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Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Making of a Light box

A light box is something I've been meaning to construct for some time now. I get so frustrated when trying to take photos of things that I make in the winter time because of the lack of natural light. Everything looks dark and blah.

After a conversation today with miss Jen the Beantown Baker about techniques to improve her delicious food photography I decided to take on the challenge of creating an affordable, collapsible light box for people who may be short on space as well as cash. The problem I found with many of the affordable foam core light boxes is that every time you want to take it down you risk having the tape rip the walls apart. That in combination with the potentially frustrating assembly as one fumbles with the foam core like a house of cards lead me to the idea of a dove-tail like joint for the box.

This light box design cost about $4 for the foam core and another $1 for the poster board that I use to create a seamless background. It's quick and easy to assemble, tear down, and store away. I still need to find brighter lighting, I used two dim desk lamps to test, but it definitely has potential!

First I cut the foam core into 20"X20" panels. I then labeled each panel according to it's location on the box to keep myself from getting confused.
After I labeled my 4 sides I measured a 1" thick margin where each joint connected. Then I laid out the panels according to where they connected to the 'back' panel. Imagine the sides and top folding up at each joint and you can visualize how the box will connect.

With the joints touching I measured out 3" notches and drew my line across both panels to ensure that everything would fit together nicely. For someone who is less than precise when it comes to measuring, this is a great technique to ensure a good fit. I then shaded in the notches that I wanted to cut out with my exacto knife. I did this to keep from cutting out the wrong notch accidentally.

By tilting your panel up you can see where the notches fit into each other. The white ones, or tabs will fit into the shaded ones, the ones I cut out.

Once you cut out the shaded boxes to create your notches, you should be able to easily assemble the light box.

Here's the light box assembled. This will create 3 nice white surfaces to bounce light off of to create a nice even light source for product photography. The final step is adding a strip of poster board to create a seamless backdrop for the product. Since the light box is 20" wide with a 1" margin on each side I needed to cut my poster board to be 18" wide.

Again, I did not want to use tape which could tear the box and the poster board, so I cut notches into the poster that fit into the tabs on the 'back' panel. I set the poster's notches into the 'back' panels, then laid the 'top' panel on top of it to hold it in place. It worked out great.

Here are the 2 dim desk lamps I used to test the setup. I'd recommend getting a couple of those silver dome lamps with daylight bulbs to give brighter, better light. Here's a comparison of the light box set up vs. the flash on my camera.

(For tips on making this shot more appealing see updated post on lighting and color)

As you can see, the flash blows out the subject when you try to get close to it and creates a harsh shadow. It also flattens the image because the light source is only coming from one location straight on. The light box feels nice and soft and helps show off the contours of the subject by providing light from multiple angles.

Once I finished with the light box you simply pulled it apart and all of the panels lay nice and flat so that you can store it easily til the next use!

For other takes on the light box hack, check out:

Steph's light box which is made out of an old box, cloth, and poster board. This one diffuses light instead of bouncing it off the walls

and

Sara's mini photo studio which is made out of pvc pipe, white sheets, and poster board.

both turned out GREAT! Nice job ladies. :D

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57 comments:

Steph said...

Great design! I really love that it folds flat. I've added a link to your now too! Thanks for sharing.

Nate G said...

Great tutorial Ames! the little tabs idea is great, especially that it's collapsible. i think i might have to make one of these myself :-)

Amy Kingman said...

Thanks guys! Definitely share if you end up making one Nate! I'd love to see. :D Can't wait to see the crazy photos you come up with!

Smilax said...

good idea, amy!
somtimesone needs more ilumination, for instance, when the day turns grey or rainy andyou can't take lighten pics properly!

happy new year!

Jen said...

You're my hero. I love that it's collaspable. I could definitely use that in my tiny condo.

Sara Therese said...

This is too crazy. Rob and I just attempted to make our own studio, but we used PVC pipe, poster board and white fabric. So weird! I'll try to get pics up later. Your method is much more efficient. Great stuff!

