The Rubber Duck Studio Assistants
I’d like you to meet my photography studio assistants: the rubber duck family (click for larger view)…
These little guys became permanent travelling companions in my camera bag some time ago, when I went through a phase of capturing uninspiring landscapes. I read about this technique for overcoming the issue of boring compositions: carry an arbitrary object around in your camera bag, and find a creative way to include it in the scenery whenever you lack inspiration. The rubber duck family did a great job of inspiring creativity in my landscape work when I felt uninspired!
Having moved on from that phase, the rubber ducks maintained their place in my camera bag and were promoted to the role of ‘studio assistants’ for much of the commercial work that I do…
I often find myself out on location with clients, having to make use of whatever space and lighting that they have available. Rather than toy around with my equipment to get the settings correct while one of the client’s models stands around idly twiddling their thumbs, I get there early and pose my rubber ducks to get everything just right.
Although one could use any arbitrary object for this purpose, the rubber duck family is particularly well suited to this kind of work! The soft, yellow, rubbery surface of each duck’s body appears much like the made-up skin of a human model when photographed, while the reflective, red beaks do a great job of mimicking the reflections of a human model’s lip gloss when using flash units. Furthermore, the irregular form of each duck (particularly mother duck) helps to assess how highlights and shadows will appear on the equally irregular form of the human face.
As for my choice to use a family of rubber ducks rather than a single rubber duck: having three objects that I can place at varying distances from the camera can be really helpful in assessing the depth of field that any given combination of lens focal length, focal distance and aperture will give me. This is particularly useful when shooting multiple models together, or when the surroundings of a single model are important in the final image.
Apart from the technical uses described above, the rubber duck family can provide a great conversation starter for when we want to ‘connect’ with our models in a bid to get the best possible images. I often leave the rubber ducks out on the floor where the model(s) will be standing when it comes time to start the shoot… and they have never failed to start a jovial conversation that forms a connection between myself and my models!
So, rather than spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on cameras, lenses or filters next time you feel it’s time to upgrade your equipment, save your money and spend just a couple of dollars on a family of rubber ducks. As far as I’m concerned, they are a ‘must have’ piece of equipment in the commercial photographer’s camera bag, due to their versatility and applications when working under a wide range of conditions that the photographer cannot readily control.