Building my DIY light box / light tent

A light box or light tent is an enclosure that you put items to be photographed into (rest assured, I struggled with myself greatly to put that weak definition in writing). The lighting inside the enclosure is very even and soft. This produces an ideal environment to photograph standalone objects. Ever noticed photos of iPods, sunglasses, cocktails, mobile phones, etc. with a bright, white background? Chances are they were taken in a light box.

I've been having an urge to build one of these babies on my own for some time now. The urge reached its peak over Christmas when I was in Hamburg with my in-laws (don't even try to connect the two!). So, I did some research on the Internet and found several DIY projects for a light box. Ok, research is probably an exaggeration here - I simply googled "light box" and "light tent". Most of the DIY light boxes I came across were constructed using PVC pipes or cardboard boxes / cartons. Considering my lack of knowledge in the art of plumbing and my extensive experience with packing boxes, I decided to take the latter approach.

Google's image search function can be a formidable ally for such projects as well. By browsing through the images of different light boxes, I was able to get more ideas, analyze the pros and cons of each construction, refine my architectural design and outline my game plan (you're probably wondering at this point in time if I'm still talking about the same project - yes, I am). I decided that I wanted a light box that could be easily adjusted, enhanced and played around with to get different effects. I didn't want to be stuck with a light box that restricted my creativity. In other words, I wanted to be outside the box, not in it (that's what happens when an engineer starts talking philosophy!).

The following describes how I built my very own light box. It also serves as a step-by-step guide for those of you who plan to build a light box:

1. Things that are needed: cardboard box / carton, knife / blade, scissors (optional), tape (any kind that will stick firmly to the box), white tracing paper (enough to cover three of the four sides of the box) and thick, white paper to be used as the backdrop (enough to cover the base and broad side of the box).

2. First, I needed a cardboard box / carton. I remembered that I had a couple of IKEA boxes in the cellar and decided to use one for my project "L-i-g-h-t-B-o-x". The IKEA boxes are pretty sturdy, making them ideal for a light box. However, the drawback is that they're very rectangular. Something more squarish would probably be more ideal. Nonetheless, it was what I had and I didn't want to go hunting for another one.

3. I drew borders on three of its four sides to mark the sections I was going to cut out. The borders were 3 cm from the edges.

4. I used a blade to cut out the marked sections. I also cut out the flaps at the top of the box.

5. I measured and cut the tracing paper to cover the three exposed sides of the box. Then, I glued the tracing paper onto the box.

6. I ran some tape along the edges of the box to fasten the tracing paper to it and to reinforce the construction a little.

7. I placed the thick, white paper inside the box and used a couple of paper clips to hold it in place.

8. Here is where my "ingenuity" came in. I expanded on the designs that are typically available on the Web to optionally include a couple of reflectors on the sides. The reflectors were made by gluing some white, glossy paper to the leftover cardboard pieces. Now, if you would like to place your light source(s) on the sides, remove the reflectors. If you would like to place your light source above, use the reflectors to bounce off the light towards the sides of the object being photographed. Having the reflectors does soften the shadows and makes the white backdrop glow even more intensely. This is the out-of-the-box thinking I mentioned earlier.

You're probably curious to see some photos taken with this light box. Here are some shots that I took right after finishing the project.

A light box makes a great DIY photography project and I'd be happy to recommend it. Whether you are an eBay retailer, a stock photographer, a regular photographer or simply bored, you could well benefit from this project. I hope you found this guide and my experiences informational. Do drop me a note to tell me what you think.