How To Make A Light Box For Less Than $10
You will need:
White cotton cloth (Or parchment paper)
Clear Packing tape
Cardstock or Posterboard
Lightboxes are easy to build, worth their weight in photo-quality, and a fun DIY project for those taking their first steps into the photography hobby. They're a priceless tool for taking high-quality product photos for stores or for giving that arts and crafts Instagram a little extra edge.
Photos can be taken without a lightbox, but…
So how do we get our hands on a suitable lightbox for our photos?
When we’re on a budget, we turn to the wonderful world of DIY. With a few easy-to-find supplies and tools, we'll get our homemade lightbox up and running in no time.
Most, if not all, of these items tend to be found in discount stores making it a perfect upgrade for those on a hairline budget.
How should a lightbox work?
When drafting our design, we need to keep in mind the two functions of a lightbox:
- Diffuse hard light
- Reflect soft light.
(Bonus: Take great pictures!)
Both functions reduce unwanted glare and shadows in your photos and create clean, even lighting.
To emphasize that, we'll be making two windows for built-in light diffusion. This will let us use everyday desk lights for our light source to take full advantage of the lightbox's properties.
Let’s go ahead and sketch out our plan in advance, so we know what we’re looking for. Nothing fancy, just a rough draft to have on hand before we go measuring and cutting.
Now that we have an idea of our build, let's get to the preparation. Please keep in mind, we’re creating an 8-inch lightbox for small scale work. One of the primary strengths of DIY is that you can build it as big as you want, so long as you scale things appropriately.
Step 1: Time to go shopping, aka “Get your butt to the store!”
This is rather easy thanks to the existence of discount stores. Overall, we paid roughly $8 USD for our supplies.
We'll need enough foamboard to make an 8-inch cube with one side completely open. For the windows, if you're able to get a good discount on white cotton cloth, then that’s the perfect material to help diffuse light.
Parchment or tissue paper will work as well if a usable cloth can’t be found. Keep in mind that the material needs to let enough light through, but not enough to cause glare. If you can hold it up to a light and see a bright white shine through it, then you're good to go.
Step 2: Measure twice, cut once!
If there's one tool anyone interested in DIY should own, it's a carpenter's square. It's the perfect tool to measure out our 8-inch squares. On two of the squares, mark an inner square 1 1/2 inches from the edge. These two squares will form our windows later.
With the cardstock or inner paper, measure out a 16 inch by 8-inch piece. This will form our sloped background, also known as a sweep, to remove the hard crease that would affect photo quality. For the cloth or parchment paper, cut two 7 inch squares, one for each window of the box.
Step 3: Cut everything out. You did double check your measurements, right?
With the box cutter, carefully cut the pieces and windows out. To make the cuts cleaner, use the edge of the carpenter's square to guide your knife. Scissors can also be used to cut the cardstock. Once all of our pieces are cut, we can start assembling the lightbox.
Step 4: Put it all together. (Our favorite part)
Using the tape, we'll assemble the box most of the way with the windowed panels on the left and right sides. Leave the top off until you use the double-sided tape to affix the cardstock into the box.
This cardstock will act as the sweep, removing what would be a slightly darker line from behind your photo subjects and allowing the softened light to bounce and fill the shadows.
Tape on the top of your lightbox.
Now with the general structure finished, we'll finalize the box by attaching our window diffusers and admire our finished work. THUMBS UP EMOJI
Step 5: Get to shooting.
It's time for the best part.
Get something you'd like to take a photo of and set it in the lightbox. Mount and adjust your lamps, the bulbs facing the windows. You'll want as much light as possible entering the box. Take a few test shots, and adjust your camera to fit your subject and with that, your lightbox is good to go.
Here’s a shot from one actively used by an artist nearby! He built his using a 12-inch pattern rather than an 8-inch, with 3 windows on the top and both sides.
Now that’s a good looking photo
While a DIY box will service most small-time, in-studio projects, there comes a time when an upgrade's in order.
Any DIY solution lacks compact portability, durability, consistent lighting, and requires the use of extra lamps to make the lightbox function.
A perfect upgrade would keep our strengths while shoring up those weaknesses while still giving us the best bang for our buck.
For that, we turn to the MacroFrame Lightbox, a portable, durable, and overall complete piece of gear when the time comes to upgrade from your DIY lightbox. It comes with a collapsable high-quality construction that remains portable for the photographer on the go, or even if you want to regain the space your normal lightbox takes up. The LED light strips built into the box also provide nice, even lighting that takes no time at all to set up.
MacroFrame also offers a ton of other exciting products like a rotating display stand that fits both the DIY build and MacroFrame's portable studio perfectly. With the rise of GIFs and Video enabled sites, the turntable is the perfect complement for any product photoshoot and should be a part of all photographer’s toolboxes.
The DIY journey has only started and we’d love to have you along for the ride. Have you built a lightbox of your own? Share a picture of your set up on Facebook or Instagram, and be sure to tag us!