most popular light setups for beauty portrait or headshot. The reason behind it is because the fill light fills in lots of skin blemishes caused by the harsh key light. There are multiple different versions of this light setup. Peter Hurley, the world-renowned headshot photographer from New York, uses the basic principles of the clam shell lighting for 70% of his headshots.

Here are some headshots I took using clam shell light setup:


Douglas Phan


Samuel Prows


Janae Harker


Ben Harker

Here’s my light setup:

  1. KEY LIGHT: A strobe with a beauty dish as the modifier
  2. FILL LIGHT: A strobe with a rectangle softbox as the modifier


Three tips to rock the clam shell lighting for headshot:

  1. Pay attention to the placement of your lights. The key light should be right above the subject’s face. However, if you want to see that top catchlight in the eyes, place your subject a little back from the light.
  2. Find the balance between the key light and the fill light is the most important. You don’t want to completely get rid of the shadows, but you don’t want to have too much shadow either. There’s no right perfect ratio because it depends on where you place the light and how close it is to the subject’s face.
  3. Extra tip: Shoot your headshot with a large aperture (f/2.0 to f/3.5) to get that bokeh.

Inspiration for this article:

When lurking around the internet, I found this article from Fstoppers. This is the original image that inspires this post. Fstoppers.com has been a source of inspiration for a lot of my photography. This is a great forum to follow!


Headshot of Patrick Hall from Fstoppers