ode to a DIY light box

Howdy! I’m so very excited to be a contributor to the Blue House blog. I have loved every minute of watching Blue House Ann Arbor grow into a community for crafters, a place to make and share, learn and grow. I especially look forward to seeing this blog grow as an extension of the crafty community of Blue House.

Now, you should know, my thing is photography. Some of my blog posts will be about photography and some of them won’t. I’m trying to stretch myself to become more of a maker and have totally been inspired by the wonderful crafters and makers at Blue House. In the future, you just might see some of my trials as I learn. But for today, photography.

If you are an artist on Etsy or if you take photos of your lovely handmade goodness for your blog, you want great photos. But sometimes those photos you take don’t turn out so great. They’re too dark, there are harsh shadows, there’s too much else in the photo competing for attention – there are a lot of ways a photo can go wrong. Well, my wonderful Blue House blog readers, I’ve got a handy solution that costs under $10: a DIY light box. You are going to love this baby. It helps minimize harsh shadows, it definitely puts the focus on whatever you’re photographing, and it’s super easy to make.

Check that out. Smooth as butter. So what do you need to get photos like this?

  • a cardboard box (12x12x12 at the very smallest, i would say)
  • packing tape
  • a box cutter (definitely easier than scissors, but watch out. don’t cut yourself.)
  • translucent paper (tissue, parchment, tracing – I think any of those would work. I used tissue, which worked well but is super fragile)
  • white poster board (matte side up)

First thing, close your cardboard box on one end and reinforce it with tape. Next: cut holes out on three sides using your box cutter. I left a border of 1 1/2 inches on each side. That was fine, except it left one of the sides feeling pretty flimsy. I ended up reinforcing with a ruler for a true DIY feel.

I also cut off the bottom and top flaps. I left the two side flaps to have better control over the light. Then: cover the open holes with your translucent paper. The photos show it better than I am explaining it, I would guess.

Like I said before, tissue paper is very fragile. I poked a hole through it while I was setting it up for taking a photo. Silly me.

Fortunately, it was small enough, it didn’t really matter. I think a roll of parchment paper might really work. Then you could just cover all three sides by rolling the parchment over the box. Try that and let me know how it turns out.

Last step: cut the posterboard to fit the width of your box. Slide the posterboard up the floor of the box, curving it at the fold of the box. That curve will give you the look of an infinity wall, white going on forever. Make sure to have the poster board matte side up to minimize any glare.

I set the box up next to a window and shot away. I was dang pleased with the images I was getting. The shadows were minimal, the lighting was perfect, and the focus was all on my little alien.

If there’s no window light, try setting up a bright desk lamp or shop light next to the light box. You’ll need to adjust your white balance to reflect whatever light you’re using (probably tungsten or incandescent if you’re using a desk lamp). That will help your whites look white. You can use two lamps on either side of the box if you want to eliminate shadows all together. Don’t be afraid to play around with the placement of the lamps. The translucent paper will help diffuse the light, giving you a nice overall lighting effect.

Now, say you just can’t scrounge up a box or some tissue paper. You can make yourself a light box lite of sorts with just some poster board. In the same spot I had been shooting with the light box, I laid one sheet of poster board down on the floor and rested two sheets perpendicular to one another against some tables to form a corner wall (again having all the poster board matte side up). Then I shot away. I was still able to get that nice white background, albeit with a slight line in the background, showing the seam of the two sheets of poster board. The light doesn’t  diffuse in the same way, but really, if I were in a pinch and all I could find was some poster board, this would work.

See that seam? You had to look to find it, didn’t you? It’s really not too bad.

Try making this. Try it when you want some crisp, clean photos for Etsy or for your blog. Then show me. I’d love to see what you do with this. I know I can’t wait to try photographing more things with my new DIY light box. Many thanks to Strobist for the tutorial *I* used in putting my light box together.


About monet

photographer, sometimes writer, wife to my best friend, mom to three amazing kids. passionate about supporting public education. and camping. I love camping.
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6 Responses to ode to a DIY light box

  1. Blue House says:

    Perhaps a people size light box for our next Blue House photo booth, Mo? Another strong reason for a new frig.
    p.s. Pizza Planet should hire you for their next ad campaign.

  2. Anna (three birds jewelry) says:

    owww yea, light boxes are a must for taking photos of shiny things (like jewelry). i found paper a pain (always tearing) i use a white sheer fabric from the remnants section at the fabric store. works pretty well.

  3. monet says:

    that’s a great suggestion, Anna. The tissue paper I used is way too fragile – I’m going to have to replace it with something more durable, and sheer fabric would be a fine way to go.

  4. ashley...again says:

    Bless you Monet for these simple instructions. This is toward the top of my list of “must-get-to-its”. I’ll likely try the fabric too.

  5. Liz D says:

    Just finished putting together my light box and thought I should share:

    I gave the parchment paper a shot, and it’s working out nicely diffusion-wise. The only thing I had an issue with was taping it to the box; the waxiness of the paper keeps the tape from sticking completely. It’s holding for now, but maybe glue or staples would do a better job.

    Thanks again for the excellent tips and instructions!

  6. Dang Amanda says:

    Done! Super easy and works wonderfully. Thanks, Monet! Why did I wait so long to make a light box for my dang goods?

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