Amy Kingman said...

That IS crazy! I can't believe you guys, me, and Steph were ALL doing the same thing and none of us knew about it. It's cool that they're all diff techniques too! I can't wait to see yours. The great thing about the pvc is that it will last longer and it's probably a bit bigger. Very cool! I'll link it when you've got something posted.

Rachel@oneprettything.com said...

Oh how fabulous! And I love how it stores! I'll be linking.

Amy Kingman said...

Thanks Rachel! It's an honor to be linked on your site! :D

Sara Therese said...

You're going to be on One Pretty Thing! WHHOOOAAA! :)

Flowing Desert Photography said...

Very cool and I love the detail in your plans. I will definitly be building one of these soon to show off my wife's crafts (as well as ebay stuff we sometimes sell).

Thanks for posting this!

Amy Kingman said...

FDP - Awesome! Definitely link back your site when you get it put together! I'd love to see how it turns out. :) Good luck!

melissa said...

wow, this box looks great...and relatively simple to assemble. i've been afraid of making one, but i know it will make the food on my blog look much better. thanks for posting it! i think i will be trying to make one this weekend.

Lori said...

OH wow! this is so great. I love the fact that it's collapseable. I'll definately have to give this a try.

Maren said...

Love this!! Thank you so much!

Sarah said...

Awesome idea! I've been wanting to make a light box, but don't have the room to store much. thank you!!! :)

Barbara at Oodles and Oodles said...

I found your post through Craftzine - thank you so much!!! This is a great idea, and it will really help me out.

Kym said...

This is just what I need! Such a simple idea and so easy to store. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful solution.

Amy Kingman said...

Thanks for the comments! I'm so glad that the design might work out for you guys! Please please send me links once you finish building your own. How fun!

Akua Lezli Hope said...

Brilliant! Thanks so much for sharing! What a great way to start the year! Yay!

Iris Mishly said...

Brilliant! Thanks so much! will be posting it in my blog soon :)

DrMom said...

Bravo!

Kirsten said...

Perfect for my jewelry and cards, thanks for the clear instructions, and I'm linking you too :)

Allison Stein said...

Excellent! Thanks for sharing!

Amy Kingman said...

Glad that this was a helpful idea! Thanks for the link. :)

alvarezmaa said...

Very cool and great design. It's perfect taking photos of my mosaics.

BTW, your lamps cracked me up. Reminded me of Toy Story.

Thanks for posting this!

Pascale said...

I bought my foam boards today! I wanted to make my own light box and since we don't have enough space to have a light box sitting around all the time, I was really happy when I found your post. Thanks!

renee said...

came over from shutter sisters - fabulous tutorial - thanks so much!

alvarezmaa said...

I MADE ONE!!
Take a look here.

Amy Kingman said...

Very cool! Nice job! I like your idea to use a sheet over the top to diffuse it. Thanks for sharing! :)

Anonymous said...

totally can't get that much foamcore for 5 bucks!

but this rules anyway!

Pascale said...

I finally made my light box today. I've made one minor change but otherwise it's completely similar to yours. And I'm SO thrilled about it!! My first picture is up on my blog (http://pm-betweenthelines.blogspot.com/2009/01/up-and-running.html)... Thanks for sharing this great tutorial!

creativelykept said...

Thank you so much for the idea! I've been looking for something like this! I'm building one today

Nancy Ward said...

Hi!

Today I posted an entry on my blog with a link to this tutorial.

Would you let me know if that's OK?

Thanks,

Nancy Ward
http://paperfriendly.blogspot.com

alauna said...

Hello! I sent a note to your etsy because I couldn't find a contact email - but I wanted to check with you before I linked back to your tutorial. I made this last night and now that I see others have asked I wanted to make sure prior to posting. Thanks! It's a great tutorial.

lyndsay said...

thank you for posting this tutorial! super awesome. i will make one for my cupcakes/cakes! : )

pegasys said...

