Nick Exposed

A Creative Community Hosted By Photog/Designer Nick Mayo

LightBox Tutorial

Upon popular demand I took some time today to put together the LightBox tutorial I’ve been promising for a couple weeks now. I have been using my lightbox for various different projects over the last month and have found it extremely useful for getting creative macro and product shots. This is the same Box I used to create a number of my previous Daily Exposures, which we will discuss in a second. When building mine I tried to keep flexibility in mind to prevent from limiting myself in the future, and Ill explain all of this in the tut.

So what is a LightBox, Light Tent, Macro Tent? Ive heard it called many different things but they all do the same thing, creating a seamless back drop with diffused lighting to create beautiful product and macro photography. Its much like the product over atΒ ezcube.comΒ which can range anywhere from 50 bucks on up to even a couple hundred for some of the top name products. The beautiful thing about making your own is you probably have most the materials laying around at home. Even if you had to purchase everything it wouldn’t cost you much more than $15 which includes the lighting.

So as they say… “Lets make a LightBox!”… what thats not a saying.. well it should be!

Materials:

What your going to need:

  • Cardboard box (Mine is 17in x 13in, with a depth of 13in) – Free from local market
  • White Poster Paper – 50 cents from dollar store
  • Tissue Paper for diffusion material (A white trash bag should work as well) – $1 from dollar store
  • 2 or more Clamp Lights – $6 a piece at Walmart
  • 2 or more Daylight bulbs (Be eco friendly! Use CFL!) – 2.50 at Walmart
  • Bull Clips (I think the more technical name is The heavy duty paper clip clamp thingy mabobs) – 50 cents at dollar store
  • Scissors (Preferably Cutco Shears.. because they are badass!) – you should have scissors, but if you want some awesome Cutco shears get ahold of me and we will get you hooked up πŸ˜‰
  • Sharpie for marking cut lines – pencil will work just as well
  • Ruler – Steal one from your kids!
  • Box cutter or knife – If all else fails you could probably chew threw the box, it actually has the same taste as most tv dinners!
  • Tape (packaging or masking)
  • Optional: Clear Poster Sheet (Will explain later) – 3 bucks at the local craft store

Assembly:

When it comes to what size box you need, its completely up to what you have in mind for shooting. I’ve gotten away with the size I initially chose but there has been times where I wished I had a bigger box (Future project). Just remember the bigger the box you go the more lighting you will need.

Step 1:

Were going to be cutting out the right side, left side and top of the box. You don’t need to worry about the back or bottom being they will be covered by the paper. I measured 2in from each side to give good support to the tissue paper when we get to that step. Use the Sharpie to draw your lines and the box cutter to cut the sections out. (Caution: If you under the age of 16 please have an adult help you with this part! I dont need any missing fingers coming back on me)

Step 2:

Next Measure and cut your poster paper to fit inside your box. Be sure to cut up the vertical side to give you the longest possible sheet.

Step 3:

Cut your tissue paper to size so you can tape it to the two sides Right and Left. Don’t do the top just yet, this is where some of the flexibility comes in πŸ™‚ Be careful when pulling your tissue paper tight as it kind of rips easily, if you are using a plastic bag you wont have this problem.

Step 4:

One thing I find adds a level of flexibility when it comes to the backgrounds I can use with this box, is adding a slit in the back and using a bull clip to hold the paper in place rather than actually taping the paper to the inside like Ive seen others do. This also allows me to add and remove the clear sheet which I will discuss more later in the tut. The slit only needs to be a couple inches wide and runs right along the middle of the back crease on the top of the box.

Step 5:

After Clipping your white sheet in add your lights to the side panels of the box. Normally I have these Clipped to something to hold them steady but for these pics I simply had them leaning on the sides of the box.

Turn the room lights out and the Clamp lights on and make any adjustments to your lighting. (Where I have them placed they have slight hot spots and if I had them clamped on something it would be a much more even light fall across the box)

Notes:

You could also place tissue paper over the top hole and add an additional lamp to further shape your lighting. I don’t however tape the tissue paper to the top, leaving myself the option of shooting straight down on my subjects.

You don’t need to use clamp lights, I just find they are very convenient for many of my experimental projects. You could just use lamps you have around the house, however you will still want to use Daylight bulbs to avoid any color casting that other bulbs will give (unless your going for that look).

Also as far as adding the clear sheet, I do so for many reasons. First it gives a great reflection for product photography (See example photo below), Second it allows me to work with food, water and anything else that would ruin the poster paper if it were placed directly on top of it. I’ve cut my sheet to the same size as my white poster sheet and clamps in with the same bull clamp that the poster sheet is held by.

