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By Konrad Eek |

Photographers: Make Your Own DIY Light Box

Make a DIY light box on the cheap

For just a few dollars—and in just a few minutes—you can make a simple DIY light box to evenly illuminate small objects for close-up photos.

Whether you’re doing product photography, insurance documentation, or simply shooting as a hobby, this system will give you consistent and effective lighting from a variety of sources.

And it’s made from materials found at your local art supply store.

What you’ll need

Pic. 2 materials

one 32”x40” sheet of 3/16” white foam core, preferably acid free

waxed paper

hobby knife such as an X-Acto with a fresh blade

metal ruler, preferably 3’ long

pencil

cardboard to protect your table from score marks

tape

Assembly

First, mark the foam core sheet as illustrated below. Make light pencil marks to avoid denting the board. The solid lines are cut lines; the dotted lines are for scoring in order to create a hinge.

Notice that the foam core is made with two sheets of cardboard around a foam core. The score lines will only cut through one layer of cardboard.

Pic. 3 Diffusion cut guide

Second, using the metal ruler as a guide, make the cuts with the hobby knife to separate parts A, B , C, and D. If you hold the knife as shown, keeping the spine perpendicular to the foam core and tight to the metal ruler, you’ll avoid catching the knife edge on the ruler.

Also notice the low angle of the blade in relation to the foam core. This uses more of the length of the blade resulting in a cleaner cut.

Pic. 4 knife angle

Third, cut the window out of part A, reserving the removed piece.

Fourth, make the scores in parts A and B by cutting only through the top layer of the foam core. You can then fold the board away from the cut side to create a hinge.

Pic. 5 taping waxed paper

Fifth, cut a piece of wax paper a little over twice the length of the window in part A. Fold the waxed paper in half to create a double thickness and tape it in place over the window on the scored side of Part A.

This keeps the tape on the outside of the chamber, preventing it from being visible when photographing something reflective.

Finally, assemble the chamber by placing part D on the table for a base, parts A and B on the left and right, part C on the top, and the reserved window center in the front.

Pic. 1 assembled chamber

Taking photographs

When I use the chamber, I like to work with my camera on a tripod. This allows me to get the best photograph by making small adjustments after inspecting my result. Place the object in the chamber and use the cards to fill in the top and front leaving a gap for the lens of the camera.

I usually have the camera slightly above the object. If you’re using a point-and-shoot camera or your smartphone or tablet, you’ll need to use a continuous light source (see image at the top of this article). There are many choices: A gooseneck desk lamp allows for precise placement of the light source. A halogen shop light gives stronger illumination.

Just be sure you don’t let the camera flash fire—and set your white balance to match the light source. If you have a DSLR with a dedicated flash extension cord, you can use it for a light source, taking advantage of TTL flash metering to get proper exposure.

Whichever combination you use, don’t let the light source shine on the lens of the camera and cause lens flare. I usually shoot in aperture priority mode in order to ensure more depth of field. If your exposure is too bright or too dark, use exposure compensation to correct the problem.

The resulting photographs will be very evenly lit without strong shadows and overly bright highlights.

Pic. 7 on white

Other tips

Don’t hesitate to use an interesting background: individual floor tiles, wood floor samples, and mat board are just a few that could add interest. I explore this and other lighting techniques in more depth in my lynda.com course Product Photography for Jewelry.

Pic. 8 shot on background

When photographing transparent objects, you can help define edges by using subtractive fill. Place small black or gray cards out of the crop to create dark reflections in the object.

Changing the position of the light source relative to the window will alter the fall of light and shadow within the chamber. Go ahead and experiment in order to get the best result.

Finally, the whole chamber can be stacked up and stored for future use.

For more tips on making objects look their best in photos, watch my courses Insights on Product Photography and Product Photography for Clothes and Textiles on lynda.com.

 

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