Ever wondered how people shoot those great product shots you see in catalogues or online stores?
Professional photographers usually use a light box to create an even illumination on the products.
The best options on the market can cost hundreds to even thousands of dollars. So how do you make a DIY light box for photography if you don’t have enough budget?
It’s quite easy. In this tutorial, we’ll show you three different ways to build a DIY light box using re-purposed materials.
[Note: ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here.]
How to Make a DIY Light Box with Available Light
This DIY light box will take about 15 minutes of your time. And you only need a few materials you probably already have around the house.
You will need:
- 1 Medium card box
- 2 Sheets of baking or wax paper
- 2 Sheets of aluminium foil
- 1 White sheet of paper
- Ruler, x-acto knife, glue
Start with your cardboard box. It doesn’t matter if you have a square or a rectangular box as long as your products would fit inside it.
Now, see which side would work the best as the front of your light box.
If your box is square, then it wouldn’t matter which part you choose. But since mine is rectangular, I chose the longest sides because they’d let in more light.
Now, cut that sides of the box in the middle with an x-acto knife. It will help if you use a ruler and a marker to draw out which parts you’d like to remove.
Make sure the cuts are precise and clean. That way, your box would produce even light from both sides. Not to mention, a clean box always looks more appealing.
Leave two open flaps that will work as barn doors on the front side of the light box. You can use them to control the light that reaches the inside of the box.
In a professional environment, you can find barn doors in front of camera lenses or lighting equipment. Each flap moves independently to help direct the light beams.
Measure the sides of the box. Then cut wax paper to match their size. Leave about an inch or two so you have space to tape or glue the wax paper onto the box.
Wax paper can be delicate, so be careful not to tear it while taping it onto the box. Even minor tears can potentially affect the quality of your lighting box photography.
Cut rectangular holes on the sides of the box, leaving one flap to the back of the box. Then glue the wax paper to the edges of the openings.
Measure the flaps on the back of the box and cut aluminium foil to match their size. These will act as reflectors to help direct the light into the box.
Feel free to add white paper or aluminium foil to your front barn doors as well. These flaps will be especially useful if your location has plenty of uneven lighting.
Place a white sheet of paper inside the box, which you’ll use as the background. Compose your product and position the flaps of the box to reflect most of the natural light you might have in the room.
Now your light box is ready, and you’re prepared to shoot.
It would be best to place your box right next to a light source. For even lighting, you can also consider shooting outside in direct sunlight. Just make sure that the sun is not directly shining in front of the product.
Instead, let your light box filter the light and adjust the barn doors to create even illumination.
How to Make a Compact LED DIY Light Box
The box we made earlier is perfect for shooting in natural light. But you can’t always wait for the sun to shine when it comes to lightbox photography.
What if you need to shoot at night? Don’t worry, because our next project involves a light box with LED lights!
This method requires more time and energy, but it will be worth it. Especially since using LED lighting creates controllable exposure and colour temperature.
You will need:
Cut this shape on a white 3mm Perspex sheet. The dotted lines are folding marks and not cuts. The size of your DIY light box will be as big as the scale of your template.
As a reference, you can use the centre square to calculate the size of one of the sides of the light box.
You could also use white cardboard instead of Perspex. But it won’t be as durable or resistant to the elements.
Now fold your box, overlapping the triangle-shaped flaps. Keep them in place with adhesive tape or Velcro strips. With the latter, you’ll be able to collapse it for transportation and reassemble again easily.
Next, glue the 5V LED strip to the small flap on the top front of the box. If you have more of those lights to spare, consider adding more to cover all sides. Doing so guarantees that you have even illumination.
These lights are pretty inexpensive. They even come with a micro USB connection that you can plug to a portable power bank. You can do this with a simple cable, making this the ultimate “on the go” DIY light box.
Now, just use a white sheet of paper as a background. Prepare your product, and you are ready to shoot your image.
I shot this image at f/22, 1/4 of second shutter speed, and 400 ISO.
Straight out of the camera, it has good overall exposure. On a comparative note, however, the light is not as natural looking as in the previous image.
The color temperature is probably a little off, too, due to the blueish color cast of the LED. But you can easily correct that with a more precise in-camera white balance or in post-production.
But if you want to get everything perfectly in one go, consider buying daylight-balanced LED strips. They’re a bit more expensive, but at least they produce more natural results.
How to Make a White Box Flash Diffuser
If the LED light box seems too complicated, there is still one last project you can try. It’s effortless. You won’t even need to have DIY skills.
Sure, this project involves materials you get from home. But the overall process, which you’ll see in a second, is mostly the standard among many product photographers.
So how do you make a large light box? You don’t have to at all, and I’ll show you in a second.
You will need:
- 1 Plastic translucent white storage box
- 1 Sheet of white paper
- 2 Speedlights
- 1 Speedlight transmitter
Set your storage box on its side with the opening facing to the front. Place a white sheet of paper inside as your background.
Now arrange your product. Test your speedlights’ exposure and positioning to the subject.
Synchronize the transmitter with the speedlights and the camera.
Now you are ready to shoot.
I photographed this image at f/22, 1/60 of a second shutter speed, and 200 ISO.
Looking at the result, I think it’s a pretty fantastic image straight out of the camera. The overall light is well diffused and placed on the right spots. The background appears lit and shadowless. And that is a huge plus if you need to isolate images in post. It saves you hours of work, creating cut-outs in post-production.
The white balance seems to be spot on as well. I used the flash preset in the camera color temperature options.
The metal reflections are also great without glare or specular light hot spots. This type of lighting is sometimes hard to accomplish with this type of material.
Instead of a storage box, most photographers use a real light box. But most of them set up their flashes exactly the way you would with this homemade setup. The main reason is that strobes produce powerful and consistent light, which you need when shooting hundreds of images.
It’s worth noting that some photographers also tend to add an overhead light for even illumination. But for the most part, two strobes placed on the sides of the box work perfectly well.
There are all sorts of uses of the lightbox in photography. Apart from shooting products, it’s also an excellent tool for taking still life photos.
So consider building a light box if you want professional-looking results on a budget. Remember that the most important thing is the image, not the tools you used to get it.
With a little ingenuity, you can go far. Even if you have all the money in the world or you normally stay away from DIY photography solutions, you may decide to create your tools to get the results you want.
Want to learn more about useful techniques that will help you take your photography to the next level? Why not check out our course Wow Factor Photography next!