You can also change out your white backdrop for other colors. Thats the beauty of using the clip, you have complete flexibility. In fact if you add multiple clips you could even use fabrics (Like imitation kuala fur, or my favorite faux llama hide) for other interesting back drops.

ISO 200 55mm f/6.3 1/100sec

I havent really processed this photo but you can check out some of my recent posts using the light box:

Flatware SimplicityΒ – Shot from the top looking straight down.

Kiwi SlicesΒ – Shot with a macro lens, slightly off center from the front.

Conclusion:

So there you have it, an inexpensive solution to your macro and product photography needs. The bigger the box the bigger the item so your only limited by the size of box your able to find.

I cant wait to hear your thoughts and see your results! Post links or the pics right in the comments section and share your creative expressions with the rest of the world… well the small bit of the world that actually looks through my crazy blog.

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85 thoughts on “LightBox Tutorial

  1. oh, this is awesome! thank you!!

  2. I’ve gotta try this out! I was just thinking about a light box today.

  3. Tracie Louise on said:

    That’s really cool… thank you πŸ™‚

  4. just nominated you for versatile blog
    check out the blog post here
    http://www.grs614.wordpress.com

  5. Next moment I have spare… I now know what I will be doing πŸ™‚

    Thanks!

  6. This is exactly how I put together my bargain lightbox and it works great! The only problem is storage – I have very limited space. May have to come up with away to make it collapsible… πŸ™‚

    • Hey Sarah! Glad we were on the same page in our craftyness haha. I have plans for a collapsable version, not only for storage but portability. Probably make it in the next few months. Im sure Ill post the tut when I do it. πŸ™‚

  7. Steve M. on said:

    Great tutorial and easy to follow. Much appreciated. This will be my next project!

  8. Hey. Great job on the tut. As for portability, that is the one thing that makes me want one of the pop up jobs from online, but with the current budget it’s not gonna happen any time soon. Also like your use of the technical term: thingy mabob!

    • I try to be as technical as possible!! πŸ˜‰ I have an idea for a portable version and plan on giving a go at building it in the next month or two so Ill share my results then .

  9. I’ve been meaning to make a light box for a couple of weeks now, but this weekend I think it’s actually going to happen and I’ll be going off of your tutorial as a guide. Thank you so much, looks like a snap!

    • Great to hear Sarah! Yea it comes together pretty quickly. Took me maybe 10-15 minutes when I originally put it together. Most of the time is put into measuring and cutting. I look forward to seeing your results πŸ™‚

  10. Hey Man!
    I am building this next weekend with my wife. She is a craft bad-ass. I will post pics and thanks when I get it done. This is so kind of you to take the time to make this post.
    M

  11. Reblogged this on per Z pective and commented:
    Fellow blogger Nick Mayo over at nickexposed.com gives an insightful, and thrifty, tutorial on building your own lightbox at home. This is a very useful tool for any photographer and enthusiast alike. Nothing like being able to display all your favorite smaller items in a perfectly lit white box. I know I’ll be constructing my own over the next couple weeks, so I thought I’d share the wealth.

  12. Nice table studio, check out some of my DIY tutorials at http://www.youtube.com/user/visualCollective

  13. Awesome, great tutorial!

  14. Awesome tutorial! Thank you! I will link you when we make one and take some pics using it

  15. Thank you. I bookmarked this page so I can use your tutorial later.

  16. Oh YEA!! Over the years we have tried shooting our product outdoors on gray days. Takes so much set up time (groan) and is limited by backgrounds. We bought back drops, purchased expensive photos lights complete with stands and umbrellas. By the time we would get everything set up, it was a crowded “watch out for that cord” there were flashes and bounce panels on the floor and still we couldn’t get it right. Crinkled drape might looks good with people, made our stuff look horrid. We then tried green screen only to discover it turned our products green. Take out the green screen and one side of our product disappeared. So tonight, I showed this to hubs and we have huge cardboard boxes available. It’ll take a trip to the art store for really huge poster board, but it is so do-able. Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU. Now the only problem will be getting a dark room to set everything up in.

    PS I wore my Minolta 201 out. I cried. My hand was molded to that camera. How could that happen. I didn’t want digital. It was replaced by a Sigma 35mm, I love it almost as much as my old Minolta. But digital was needed for instant feed back, enter my Canon.

    • Haha, what a response! Im so glad this helps you guys πŸ™‚ I just picked my Minolta up a few weeks ago off craigslist for 20 bucks!!!! Absolutely killer deal, two lenses, circular polarizing filter and an awesome tamrac strap (which is now on my canon πŸ™‚ I have yet to shoot through an entire roll of film with it yet. Im still trying to figure the thing out haha. Plan on shooting downtown with it later this week. You can bet you’ll hear if I get any good results! As always thanks Shez!!

