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How to Create an Inexpensive Photography Lightbox

Close-up photography of detailed objects requires good lighting, and a lightbox is a great solution. It provides light diffusion and a uniform background against which to place the object. Professional lightboxes can be expensive, but you can make a cheaper version at home. To create an inexpensive photography lightbox, make a frame by cutting windows into the sides and top of a cardboard box, cover each opening with white fabric or tissue paper, fit a gently bent portion of white poster board inside the box to create a blank background, and cover the outside of each fabric-covered opening with black poster board to block light as needed. You can then use flashes, desk lamps, and other light sources to create the desired lighting effect.

Steps

  1. Image titled ChooseBox Step 1
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    Choose a box. The size should be appropriate for the the objects you will photograph. You may find that you need to make boxes in various sizes.
  2. Image titled SecureBottomTape Step 2
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    Secure the bottom of the box with packing tape. Use more packing tape to secure the bottom flaps inside. This will keep them out of the way.
  3. Image titled BoxfacingYou Step 3
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    Lay the box on its side. Have the opening facing you.
  4. Image titled MarkLines Step 4
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    Mark lines just along the inside edge. These lines should be about 1 inch (2.5 cm) inside each edge of the box on each side and on the top. A standard 12" (30cm) ruler makes the perfect straight edge and is the right width.
  5. Image titled CutLines Step 5
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    Cut along the lines. Using the box cutter, carefully cut along the lines you drew. You can use the ruler as a straight edge to guide your cut. It is not necessary to get the cuts absolutely straight. Notice that the flaps on the front of the box have been left on for now to add stability and make it easier to cut. You may find that taping the front flaps shut makes it easier to cut.
  6. Image titled CutFlaps Step 6
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    Cut the front flaps off with a box cutter.
  7. Image titled DiffusingMaterial Step 7
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    Cut a large section of white fabric. White muslin fabric, White Nylon and white fleece all work. Make the fabric large enough to fit over each of the openings you cut. Then tape it to the outside of the box using cellophane tape. Start with one layer of fabric. After completing the box and making some test shots, you may find that you need additional layers of tissue paper to achieve the right lighting.
  8. Image titled CutPieces Step 8
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    Remove stray cardboard. Use the box cutter and scissors to remove any stray pieces of cardboard from the front edge of the box.
  9. 9
    Cut matte white poster board to fit inside the box. The piece should be in the shape of a rectangle, with the width being the same as a side of the box, but the length being twice as long.
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    Curve the poster board inside the box. Insert the poster board into the box, curving it up towards the top of the box. Curve it gently; don't crease it. Trim it if necessary. This will create an infinite, edgeless look for the background of your shots.
  11. Image titled BlackMatte Step 11
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    Cut matte black poster board for the tissue-covered areas. The sections should be large enough to cover the tissue paper areas. This will allow you to block light from certain directions when taking photographs.
  12. Image titled AddlLighting Step 12
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    Add your lighting. Photo lights, flashes, and even standard desk lamps can be placed on either side or above the box to produce the desired lighting effect.
  13. Image titled TakeTestShots Step 13
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    Take some test shots as you go. See how well your tissue paper filters and diffuses the light. Add layers of tissue paper as needed. This photo was taken in the example light box, and is not retouched (other than cropping). Now go start taking great photos!
  14. Image titled ActualResult Step 14
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    Check the images. In the end, your images should come out clean, crisp, and without a ton of gray color throughout. Take a look at this sample image taken from the box this process built.
  15. Image titled LightBox Intro
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    Finished.

Tips

  • Make sure to use matte and not glossy poster board. Glossy poster board can reflect the light and cause glare.
  • Try other colors of poster board and even fabric to achieve the desired effect.
  • If you take shots straight down from above, cut the bottom of the box like the sides and top, and cover with tissue paper. Then set the box open side down and cut a lens sized hole in what is now the top of the box. That way you can lay out your subject on a piece of white matte cardboard, then drop the box over it, and shoot the photograph through the hole.
  • If your camera has one, learn how to use its "custom white balance" (WB) feature--this can make all the difference when shooting items in this fashion.
  • You may find that removing the bottom of the box makes it easier to just drop the light box over your subject.

Warnings

  • Make sure lights don't start a fire!
  • Use off camera strobes as well.
  • Be careful with the box cutter. It's hard to take photos without fingers! Always cut away from yourself and from your hands.

Things You'll Need

  • Cardboard box (size will depend on what you are shooting)
  • 2-4 sheets of white tissue paper
  • 1 piece of matte white poster board
  • 1 piece of matte black poster board
  • Scotch tape
  • Packing tape
  • 12" (30cm) ruler
  • Pencil or pen
  • Scissors
  • Box cutter
  • Photo lights/flashes/standard desk lamps

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