Do It Yourself Lightbox for about $10

While most of my photography consists of squatting in front of a two year old and shouting “Sammy! Look at Daddy! Sammy! Sammy! Sammy! Sammy!” I do enjoy trying to stretch myself every now and again. Studio photography intimidates the heck out of me, though. I read a number of photography websites and the ones that talk about studio and off-camera lighting (like this one) quickly lose me in their discussion of terribly expensive sounding equipment and complex lighting techniques that require the assistance of three microcomputers and a fifth year graduate student.

Still, that being said, there was one project that I thought within my meager budget and my skills when it comes to working with tape and cardboard: a do-it-yourself light box. Light boxes are essentially little white boxes that you can place small items in so that you can photograph them against a white background with maximum control over lighting. So I printed off this tutorial from and headed for a local hardware store where I bought the following:

  • Three pieces of 22″ x 28″ white posterboard ($1.47)
  • A package of white tissue paper ($0.79)
  • A shop lamp with a clamp on its base ($7.99)

Back home I procured the following from various drawers and closets:

  • A yardstick
  • Scissors
  • A glue stick
  • Packing tape
  • A pencil
  • An exacto knife
  • A 120 watt light bulb

Total cost: $10.25 plus tax.

I then arranged the materials on a table thusly:

Light Box Construction 1

If you want the details on the “how to” part, just read the article on If doing that is too much trouble, close your eyes and imagine lots of furious crafting, cutting, gluing, and cursing. Now open your eyes. What I ended up with was this (click for larger version):

Light Box Construction 2

Not technically a box since it’s only got four sides, but close enough and the open top allows you to take top-down shots. The project done, I grabbed whatever small objects were nearby and took some test shots. The results? Not too bad:

(Actually, my favorite shot I’m saving for the Photo of the Week tomorrow. Tune back in then.)

Eh, I guess these shots would be fine your quick and dirty eBay product shots, but the lighting still isn’t quite there. Ideally you would have a couple of remotely triggered speedlights flashing light through the tissue paper covering the holes in the sides of the box, but the shop lamp clamped to the edge of the table is a poor man’s substitute ($8 vs. well over $1,100). I’d actually recommend two shop lamps –one on each side– because having just one casts undesirable shadows. I ended up setting up a lamp on the other side to compensate, but I still got a lot of ugly shadows and the mix of tungsten bulbs, flash, and natural light meant that I had to use the Auto White Balance setting on my camera, which often produces goofy colors and a yellow cast to the pictures.

The whole thing is also really flimsy (it’s just poster board, after all) and doesn’t seem like it would survive much use or transportation. My next project is going to be to follow this tutorial and build a sturdier one out of foam board or try this one and use an old cardboard packing box.

After that maybe I’ll drop tens of thousands of dollars into a home portrait studio. Gotta start small and immediately lurch into gargantuan, right?

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5 thoughts on “Do It Yourself Lightbox for about $10

  1. That’s pretty cool. I think it would be great to put different colored backgrounds up easily. I just don’t have any easy way to cut PVC pipe. Guess I could just buy a hacksaw…

  2. Wow, I like the stark look of everything. I think I’ll try it tonight, we havea bunch of white gatorfoam laying around at work, might as well use it for something I love.

  3. I found your link through Trixieupdate. I have been wanting to comment but never had a moment. You make photagraphy look so easy because your pictures are so incredible. I guess its also easy to do so when you have beautiful subjects like your children.
    I’m a wanna be photographer so it’s a shame that I seen your photo box about 2 days to late though. During one of my extremely bored evenings I had sculptured my dog and her name using my son’s playdough (Pretty pathetic I know) but that box would have been a great tool to capture my little clay creation. I took me about 10 or so pictures but due to the dark light in the room only one came out visible enough to make out what it was. Unfortunatly I smashed it all up, but If I ever feel creative again I am going to have to try that.

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