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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Photos: Create a Macro Studio Light Box / Tent for Free!

Sometimes photography can be frustrating for an amateur or starting photographer. My particular frustrations have mainly occurred around indoor and macro photography. Regardless of the quality of my lens and camera the photos frequently come out looking less than optimal. I had attributed this mainly to the lack of decent lighting, often from direct ceiling sources without any diffusion. In addition, the stock flash on my Canon Rebel series cameras (XTi & XSi) that I have made matters worse.

Commonly, I have the need to take macro-type photos for things I sold on eBay or for the how-to guides I frequently published on this site. The real question I had was, how could I make the pictures I take look like more like this...

Picture taken in the cheap macro studio light tent
and not this...

Picture taken without the aide of a macro studio
without spending several hundred dollars on a professional setup or pricey flashes?

After thinking about spending $100-$200 on a low end setup, I came across several discussion on photography sites on how to make a cheap macro studio also know as a lightbox or light tent. Often times, for a total investment of less than $20. I took a look at a few of the posts and put together an amalgamation of them to create a light box that met my needs. In fact, due to some of the items I had sitting around the house, I was able to create my own macro studio light tent for less than $3 in about 45 minutes.

Here is the direction I went with the materials that were required...
- Cardboard Box - 12"x12"x18" - laying around the house - $0
- Razor blade / box cutter - laying around the house - $0
- Tracing paper - purchased pad from Staples - $1.49
- Posterboard - 22"x28" sheet of white - $0.49 from Staples
- 500-watt Halogen work-light - laying around the house - $0
- Scotch and Packaging Tape - laying around the house - $0

Total cost - $1.98.

First, since I do a good amount of technical shooting -- often times I shoot from the top down. For me, that meant I wanted to be able to create a significant angle from above to great great shots of the items I was working on. For that reason, I was looking to create a more rectangular box rather than what many sites recommend with a square one. Also, other sites recommend only cutting on 3 sides of your box -- but since I will occasionally want to shoot directly down on the subject, I will be cutting on all four sides.

Here is how you make your photography macro studio light tent...

1. Start with your empty box -- mine was an old Uhaul 12"x12"x18" box.
Cheap Macro Studio Light Box / Tent:Start with your empty box -- mine was an old Uhaul 12
2. Tape the bottom of the box together to form the back of your macro studio light box.
Cheap Macro Studio Light Box / Tent:Tape the bottom of the box together to form the back of your macro studio light box.
3. Take your box cutter and trace your cutouts on each side of the box. I recommend just breaking the first layer of your cardboard box with the first cut and then going back another time to complete the cut. This will make it easier and you will not damage the rigidity of the box. In addition, try not to cut any overlapping cardboard around the corners to maintain the integrity of the box.
Cheap Macro Studio Light Box / Tent:Take your box cutter and trace your cutouts on each side of the box. I recommend just breaking the first layer of your cardboard box with the first cut and then going back another time to complete the cut. This will make it easier and you will not damage the rigidity of the box. In addition, try not to cut any overlapping cardboard around the corners to maintain the integrity of the box.
4. I have completed my first cut and now am continuing to remove the panels from each of the other sides.
Cheap Macro Studio Light Box / Tent:I have completed my first cut and now am continuing to remove the panels from each of the other sides.
5. The completed box cut-out. Now begin lining each of the panels with the tracing paper by taping along the outside. Cover each panel completely.
Cheap Macro Studio Light Box / Tent:The completed box cut-out. Now begin lining each of the panels with the tracinng paper by taping along the outside. Cover each panel completely.
6. After completing the tracing paper paneling, I cut the white poster board to 18" wide 28" long strip to run into the box and allow it to bend (not crease) in the corner for my white background. The macro studio light box is now complete.
Cheap Macro Studio Light Box / Tent:After completing the tracing paper paneling, I cut the white posterboard to 18
7. A quick look at the photo shoot setup for the test picture used for this post.
Cheap Macro Studio Light Box / Tent:A quick look at the photo shoot setup for the test picture used for this post.

It is important to realize that all of this including the initial pictures were taken in less than 1 hour and that the use of halogen lights are extremely yellow. While the picture below is vastly improved over the non-lightbox -- there are still a good number of improvements that can be made by adjusting lighting and correcting for the right white balance. In addition, I am currently only using a main 500-watt halogen and will consider adding a 300-watt halogen for fill light in the future.

Also beware that Halogens can be very hot and tracing paper is flammable. Do not get the halogen light too close to the light box!



Did you find this post useful or helpful? Please let me know with a comment below.

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4 comments:

albertaphotography said...

Yes, I definitely found this helpful. I especially like that you've used tracing paper rather than cloth for the sides. On my next trip to town I plan to purchase some tracing paper and am going to give this a try! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I use a similar method, but i have 3 lights 2 on the side and one on top. I do like the idea of tracing paper though, i have a bed sheet defusing the light right now, but whatever works.

Anonymous said...

thanks for your instructions for building a light box thought it was well layed out and easy to follow Jim

Hannah said...

Thank you for this post. I have been sitting on another set of instructions which I figured would take a few hours to construct. Months later, I am still taking mediocre shots of my products.

I had all the supplies on hand to make this one and it took me about 20 minutes. I have bright full spectrum lamps in my painting studio (I paint in a dark basement and try to approximate sunlight), but they were not as bright as I might like. I lined the box with silver metallic contact paper and found it made a nice improvement.