I recently read in a magazine about a lighting setup called the “clamshell” where the subject is lit from the front by two softboxes (one larger one up high and a smaller one set lower to half power) and a reflector right above the subject.

Seemed simple enough. I didn’t have any softboxes, but eh, I improvised. Lending out some of my lightstands and gear to a friend for a shoot, I was pretty limited, but still had one lightstand with an umbrella, a Lumiquest 80/20, small tri-grip reflector, and two speedlights. Yeah, that should work…

Oh, I didn’t have a model, either. Time to step up to the self-portrait plate!

Somewhere along the way, I got it in my head that adding smoke would make my clamshell portrait look cool (and done correctly, it quite possible could have), but I ditched that idea early on. By using such a shallow depth-of-field for the portrait, my smoke was turning out really badly out-of-focus. Unfortunately, this just made my photos look mucky. Oh well, maybe next time I’ll shoot with f/11 or f/16 and get better results.

So here’s the best shot I got from my first time with the setup:

Clamshell portrait best of

The best of the moody best

Not too bad for the first run. Just for fun, here was one of my “smoke” photos:

The out-of-focus smoke just makes the photo look improperly exposed, in my opinion

The out-of-focus smoke just makes the photo look improperly exposed, in my opinion

And finally, here’s a shot of my makeshift clamshell setup. Since I was missing one of my lightstands, I had to make use of my bicycle to support the reflector, securing it to the handlebar with a Manfrotto magic arm. Still worked pretty well, but it proved a bit sensitive the one or two (or ten) times I bumped into it. For the “smoke” effect, I was using a humidifier cranked up full blast (that’s what the frog is). Using a manual focus lens with myself as the subject, the froggy doubled as my stand-in so I could properly focus.

Makeshift clamshell setup

Makeshift clamshell setup