Friday, October 17, 2008

Clamshell lighting


I saw a few medium format portraits yesterday that had a beautiful creamy depth of field to it, and I wanted to see if I could emulate it with my camera. I feel like I got close with this.

Here is the setup shot:


2 Canon 580ex II
Top flash at 1/32 power,
at 24mm,
into silver bounce umbrella
light stand was at 1.5 meters height,
directly in front of subject and angled down,
bottom flash at 1/64 power,
at 24mm,
through white shoot-through umbrella,
light stand at .3 meters height,
directly in front of subject angled up.

The lower flash was essentially 2 stops dimmer than the upper flash. It was dialed down one stop, plus the white umbrella eats an extra stop of light than the silver. The result is a very smooth lighting with a little direction from above. These low settings of 1/32 and 1/64 in a dark room allowed me to use f/1.8 which is how I got such a smooth and strong fall off of focus. I tried it with a background slave flash set, which illuminated the background, but that washed out the nice focus, so I turned it back off.

For post, I adjusted contrast slightly, and clarity slightly, desaturated a little. Then in Photoshop I added a +.3 exposure to just the eyes, and then used highpass and smart sharpen, but with masks to limit it to just the part of the image that was in focus, so that I wasn't sharpening the out of focus areas.



  1. Wish I knew all the technospeak you relate, but the pictures have been great. My RSS feed hearts you.

  2. What in particular would you like me to clarify Ned? I don't want to use too much "jargon". I'd be happy to do a definitions of common terms post if you'd like.

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  4. So, just so I understand this, because you stopped the flash units down so far you were able to open the aperture wide to get the shallow depth of field?

    I really like this technique but I'm trying to wrap my head around how it was done..

  5. Yep, it's because the flashes were so low. If you put your camera on iso 100, it's actually surprising how much flash you have to pump through a modifier to get a proper exposure.

    If your flashes don't go down that low, just get a sheet of 2 stop ND filter, and put as many thicknesses as you need over the head of the flash to kill it. Alternatively, you can just cover a portion of the flash head with cardboard or tape, to remove some power.

  6. Awesome shots! I'm really excited to try this technique! thanks for the setup pictures and settings too. what kind of lens did you use? i know you said you had it at 1.8, so did you use a 50mm then? or 85? just curious!

    thanks a lot!


  7. I used an 85mm lens, John. With 50, if I filled the frame this much (on a full frame camera) There would have been too much distortion on the face, making the noses look huge and the heads sort of like beach balls. On a crop camera, a 50mm would be ok, but 85 even better.

  8. Hi, where is the second flash located?

  9. It should be obvious in the pulled back setup image. There is a flash shooting into each umbrella. one shooting through the white one, and one shooting into the silver one.