Little Things Brought to Light

There’s nothing like an arts and crafts project to keep you occupied during the last snowy days of winter. Rather than continue to knit scarves that won’t be worn until next year, I decided it was time to build myself a light tent. A light tent (or a light box) is used for photographing smaller objects on plain backgrounds, usually white and most of the time for websites like Etsy. At this point, I don’t knit enough things to sell, but I do have a friend that makes her own jewelry (more on that soon!). She asked if I could help her photograph her wares, and I jumped at the opportunity to try something new.

Initially, I was looking to purchase a light tent. There are quite a few styles and sizes to choose from, with prices as low as $40 for just the tent piece and as high as $300 for the tent, backdrops, lights, and other tools. I figured at prices like that, I could most definitely afford to make myself a light tent. To make a light box like mine, you’ll need the following:

  • Cardboard Box. I suggest you get it from Home Depot rather than Office Max or the like, as the box I bought was less than $2.
  • A non-fitted low thread count white sheet to cover the frames you’ll be making on the box. I bought mine from Bed, Bath and Beyond. Bring a coupon, which will make it $8 or so with plenty of material to spare.
  • A box cutter or x-acto knife. Mine was $6 from Michaels. Coupon if you can.
  • One roll of White Duct Tape. $5 at Michaels. Again, coupon.
  • White Bristol paper to line the box and use as a seamless white backdrop. Probably the most expensive part of this entire endeavour, and it was 40% off at Michaels.
  • Two clamp lights and environmentally friendly, bright white light bulbs from Home Depot. The clamps were $6 each and the bulbs were a two pack for $8.

Right there (aside from the Bristol paper) is $35 worth of DIY merchandise. Yes, I probably could have shopped a bit smarter, but I think I did pretty well. Things that I also needed but happened to own:

  • a really large ruler (former art class)
  • pencil (draw it out before you start making your cuts in the cardboard)
  • scissors (for cutting the sheet up for the sides of the box)
  • black felt (used for a backdrop, see the slideshow)

Some helpful hints for when you’re making your light tent:

  1. Start small when cutting the holes on the sides of the box. If your initial holes are too small (I went 3.5″ from each side towards the center at first for a sturdier base), you can always go back and cut away some more.
  2. BEFORE YOU START CUTTING, find a solid surface that won’t be scratched up by your box cutter to slide inside of your flattened box. I found a piece of laminate that was left over in our crawl space from when the kitchen counters were done. I suggest finding something because you don’t want to accidentally cut through to the other side of the box, and you also don’t want to cut down past the box onto the table/floor/carpet. Not good.
  3. After drawing guide lines with a pencil as to where you’re going to cut, keep the ruler exactly where it is and use it to guide the box cutter. That will guarantee your lines are straight and you don’t hurt yourself.
  4. You can never have too much duct tape. I used the white duct tape to line the inside of the box with the Bristol paper and to hold the sheet in place over the openings to filter the light that comes in. You want the entirity of the inside of the box to be white so as much light can bounce around as possible. Don’t skimp.
  5. Just like you cut small initially with the box, cut wide initially with the sheet. When taping the sheet down, start from the corners and then do the sides to make the material tighter.
  6. Any left over sheet can be used to make backdrops and sweeps.

I began researching the different methods with which to go about this endeavor after I had already started the cardboard box version. Some people used PVC piping or planks of wood to create a more solid frame for the box. One woman just used a large clear plastic tub, a method I think I’ll try when my cardboard one collapses. Another got creative and used wire hangers to make her frame. Check out these links to see their methods:

PVC Piping frame with “Underlighting” — This one is cool!

The “After you do your laundry” Tent

Collapsible Wire Light Tent

Have a 5-in-1 Reflector set? Take a look at this!

Check out this video for the Plastic Tub method

If you’re looking to build a light tent, please feel free to leave a comment about your experience and which route you decided to take. Happy building!

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11 thoughts on “Little Things Brought to Light

    1. The light bulbs are 14W as they’re CFL, but they’re equivalent to a 60W light bulb. It’s funny that you ask about the brightness. The one thing I’ve been debating is buying a third light for the top of the box as I have light only coming in from two directions and am noticing a little graying in the middle of my photographs. I definitely think I could go brighter, but I’m thinking it might be more useful to get a third light to balance out the incoming light.

  1. Really great post, Jen! The step-by-step is clear and easy to follow. I also like that you added links to other DIY projects. The slide show is cool, too! I’ll have to see if I can put one on my Blog. Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks 🙂 I really got a kick out of checking out the other projects. Even if I didn’t try to pursue them myself, I definitely thought they were worth sharing. Who knows? Maybe someone who comes to my blog will build one of the other types of light boxes and tell us all about it…

  2. As I’ve been using my status on Facebook to notify people about updates on my blog, I’ve been getting some feed back there about my latest post. Since I’m really proud of those comments, I took the time to copy them over here for all to read. Thanks, everyone!

    Matthew T: kick ass blog, yo! the latest entry, to be more specific, although you know i already dug your blog as a whole… 🙂

    George S: Nice work and great results!

    Brittany H: You are a DIY master 🙂 It’s more fun if you make it yourself anyway, right?

  3. Hrmm that was weird, my comment got eaten. Anyway I wanted to say that it’s nice to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had trouble finding the same info elsewhere. This was the first place that told me the answer. Thanks.

  4. Glad you liked my underlit PVC frame. Worked *great* for some glass shots I had to take. I started out with a much smaller version of the cardboard version you made in this post, then I went crazy with PVC. Going to go back and build a smaller one again for some upcoming Lego shoots I have in mind.

    Nice blog by the way.

    1. Thanks, Chester 🙂 And yes, your underlit PVC frame is fantastic looking. If I had more room in my apartment, I’d consider trying to put one together myself. Lego shoot, huh? That sounds like two of the greatest things in one sitting: photography and Legos. You really can’t lose! Will you be posting those pictures on your blog?

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