DIY Light Box for Photography

That TCP… I’m telling you. We don’t call him The Complete Package for nothing. This weekend, he built me a light box so my food photographs would look better. I had mentioned to him that photos taken in our kitchen tend to have a yellow tint. This happens for two reasons:

1. We have yellow-tinted glass shades on our kitchen pendants, and
2. We have only one kitchen window, for a few hours worth of morning sun.

So TCP took it upon himself to research photography light boxes on the internet. Those available for purchase were in the $200 range. But since TCP has a love of PVC pipe and tools that come in plastic carrying cases, he found a DIY version on the web and took it upon himself to build one.

Here’s what he used:
3/4″ diameter PVC pipe in 24″ lengths (10 pieces)
end caps, elbows and connector joints for PVC
clamps for holding backdrop fabrics in place
clip-on lamps with ‘daylight’ compact fluorescents
a power strip for the lamps

In addition, I bought:
4 yards of muslin for the light box cover
various fabrics to use as backdrops

The light box comes apart so you can break it down and store it in a tote bag. For that reason, I made a slip cover with rod pockets for the front two posts, and ribbon ties to hold it into place on the other two corners. I haven’t stitched together the top panel yet, but I was able to drape some fabric over the top so I could snap these photos. Sorry. I just couldn’t wait to show it to you. But first, I’d like to thank Gumby for his part in this show and tell segment.

Excuse my drooping top panel; I didn't clamp it down taut.

Wow. I really should have folded the leftover fabric in the back right corner.

Ladies & Gentlemen... the star of our show, Gumby!

As you can tell, I haven’t hemmed the edges of this background fabric to fit the width of the box yet. I didn’t iron it yet, either. Sorry. I’ll get there. Eventually. When choosing backdrops, I went for textures and colors – basically the types of things I enjoy seeing in other food blogger’s photos.

Okay, Mr. DeMille.... Gumby is ready for his close-up.

Notice the absence of obvious shadows or glare? Nice, huh? For this photo, I used one lamp on each side of the photo box and the overhead light that was behind me. For future photos, I have an additional third lamp that can be mounted to illuminate the back or the top of the box, depending on the situation and how much light is needed. Cool, right? And, as I said, it all breaks down into a medium-size tote bag so I can store it when it’s not in use. Booyah!

Cost of the box itself (including the frame, lights, clamps & power strip) was $60. The muslin to enclose the box was $15. The ribbons to tie the corners in place came from a pile I already had in my sewing room. If you want to make one even cheaper, I’ve seen tutorials for light boxes made from cardboard boxes. But not mine. It was made with love by The Complete Package, and homeboy doesn’t slack when it comes to DIY projects. Which is why we call him The Complete Package in the first place. The end. Cue the closing credits & kill the lights!



Filed under Craft Projects, Technical Stuff

21 responses to “DIY Light Box for Photography

  1. What a great guy! I love your new lightbox! I use one from time to time too.

  2. How fantastic is THIS!?!? I approve of TCP’s handy work :) And especially on a budget. bravo.

    • Between my new copy of Plate to Pixel (food photography book) and my new light box, I’m hoping the quality of my photos will improve. TCP’s PVC light box is great if you want something permanent that can be broken down and stored. If you’re really on a tight budget, the cardboard box version is easy to make and a lot cheaper. Here’s a simple on-line tutorial so you can see how it’s done. You’ll be surprised at how easy this can be!

  3. I love that you used Gumby. Where’s Pokey?

    • Gumby is from TCP’s childhood collection. Sadly, I don’t think Pokey survived the GI Joe induced apocalypse of the late 60’s. Apparently, Joe was notoriously unstable and known for strapping black-cat grenades to his hands. Pokey was most likely in the wrong place at the wrong time. RIP, Pokey.

      • TCP

        Since I never could get GI Joe to throw the grenade, he was prone to blowing his hands off (which I always somehow found in the grass). However this fate did not befall Pokey. Pokey died a slow death at the hands of Gumby. Gumby liked to ride Pokey HARD (get your mind out of the gutter!!). This led to repeated leg bending of Pokey, whose legs eventually spilt exposing the wire frame skelton. It was a sad day when Pokey went off to toy heaven (the dump) leaving me and Gumby alone to watch cartoons. BTW… GI Joe is an action figure, not a doll. No doll could ever enjoy playing with live explosives like Joe. Long live Joe!

