Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Photo tips 3: Make your own light box!

Today we're making a light box!

A light box is a great help to product photography. It's made to create balanced lighting for product photography. Side-to-side lighting helps to eliminate harsh shadows and give an even appearance to products. Top-down or one-angle lighting will often distort a color from side to side.

You can make a light box for very little money. I had all the items here except the lamps ($8 each at Walmart) and bulbs.

Of course I couldn't find matching lamps!

You will need:
  • One tall box (at least 2 feet)
  • One sheet of white posterboard
  • Two sheets of 11x14 tracing paper
  • The longest ruler or yardstick you own (I used an 18" ruler)
  • X-acto knife
  • Sharpie marker
  • Wide packing or masking tape tape
  • Two adjustable-neck lamps
  • 60-watt GE Reveal lightbulbs
Lots of pictures and step-by-step instructions this way!

I got this conveniently partially-cut tall box at Walmart. It had clothes hangers in it. I, uh, just emptied it and walked out with it (I was purchasing other things). No one seemed to care, so ...

Lie the box on its side, with the front opening to the left. Take one sheet of the tracing paper (if you have smaller paper, tape two sheets together), and lie it on the box. Center it width-wise, and a few inches from the bottom.

Use the sharpie to draw small lines on the corners of the paper. Then measure about half an inch in from the corner marks, and make a second set of marks. This second set will be where you cut the box.

Align your ruler across the box, on the inside marks, and cut out the inside with the X-acto knife. You can use one blade of scissors if you don't have an X-acto knife. It doesn't need to be perfect.

Tape the tracing paper to the box on all four sides.

Flip box over and repeat on the opposite side. Your box should now look like this:

Cut down the front portion (or cut the side out altogether), then measure the width of the inside of the box. Cut the posterboard down to size, and insert it into the box, lying flat on the bottom and curved toward the back. Tape it on the top.

Check that the curve is rounded, rather than getting stuck down to the corner of the box. The flatter the paper, the more light will be reflected. A too-deep curve will end up with more shadow in the background, like so:

See the darker shadow in the top picture? I pulled the posterboard up more to reduce the shadow.
Then aim your lights at the tracing paper and start shooting!

Here's a comparison in photos taken in and out of the light box.

Light box
No light box
Notice the uneven shadow created by natural lighting. I took this picture from above, with natural sunlight from a window about 6 feet away. When I edited this picture, I wasn't able to lighten it enough to remove the background. If I did that, the highlights would be lost.

The second picture was taken in the light box. The shadows turned out nice and soft, no harsh lines. I was able to lighten the photo so that the background almost completely dropped out, without compromising the light areas. The color isn't as pink as the original because I didn't do much editing (neon pink is surprisingly difficult to photograph). 

Next week, I'll be discussing staging of your products!

— Jocelyn | paragraphloop


  1. This is great information Jocelyn! I built a lightbox out of PVC piping. So much measuring, sawing, sawing and sawing! This is so much easier -- and it looks like it's easier to use than mine too. Maybe I'll have to build another one :-)

  2. this looks pretty easy. Will definitely try to build this light box. Taking photos of my products turned out to be most difficult, so this looks like it will help a lot! thank you.

  3. I've moved several times in the past few years and have had variations on home made light boxes. I currently don't have one, but this is a good reminder that it can be done easily and for low cost. Thanks for the tips!

  4. Thanks for the good post! Photo Lighting. Photo Lighting

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