Monday, May 2, 2011

The Lazy Girl's Guide to Building a Lightbox

A lightbox is basically a well-lit spot for taking photographs.  I've been putting off building one for ages because I didn't have the right tools (Exacto knife, tracing paper for the windows, fancy lights), but yesterday I picked up the perfect new light at Ikea, so while J was assembling our new cabinet last night (more on that later), I built a lightbox using materials I had around the house.  And while the cabinet took him more than two hours, I had this lightbox finished in thirty minutes flat.


  • Cardboard box (the size depends on what you will be photographing)
  • Knife (I used a kitchen knife)
  • White paper
  • Tape
  • Three halogen lights (more on this in Step Three)

Step One:
Cut out a square of cardboard from three sides of the box.  Determine which side will be the bottom.  You will not be cutting any cardboard from the bottom.  Cut a square out of the top and each side.

I used a basic kitchen knife for this and it was very easy.  There is no need to measure or try to make straight lines - just freehand cut.  Make sure to cut off the flaps (from where the box originally opened) as well (see last photo in this series).  I apologize for all the dark photos - I build this box at night and clearly my house lacks great lighting.

Step Two:
Cut white paper (I used paper right from the printer) to fit over the three holes you just cut.  Tape down the sides so the paper completely covers the cut squares.  Also arrange a piece of paper inside of the box to give the white backdrop (see the fourth photo in this series).  Mine stayed in place without tape, but you may need to tape it in.

Step Three:
Arrange three lights so each one is pointing at one of the cut sides.  I already had one (the little one on the left), but I bought the large one at Ikea yesterday for $10.  I am going to go back and get another one this week, because I need a third light source (for the right side).  The Ikea light came with a halogen bulb and is available in Ikea stores, although I can't find an exact match online.  Similar lights are available by clicking here.

My light from Ikea (it is hugely tall).

Step Four:
Get snapping!  
Here are some pictures I took immediately after building it (of random things that I had on hand):

It is ideal to set your lightbox and lights up somewhere where they can stay permanently, because it isn't too fun to pull the pieces out and set them up each time you want to take pictures. That said, with all the lights, this does take up a fairly large footprint.  I decided to set mine up on a folding table in the corner of the dining room, because we don't use that room much (although as you can see from this pictures, I had it set up on the floor where I was building it, which is definitely not an ideal location).

You can play around with different backdrops and arranging the lights different for unique effects.  Of course, it is important to remember that natural light is ideal and makes for the best photographs, but for taking pictures at night (as many of us do, since we work during the sunny hours), this makes for nice shots.

Remember: this is for an quick and dirty lightbox - not a nice, fancy one, but in my opinion, the pictures are pretty good.  If you need a lightbox and want something quick and easy, this is for you.  I am in no way an expert (at photography or lightbox-building), but this method worked well for me.


Unknown said...

I made one with a plastic container. The pictures were nice, I only used a camera phone but they were pretty good for camera phone shots. On the other hand, the tapes and paper on my improvised lightbox were a little obvious, though (I was in a hurry... hahaha!) Nice tip! I'll go look for a bigger box! ^__~

Unknown said...

Angela, I tried one out of a plastic box about 1 1/2 yrs ago and it did work well, although I didn't have the best lighting at the time (and I used a hot pink plastic box - haha). I definitely need to make one with a larger box - I used a AI box because it was the only cardboard box I could find. Hopefully I'll have a bigger one soon :) Thanks for commenting!

Ngelic said...

Wow, THankyou! I've been wanting to make a lightbox ever since I heard that this was what bloggers used for photo taking. Now I just need 3 lights xD

Unknown said...

Ngelic, I know - the lights were my biggest hold up too! I am really happy with the one I got at Ikea. I saw similar ones at Home Depot too. Good luck!!

Unknown said...

Wow! Great post and I think it came out fantastic!!!

Hebridean Sprite said...

Wow, this is perfect and so creative! I've been waiting for someone to come up with a lightbox DIY tutorial and this is perfect! Exactly what I need and Cheap to create! I may have to get to Ikea and make one myself!!!! Thanks so much for a great post!

GothamPolish said...

I love seeing your step by step pics - this really helps give me the motivation to make one :)

Alison @ OhMyVera! said...

It turned out great! I soooo need one, I never have good lighting for my photos. I need to figure out if I have a place to store it. Maybe I could just store my Vera's in it :)

Michelle said...

I love your blog and got you an award

x from Holland

Beatlemarta said...

Wow Brooke!!!! Thanks a LOT for this. I will be giving it a try!
Just let me bother you a little bit more tough: what kind of bulbs did you use? How strong, which color (does it say "white" ou "natural" or what?), bláblá?
Thanks once again...

Supersparklekitty said...

Thank you so much for this tutorial! I googled lightboxes once,there were tutorials for handmade ones,but too complicated for me to understand. This is one anyone can put together,and it looks very serviceable. I just have a question though, how big IS your box?

Unknown said...

Thanks Jackie!!

Thanks Hebridean! Let me know if you make one!!

Gotham - I thought the step-by-step would help - so glad to hear it did! It really was SO much easier than I expected - SUPER easy. Why did I wait so long to make one? haha

Alison, thanks!! You should make a VB-sized one! (and hey, storing VBs in it is a great idea!)

Michelle, thanks so much!

Beatlemarta, thanks! Glad it helps! The bulbs came with the lights; they say 35 watt, "GU 10 class with built-in protection" - they are funny looking bulbs. I can't find any additional information on them - when I need to buy new ones, I think I'll just take the bulb with me to Home Depot and see what looks like them. Sorry I don't know more!

Starlight, thanks! I agree - I saw a tutorial once and was OVERWHELMED by how many steps there were and the bizarre materials needed. Glad this tutorial is nice and easy! I don't have a ruler, but guesstimating, my lightbox looks like 12 inches wide, 10 inches tall, about 10 inches deep. I plan on making a larger one once I get a bigger box!

Colores de carol said...

You have an Award on my blog!

Unknown said...

Thanks Carolina!! :)

Libbeh said...

What a great tutorial, Brooke! I'm going to try this out once I've gathered enough halogen lamps :)

Sell WoW Account said...

sweet tutorial~
thank you so much for sharing!:)

Definitely Addicted said...

Great post! Now I'm going to make my own :)

Dani said...

Rat a Tat Cat lol! My friend loves that game!!!

Unknown said...

Thanks for all the great comments!! and hahaha, Danica, so funny to find someone else who knows what Rat a Tat Cat is!! lol

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