A Light Box (or Light Tent or Light Cube) is a great solution for photographing small objects. It provides soft, even lighting and a uniform, seamless background. They are commercially available in varying sizes and prices, starting from around $30. Or you can make your own with this simple project.
The above photograph shows one I made in about an hour, and cost $4.50 (for the white card). All other supplies were around the home. The hardest part was finding a large cardboard box!Lighting
Once your Light Box is complete, you can light it in several ways - see the lighting notes at the bottom of this article.Backdrops
Your items will usually look best when isolated against a plain background. White is generally best, as it reveals the colours in the item without any colour shift or colour reflections. Other options are greys and black, You can also experiment with textured backgrounds, and shiny, reflective backgrounds.Taking Overhead photographs
Just flip the Light Box onto its back
Let's get started!Step 1
You will need:
- strong cardboard box, appropriate for the size of the items you will photograph
- roll of kitchen greaseproof paper. or baking paper, or tissue paper
- PVA/white glue, or a roll of clear tape
- craft knife
- sheet of large white card
- medium foldback clips x 2
- Turn box on its side, and decide which of the four sides will become the bottom.
- Now open up box so it is flat
- Cut top flaps off as pictured. (Or leave the top flaps on if your box is shallow and you want to extend the depth.)
- Mark lines at least 2.5cm inside each edge of the box on the top and two sides.
- (Tip: It should not be less than 2.5cm, or the box will not be strong enough.)
- Cut the 3 windows out of the top and two sides, being careful not to cut through to the other side of the box.
- Fold the box back up.
- The original bottom of the box is now the back
- You now have a frame with windows on the sides and top.
- Temporarily tape the back
- Cut two thin slots out of the top panel, along the back edge. Insert the foldback clips, so that one side clips the inside, and the other side clips the outside of the box.
- You will use these clips to hold your backdrop card in Step 7.
- Open up the box so it is flat again
- Cut 3 pieces of greaseproof paper (or baking paper / tissue paper) to fit the cutout windows, plus another 1.5cm on each side for glueing. The easiest way to do this lay the three cutout panels on the paper, adding 1.5cm on each side.
- For this particular box, the greaseproof paper was not wide enough, so I had to glue two oversize pieces together with a 1cm overlap first, and wait 15 minutes for it to dry.
- Using slightly diluted PVA glue (so it is quite runny), paint a strip 1cm wide along one cut edge and glue the paper down.
- Repeat on the other three cut edges.
- (Tip: So the paper is tight and without wrinkles, use two people, and glue it in stages. Once it sticks you cannot adjust it, it just tears.)
- Repeat for the other two cutout panels
- As an alternative, you can use clear packing tape instead of glue if you prefer.
- Re-assemble the box.
- If you look carefully, you can see the joins in the greaseproof paper
- Lightly tape the back of your Light Box
- Insert the two foldback clips into the two slots at the top back.
- Cut your sheet of large white card to the final width of the box
- Clip the card at the top, and push it gently in until you have a smooth, even curve at the back. Avoid any folds.
- The main photo at the top shows it in use.
- When you have finished a session, just remove the backdrop card, and cut the tape holding the back.
- Fold flat and store (eg, behind a book case)
Once your Light Box is complete, you can light it in several ways.1. Natural Light
Mother Nature provides great lighting, but the sun is fickle. The light quality and direction are continually changing, and it is not available in the evenings, or when it is windy or cold. But you can do it, as shown in these pictures.
2. Artificial light
|Light Box set up outside
||This photograph was taken outdoors in bright sunlight
(Note: I should have rotated the box slightly, as you can see a patch of direct sunlight at the bottom right!)
The best option is two lights, one on each side of the light box, as shown below:
Selecting / Buying lights
|A typical two light setup.
See also the main photo at the top of this page.
|Photograph taken with this setup.
Good lights are surprisingly inexpensive and easily available at camera stores and on online (eg eBay).
The AWB setting on your camera
- But any two lights will work, as long as they are identical so the AWB (Auto White Balance) setting on your camera can correct the colour to neutral.
- Choose lights that are daylight balanced (cool white, or 5400K colour temperature).
- Continuous light fluorescent bulbs are better than flash, as you can easily see what is happening when you make adjustments.
- Avoid halogen lights. They get very hot, and can be a fire hazard next to cardboard and tissue paper!
The AWB (Auto White Balance) setting on your camera usually does a great job of removing any colour caste from your photos.
I tried using two Ikea desk lamps (see below), and they worked fine, although it required a longer exposure time, so a tripod was essential.
Do not mix light sources (eg natural daylight from a window on one side, and an incandescent desk lamp on the other), because the AWB camera setting does not work with mixed lighting colours.
|Continuous fluorescent lights
|Ikea desk lights x 2
(Turning off Auto White Balance)
A Light Box is a very useful tool for taking high quality photographs, easy to make, or inexpensive to buy.
Lighting options have only been covered briefly.
Post-processing options such as cropping, adjusting contrast and levels and sharpening have not been covered at all. While professional photographers use Photoshop, there are many low cost and free alternatives available. Search on the internet for many tutorials and online tools.