September 4, 2018

diy: build your own light box

I have needed a photo light box for quite some time now. Actually, much too long especially now as I am taking my work more serious, and since it has been raining almost non-stop lately here in Florida, well, that has now forced me into full buy it or make it mode! So let me explain...

I have been using my backyard as my photography studio so I can optimize the most perfect lighting that I have available to me at this time. My indoor space & studio just does not have ample enough natural light or the space to maneuver it. Of course, even outdoors, the perfect lighting window of time is very limited each day and even more-so when it's raining. 

So, I usually drag a table or stool outside to the backyard during that golden hour for photography and take several trips back and forth to collect all the supplies and art I will need for my little photoshoot set-up. I will admit it can get pretty challenging and even comical, at times. Such as when my back was turned and the neighbor's cat decided to jump onto my display bringing everything crashing down into the grass, or when a gust of wind decided to explode into the yard unannounced and scatter small pieces of art everywhere, or recently when it's sunny one minute and the next I am screaming at the top of my lungs in full panic-mode for the kids to come out and help "save the artwork" as rain comes pouring down. Welcome to Florida.

So, yeah, it's time for a light box!!

Anyone who knows me also knows that if it's an option, I will most often make it rather than buy it. There are a lot of tutorials out there for building one of these using everything from a cardboard box to pvc piping. The important thing for me was function, storage, durability and if possible, I wanted to use what I had on hand! 

My motto is and always will be

As I searched throughout my studio and garage, I knew a cardboard box just wasn't going to be sustainable for me. I wanted something that would LAST and would be easy to store away, too!

The one thing I do have available as an artist is tons and tons of student-grade, back-stapled canvases that I use to teach with or try out new techniques and so on, and I realized the wood frames would work perfectly! If you don't have these just laying around like I do, you can get these at your local craft store for just a few dollars. They are generally very inexpensive.

So let's get started....

Three 16"x20" Student-Grade, Back-Stapled, Stretched Artist Canvas (used or new) can use larger sized canvas also (I do believe that will be in my future, too)
Foam Core/Board
Poster Board, White (choose according to what you will be photographing)
15" or larger Parchment Paper
Two 8.5" or larger Utility Clamp Work Lights with Aluminum Reflector
Two Natural Daylight CFL Bulb's (Compact Fluorescent Light not LED)
4 Large Binder Clips
Duck Tape
Clear Package Tape or glue
Utility Knife, Scissors

First you will need to strip the canvas material off the wood frames using a utility knife. You can remove the staples that remain on the backside and sand the wood lightly.

Now it is time for construction. I thought I had some hinges in my toolbox and would have preferred that, but just couldn't find them, so duck tape was used instead. Laying two frames side by side joined at the 16" side, tape them together. Then 'fold' them into each other, like a book, taping the backside of the fold. Remember you want each side to fold inward eventually like a box, so make certain you are not taping both sides flat. Then, tape the remaining frame to one of the 16" sides.

The openings now need to be covered with a white material that will help diffuse the light coming from the lamps onto the item being photographed. There are a lot of options out there suggesting what to use, such as tissue paper and even old bedsheets. I decided parchment paper was my best option, I had it on hand, and it would have a bit more durability in the end. Cut three pieces that cover the openings of the frame and then glue or tape them down. I used clear packing tape.

We're almost there! Just a few more steps to go.....

Next you will need to cut a piece of foam core/board the size of the squared opening that remains at the top once it's set up (19.5"x20" for mine) and using 4 large binder clips, 2 at the back, and one at each front corner, you can sit the foam on top of one of the handles of each clip. There is also an option of creating a wood plank for the top with a cut-out circle in the middle so you can take photos from above, but I will show that construction at a later time.

The construction is basically done at this point, except for the lights and the backdrop.


The lighting I use are a pair of 8.5" utility clamp work lights with aluminum reflector (you can find these for under $10 almost anywhere) and most important, the bulbs should be a Natural Daylight CFL - compact fluorescent light (not LED). I clamp my lights onto a couple blocks of wood I had laying around.


There are a lot of different options for the backdrop. Generally, I prefer an infinity curve backdrop so I get an ultra-smooth background with no corners or angles and since it doesn't have any corners, shadows won't gather in the background.

An easy and inexpensive option for this sized light box is poster board and it comes in a wide range of colors and prints. I love the faux wood planks poster board I found and can't wait to use it. Hang your backdrop from the 2 binder clips in the back, letting it curve down so it lays on top of the table and you are ready to photograph your product!!

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