Instead of ordering an expensive light box from Amazon or another online photography store, you can easily make one at home just using a cardboard box and materials you likely already have at home.
A light box or light tent lets you have soft even lighting on your subject and keeps out an extraneous light that you don’t want on your subject. It’s a great way to control lighting on small to medium sized subjects.
In this blog, I’ll cover the supplies and steps to create the light box, design considerations, and tips on using the light box for your macro or product photography.
Medium Cardboard Box
Consider what you will be photographing when selecting the box. You’ll want to make sure you leave room between the light box walls and your subject. My box is 14 x 12.5 x 9.5 inches which works well since I primarily plan to use it for macro photography.
I also plan on using my iPad as a background for my macro photographs so I selected a box where my iPad would fit in the back of the box.
Tissue paper is pretty thin so order enough for 2 layers.
Clear Packaging Tape
Black Felt or other Material to Cover the Back and Bottom of the Box
I purchased sheets of black felt for the bottom and back sides of the box. I selected black because it absorbs the light. It is also easy to separate from the background in photoshop so you can replace the background, add textures, etc.
You can also use poster board, construction paper, or other materials that meet your needs.
Glue or Glue Stick
To glue the felt to the box.
- Utility knife / box cutter
1. Choose a Box.
2. Determine which side will be your front opening, top, etc.
3. Use a pencil and a ruler to draw lines to cut out the opening on each side of the box. I left the cardboard on the back and bottom of the box. You will need to cut out the top, 2 sides and the front opening.
4. You will want to leave an edge on the sides of the box in order to give space for taping the tissue paper to the box. I left an edge of about 1.25 inches on each side and the top of the box.
On the front of the box, I left an edge of 2 inches on the left and right sides to reduce the ambient light.
5. With a utility knife, carefully cut the cardboard box along the lines you drew on the previous step.
6. Using clear packaging tape, tape the tissue paper to each side of the box. Remember to use 2 layers to make it stronger and provide more diffusion.
7. Glue the Felt or other material to the bottom and back of the box
8. If you are going to use a Helping Hands tool to hold your macro subjects, cut a hole in the box for the Helping Hands arm to enter the box. I also cut a small, square piece of cardboard to cover the hole when not in use. This will keep any extraneous light out of the box.
Using the Light Box / Light Tent
For lighting the subject in the light tent, LED lights are a good choice. I use 2 inexpensive LED, clip on reading lights that I ordered from Amazon. With these lamps you can change the light temperature and they have 2 brightness settings.
I generally place these two lights on each side of the light box. You can change the brightness and position of the lights based on the subject and how reflective it is.
In this design, the top is also open and covered with tissue paper in case you need an extra pop of light above the subject.
Holding the Subject
There are several ways to do this depending on your subject.
For subjects with a stem or handle (flowers, leaves, dandelion seeds, etc.), I use a Helping Hands tool that clamps to the table and enters the box through a hole that I cut for that purpose.
For product photography, you may want to put your subject directly on the felt or on a stand.
You can also add a mirror or dark Plexiglas as a base to create a reflection with your subject.
A light box is a great piece of gear to have on hand for you indoor macro photography. It is quick and easy to set up and does a nice job controlling the light on your subject.
Written by Martin Belan
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