I always like to get a shot of every model using this set-up. Once you set it up, it’s so bullet proof, even I can do it without too much head scratching. Often called “clamshell lighting” as the lights resemble an open clam from the side, there are many variations on this lighting set-up, however they all have one light centred over the top of the model but angled more towards the horizontal, with another light or reflector below. You can then light the background from the front or the back.
You can actually buy a thing called a “triflector” from Lastolite that has 3 panels that reflect from the bottom, left and right for a wraparound fill. I don’t use side reflectors – I find it makes the face look fat. In fact, I don’t use a reflector at all – I prefer to use a powered fill light, as I can then position it lower out of the way, and can have as much power in it as I like. I almost always use a small beauty dish directly overhead and centred, sometimes with the diffuser on, sometimes not – depends on how good the subject’s skin is: putting the diffuser on will smooth it out a bit by reducing the micro-shadows around any skin defects. For fill, I will use a softbox on a floor stand angled up just off horizontal – maybe 30 degrees. This is powered up to 1 stop below the main light.
For the white background, you could light a white or grey background, however I like a bit of backwash of light over the model’s shoulders and neck and jawline so I use another softbox, 1.5 to 2 stops above the main light in power. I generally have the model stand about 1 to 2 feet in front of the background softbox, and you need to fine tune this to avoid too much spill and eating away the hair detail. Measure up the main light to suit whatever aperture you want to shoot at. I use f/8 on my D800E. The lenses are sharpest at f/5.6 to f/8 and any smaller, and I’ll start to get diffraction on the super-dense sensor fitted to these cameras, as the photo-sites are so small. You may want to go wider – to get a shallower depth-of-field, or higher if you have a low pixel density (say on a D3 or D700). Once you have that set, turn it off
and measure up the fill light to be 1 stop under (f/5.6 for me usually). Then measure up the background to between 1 and 2 stops over (f/11 to f/16 for me). You’ll measure this with the meter facing the opposite direction so no need to turn the other lights off to measure this. Incidentally, I still see tutorials, some from very experienced shooters telling you to point your light-meter at the camera position. This is just plain dumb: I don’t know about your camera, but no light comes out of the front of my lens. The idea is to measure the light hitting your subject from a specific light. Once you have the lights set to the right power for your target aperture, by measuring the light hitting your subject from that light, it will be right – no matter what you put in that light. You can shoot a white model, and then a black model and they’ll both be right.
Now – and I find this make a big difference: turn the main light back on. They work so much better when they’re on. I can’t tell you how often I forget to do this and then spend the next few minutes taking shot after shot and turning the power up and wondering why it makes no difference….
Once you get to shooting, you will want to fiddle and finesse the lighting ratios, however once you have it, it operates just like a Photo-Me! booth – you just put the model in it, and shoot, next model, shoot and so on…
You can get away without using a boom for the main light, however the stand will be in your way and you’ll need to shoot off to the left or right.
In post, you can go to town on this style of shot with the best frequency specific blurring and sharpening layers for the skin, brightened eyes, edge out and saturate the the iris, colour in the lips, dodge and burn the face to sculpt the features and add highlights to the hair (especially dark hair). More on this in the next post, when I’ll go through how I process these images, but spend some time on the details on these shots.