  17. Thanks for sharing, very noble of you πŸ™‚ Seriously considering giving this a go now.

  18. Thanks for the info!

  19. fab, I really must give this a go, would help me out no end. For me I need lights, Already have a good piece of board I already use from one of the kids playsets as a backdrop.

  20. milezaway on said:

    Great little light box that, I may just give it a go !!

  21. Hope you don’t mind I’ve posted a link to this across on my blog, I’ll also give credit when I get around to building my own.

    many thanks for keeping me inspired

    TTFN

    Mr Bunny Chow

  22. Ok… this one gets bookmarked so i will do one for myself. Fantastic and very usefull tutorial

  23. Nick, your lightbox looks so easy and useful I may need to build one – and start taking macro and/or product photos. I wonder if I could make a really big one and take photos of my son’s chickens? That plastic sheet would make cleanup easier! Thanks for the tutorial! ~Kyle

  24. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Simply terrific! This makes a lot of sense. Thanks :).

  26. Awesome tutorial. The coolest shots always stem from the least complex set ups. Cardboard and clamp lamps. I was looking over your grab bag of goodies. Your Tamron Macro, opinions? I read its a good lens for the value.

    • I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone really. The only reason I bought mine was I was looking for a Macro and found it for I think 25 bucks on craigslist. Lots of lens creep when shooting down, horrible at focusing on auto (I focus and RE-focus on manual) and theres no image stabilization so any regular shooting hand held goes out the window. Overall its just a cheap cheap lens, and I would only suggest picking one up if you find it for cheap on craigslist or ebay. Hope that helps Dan πŸ™‚ If your looking for a macro lens, Ive heard that getting a spacer for your regular lenses works extremely well, and is cheap compared to other options. I haven’t tested yet, but plan on getting one to try out. If it works the Tamron is going back on craigslist.

  27. thank you for this! i am a self-taught photographer (meaning, i take photos and don’t know what i’m doing). I have been trying to resolve the crappy lighting in my apartment for some time now and THIS will work wonders! Thank you so much for the post!

  28. Christina Taylor on said:

    This is going to make photographing my husbands 40K models so much easier!

  29. Very cool – thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us. I am going to build one. I just got a macro lens and have mostly been shooting outside, but this gives me some great ideas!

  30. Glad to see you got to make one and post about it! You did better then I did, but everything you wrote is pretty much what I leanred doing it myself. I hope everyone enjoys taking pictures with their homemade lightbox. They produce such great photos. It impressed my family, and even more so when they realized how I did it.

    I also love the idea of shooting stright down. I will have to try that sometime!

    • Absolutely! I try to think about shooting in all sorts of different situations, and love shooting down at the light box, gives such a clean appeal like in my “Flatware Simplicity”. I still love your shots, especially the mask and bracelet shots! Thanks for leaving your thoughts Katie!

  31. Pingback: Who needs sleep when you can stay up all night playing with your new homemade light box? « Sarah takes pictures.

  32. Not often a tutorial gets me buzzing and wanting to try something out asap.
    Thank you. Just need to find day light bulbs on the high street. Don’t trust the uk postal system to get me them here in one piece.
    Thanks again Nick.
    M.

  33. KS Image Gallery on said:

    Thanks for sharing this great information. I’m looking forward to putting together one of my own.

  34. Thank you so much for posting this!

  35. Thank you so much! πŸ™‚ This is great! I can’t wait to try it out!

  36. Hey Nick,
    I pinned this post onto my pintrest site. Awesome tut!

  37. Pingback: 223 of 365 | Papa Jon and the Pouter-keg

  38. tranquilmomentsphotography on said:

    Thanks for posting. Am going to try this!

  39. Next on my to-do-list: make light box πŸ˜‰

    Thanks, I’m already full of ideas just from the thought of having one of these! πŸ™‚

  40. Pingback: Textures « lightswimming

  41. built it, following your tutorial (badly) and here are the first pics:

    http://lightswimming.com/2012/03/10/textures/

    cheers!

  42. Hi Nick!
    I’ve had this page bookmarked a week or two, and the materials piled in the corner, waiting for me to put them together. Well, today I finally did it! I love this thing, thanks for posting instructions! It was super easy to do, took me maybe 20 minutes or so to complete.

    Here are the first results:
    http://themagicalmiss.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/march-10th-with-selective-focus/

  43. saucyminxcreations on said:

    Reblogged this on Saucy Minx Creations and commented:
    Awesome!

  44. Pingback: Lightbox Creation « JennyO's Weblog

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