I was going to write a similar blog concerning this topic, you beat me to it. You did a nice job! Thanks and well add your rss to come categories on our blogs. Thanks so much, Jon B.
Motion Graphic Design

ter@waaoms said...

hi there, I am happy to find an easy enough tutorial for a light box that can be dismantled for storage purposes, that was my biggest beef about other tutorials, the boxes looked good but no way to store it. Thanks for doing this tutorial!

Fabrizio said...

That's so cool. I did buy a collapsible light box from a UK retailer (Maplin) but it was on sale so I remember paying only 10 bucks for it. My light box is actually open on top so that I put my light source on either side ( I actually use only the one ). And the light shines from above against the reflective white surface. Also I read somewhere to change your E.V. value on your digital camera to 0.7+ and that slightly overexpose your picture then you can 'fix' it with any photographic software package. I use Picasa. Thanks again for sharing this DIY light box it's an excellent idea. Take care, Fab

Sweet Bumbles said...

Just made the light box and it works great!! Thanks for the tutorial and terrific idea :)

Levinson Axelrod said...

This is perfect... howcome I never thought of this? Simple, easy to make and use. Great tutorial. Just found your blog and I'm diggin' it.

Jenn said...

Just made this this afternoon! It probably took me about an hour and less than $7 in materials. I still need the clip lights, but once I get those I'll be taking prettier pics thanks to your tutorial!
Thanks so much for posting it!

HD said...

Thank you

Singapore NLP Practitioners said...

Thanks for the tip, I encountered the same problem making food photo's looking good without false, too dark or over exposed lighting. I certainly will go look to get the material for the light box.

seagull21 said...

I'm making one of these!

Thanks so much for sharing this.

{ to be charmed } said...

Hi Amy,

I love your article on how to create your own lightbox and would like to use the photo of the bird with a flash and then in the light box to show my readers the benefits. I will then be linking to your tutorial on how to create the light box.

Let me know if this is okay.
Thanks! Elizabeth
www.to-be-charmed.com
tobecharmed@yahoo.com

Amy Kingman said...

Thanks for all the feedback everyone! I'm so glad it's a helpful tutorial. Anyone is welcome to link it. I dont mind at all.

Noor.D said...

i just finished making mine :)
thank you soo much for sharing this, i still need to work on the lighting for my school project.

biogenicmonkey said...

Just made this with my flatmates to help with our uni projects, we are now the proud owners of an epic light box! Thanks!

diyphotography said...

This is a good piece.
I've been trying to make on, out of those white foam boards that I use and making it "fordable" by using Velcro to connect/disconnect them.
Very good idea!

PEACE

michael said...

Great setup. I'm going to do one too, but where do you all find the foam board on the cheap? and what thickness do you buy? I've only looked at Staples, Office Depot which carry foam board with 3/18" thickness, but it's not as cheap as $4. Thanks.

GardenPig said...

thank you for the tutorial!

Kianchi said...

Hi, Thanks for this. I really appreciate the space saving aspect, also!

Wendy said...

This has been on my to do list forEVER...I'm biting the bullet and building one tonight. Thanks for the tutorial...

Izzy said...

I collect wrestling action figures and I have fun creating Pic Feds, like wrestling picture shows. I usually require a nice surface (32x32 or larger) to setup my arena, ring, entrance, etc.; but I have a very small place. I have done different setups and my main issue is always how to store it when I'm not using it and your idea is such a perfect and simple solution, I'm mad I didn't even think about it before, lol. Definitely going to try it out as soon as I have some extra cash to buy the material needed.

Vieillard said...

Looks cool Izzy, post some of your work.

Miranda said...

Thank you so much for the tutorial. I put mine together last night and the lovely pictures make up for my sore cutting fingers!

http://creatingmiranda.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/creating-a-collapsable-light-booth/