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.
You don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on studio lighting to capture professional portrait photographs at home! In fact, I would go so far as to say that professionals who do spend exorbitant amounts of money on such equipment spend most of their professional careers overcharging clients to pay off said equipment; while any amateurs considering the purchase of such equipment would be better off spending their hard-earned cash on furthering their education of portrait techniques such as composition!
Here are some samples of portrait photography that I captured over the weekend using lighting and other equipment that I already had available to me at home. Click any image for a larger view, or read on below for more details about the lighting…
Using my knowledge of studio lighting techniques, I was able to setup a makeshift studio using the equipment that I already had available to me at home to achieve the results above. Instead of using an expensive backdrop, I had Kristen pose several feet in front of a plain, white wall…
Just as one would use a bright light to minimise shadows on the backdrop in a studio, I used a desk lamp with a bright, fluorescent tube installed to illuminate the backdrop… and this was where I metered the light for the shots.
To give life and definition to a model’s hair, professionals will generally add a diffuesed light off to the side of the model at head height. To emulate this setup using home equipment, I added two bedside lamps with traditional lightbulbs and frosted glass casing in the same position that I would in a professional studio. Coincidentally, adding these lights to the mix didn’t alter my light readings from the background wall at all.
Finally, I did incorporate one item of professional lighting equipment that I already had in my camera bag to flood light Kristen’s features… a mounted flash unit. Rather than pointing the flash directly at Kristen, I turned the flash head towards a nearby wall and extended the flash unit’s built-in reflector/diffuser panel to soften the light and reduce the contrast between highlights and shadows on her face. This is equivalent to the professional photographer’s use of a reflector kit to bounce softened light onto a subject rather than capturing harsh, direct light from a flash or other light source. I have also used sheets of bright, white cardboard to achieve the same effect in the past, when composition hasn’t allowed me to have a plain wall nearby.
As you can see, the lighting displayed in the final images is comparable to that produced by professional studio equipment… but it didn’t cost me a cent!