      • NO! Say it ain’t so, Joe! Gumby murdered Pokey? How did I not know this? Gumby is SO getting a lecture on playing well with others tonight. BTW… I can see I clearly hit a nerve while referring to your GI Joe doll. If it looks like a doll, and walks like a doll, it’s a doll. I can see that you haven’t yet met Combat Barbie.

  4. That is really neat! I have a friend that sells shoes on ebay and she was complaining about her photos and lighting… I will have to forward her the link to this post! I actually made a reflector last night out of cardboard and foil to use when I take photos outside. I haven’t tried it out yet but hoping to this weekend. I’m really starting to like DIY projects.
    And thank you for the links to the applique stores. I found a place that I loved and got all excited and then when I went to order them realized they were selling the design only and you had to download them. They were not sew or iron on but for an embroidery machine. :( And so my search continues…

    • Tell your friend to check out the link in the comments on how to build a light box out of a cardboard box. It’s simple and by far the cheapest version of a DIY light box I’ve seen. I’ve thought about the cardboard & foil reflectors, too. In fact, that conversation is what prompted TCP’s investigation into lighting. Let me know how yours works out! And I’ll bet I found that same applique website you mentioned. Super cute stuff, but I found the same issue. I wanted pre-made iron-on appliques, and they were selling patterns you would program into your own fancy embroidery machine. Disappointing. Have you searched Etsy yet?

  5. Big Sis

    Wow, I’m impressed! With TCP abilities and with the lighting difference. I honestly didn’t think lighting boxes made that much of a difference. Boy was I wrong! The difference in the lighting on the object (Gumby) is sooooo much better. And I love the fact that is a ‘pack n play!’

    • It really does make a huge difference – not just in the color of the light (no longer yellow), but in the amount of diffused light it puts off. I love that every piece of what you’re snapping is fully illuminated. No shadows. No bright glare. Just pure light and color. I think I’m going to get my money’s worth on this one. Never thought of it as a “pack & play” until you said that! Perfect analogy, which helps because right now, it’s taking up 80% of my sewing table!

  6. This is SO COOL! This is totally a project for Jonathan. He would love it. I just don’t think we have any space in our teeny apartment for this :(
    Can TCP show us a collapsible version? haha

    • But that’s the beauty of TCP’s design, Mads. The connectors aren’t glued on. All of the PVC pieces pop apart. The connectors to into a zip baggie, and the PVC poles get tied together with big rubber bands. This whole thing breaks down into a medium-size canvas totebag. I’ll have to update the post with photos of it taken apart so you can see it in action. As long as you’ve got a table to set it on, you could use it in your apartment. No foolin.

  7. Jeanne! That is amazing! That TCP… you rent him out? I’ll pay his way here to Maryland! You guys have to be the handiest couple I know! Honestly….great job on the light box. My house isn’t dark…but I don’t have one room that gets great light so I’ve been taking pictures on my deck. Which is going to totally suck when December hits! Gumby never looked so good! : )

    • You should try building a DYI light box for this winter. Honestly, you don’t need to get all fancy like TCP did. You can make one with a large cardboard box, a package of tissue paper, some tape, a poster board and a couple of lamps. Easy peasy. You’ll be surprised how easy and effective it is.

  8. Hubby will not be thanking TCP for adding a light box to his “honey-do” list. I, however, will shout TCP’s praises from the rooftops upon Hubby’s completion of said light box, enabling me to get decent food photos in my house-with-12-minutes-of-natural-light-per-day. He better get on it fast because come winter, my light studio (a.k.a. the front porch) will be closed for the season.

    • My favorite part about the light box (other than the fact that it works so well) is that it’s collapsible and portable. The whole thing comes apart and folds down into a medium-sized tote bag so I can set it up anywhere and store it when I don’t need it. Sweet! Bribe Hubby with some granola brownies and then post lots of pictures so you can brag on him. If that doesn’t work, there’s always begging. Or pot roast.

  9. Very cool! Thanks for sharing. It’s funny because I was just telling my hubby today that I need his help with my lighting issues for photography. I think he has crafted a plan to help :)

    • I especially love that it breaks down and fits into a canvas shopping bag. I can take the entire thing with me, if I wanted to. It’s easy to put together and easy to pack away when you’re done. And it works beautifully! You’ll have to let me know if you make one. I’d love to see how it turns out.

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