Picture This: DIY Lightbox

This week is a little different. Instead of explaining a technique or demonstrating a composition concept, we’re going make a lightbox. A lightbox is like a tiny little studio with soft lighting to help you photograph small things like earrings, coffee cups, model airplanes, and the like. Its uses are endless but having one of these is particularly useful for the talented crafter – especially if they want to take stellar photos of products for their Etsy store!

Following this guide (with a few small modifications), I put this lightbox together in an hour.

Tools:

  • Cardboard box (stolen from the grocery store)
  • Scissors (I used kitchen shears)
  • Tissue Paper (two packages)
  • Tape (I used double sided tape but regular Scotch tape will work too)
  • Lamp (I used our desk lamp which has a bendable arm but you can use any light source, even natural light, to make this work.)

Total cost: $3 for the tissue paper.

Let’s Begin!

A frootloop box!
Our rough beginnings…

Step One:

Cut up either three or four sides of your box (depending on which side you use for the back drop and bottom) to form nice rectangular holes. I cut up three sides and used the bottom of the box plus one side for the backdrop.

A box with it's sides cut out.
Weeeee!!

Step Two:

Attach tissue paper over each hole with tape (it’s easier to tape on the outside rather than the inside of the box) so that the tissue paper creates an translucent screen. Wrinkles don’t matter.

Tissue paper covers the holes on the box and a lamp is positioned over the top.
This is really a combination of steps two, three, and four. It actually comes together really fast.

Step Three:

Layer two sheets of tissue paper to use as the backdrop. This time, wrinkles do matter. Wrinkles and creases will show up in your photos as slightly annoying shadows behind your image. To flatten out your tissue paper, try ironing it. Put your iron on low (polyester or synthetic settings should work) and iron that sucker flat! (I tried this and it worked very well.) When finished, staple the top corners of your tissue paper together so that they won’t separate when you hang it up.

Next, tape the tissue paper to the top back corner of your box so that it hangs down over the bottom where your items will sit, like a curtain. (The tutorial I followed said to use fabric for the backdrop, which probably would have been nicer and avoided the whole wrinkle issue, but I only had tissue paper, and that worked well enough.)

Step Four:

Position a light source in one of two places: either over the top screen or use two sources – one on each side of the box. The tissue paper will diffuse the light and soften it throughout the box.

A blue vase is set up inside the lightbox. A bright white light is evenly dispersed throughout the box.
See how purdy the light is?

Step Five:

Take pictures! I used both my phone (Galaxy Nexus 5mp camera) and my DSLR (Olympus E-5 12mp) to show you that if you don’t have a nice camera, you can still do this. (Side note: I imagine the phone photos would look a lot nicer with the iPhone 8mp camera.) I did fix these up a bit in Photoshop which I suggest you do as well. Follow this link for a quick Picture This tutorial on how to edit photos.

A blue vase is inside the lightbox and a camera is set up on a tripod, pointing at the vase. You can see the vase on the camera's screen.
One last tip: be sure to get your camera level with whatever you are shooting. It may be easier to use a tripod than to hold it by hand.
Two ganesha statues stand side by side.
As you can see, there is a huge difference in quality between the phone and the camera. The phone mostly lost the background in editing while I tried to pull out more detail but the camera image has the detail and the right bronze-y colors. I cannot explain why the phone image appears a little distorted – this may be because of my position when I took the photo.
Two vases stand side by side.
Again, the phone loses detail while the camera is sharper and has better color. The phone photos are not too bad, but obviously your limits will be how well it focuses, the image size, and ultimately your editing options.

The cool thing about this lightbox is that anyone can do it! It’s cheap, it’s useful, and it turns out lovely photos! Would I do this again? Definitely. I think this project is immensely useful for the crafter out there who needs photos of their projects for marketing purposes. The photo editing took me about 15 minutes, so all up, 1 hour and 15 minutes for professional looking photos you can use for your business.

Published by

Thelma

Thelma is a photographer and traveler currently residing in Sydney, Australia. In her free time she can be found with her nose behind a camera or obsessing over koalas.

9 thoughts on “Picture This: DIY Lightbox”

        1. 3 point lighting is simpler than it’s super professional name makes it sound. Basically you need one big light so you can see everything (the key light). Then you need a second, weaker, light on the other side of the person to keep all the shadows from being stark scary horror film shadows (the fill light). Lastly put a third weak light behind  and to the side of the person to light up their edges and help separate them from their background.  Make sure it isn’t too strong or directly behind them or you will get some Jesus halo glow effects going on (unless you want that). Often the key light has a soft box on it so that you avoid harsh lines of shadow. Sometimes the fill light is just a bit of white or foil covered board to reflect the key light’s light back up on the subject.

  1. This is super cool! Not only is it a handy thing for businesses, but I have often struggled with taking images of artifacts for museums that don’t just look like crummy snap shots. There is only so much one can do with a large piece of white or grey cardboard and fluorescent lights. Using Acid-Free tissue paper and cardboard should make that work really well in that context

  2. After much experimentation, this is the “light box” I use for my product shots:

    This, with a diffuser over my camera flash, gives me really clear shots, it’s all stuff I had sitting around the house AND I don’t have to find room to store a big white box. It’s not quite as good as a real light box, but I love it.

    1. Nice and very creative! There are a lot of ways to make this kind of thing work. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to keep the lightbox hanging around or not. As you said, I’m not sure I have the space for a big box that holds nothing… I might just unfold the box and re-tissue the thing whenever I need it.

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