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How to make a cheap light box

Gus Landt

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Thread-nomancy go!


I just scratch built a first attempt at a lightbox. Results were unimpressive. I used white cardstock (flat sheet for a bottom, cylinder for the vertical aspect, with a 2x2 inch opening at the bottom for the camera, open on top for a desk lamp to shine into the cylinder). I have a flourescent bulb in there which I understand is not right, but my problem wasn't one of color balance (well yes, it was.. but I have a bigger problem), it was that the photo was extremely dark. Here are several pictures of a mini I was shooting to try it out and of the setup. I've got flourescent lights throughout the house, so with the intense light in the lightbox it appears I'm shooting in a dark room, but it's the middle of the day here.








What am I doing wrong?? Obviously the size is different than the tutorial... somehow I doubt that's the problem. That leaves the lightbulb and the materials. If it's the lightbulb that's easy enough to fix, but do I need to scrap the whole design and go get the cloth and all of that?

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hmm I would try making openings on the sides so you have three lights going (top, right and left). You'll need to cover the side openings with thin white cloth as well to diffuse the light to avoid hard shadows. I tried making a lightbox in the past but wasn't too successful either. I think my white cloth may have been too thick or something because the light was still too dim when I was shooting. Photography is not my forte by any means, just sharing my past mistakes. Also the tutorial I went off had a square shape for it, and along the back inside wall, they taped a piece of paper to hang loose to curve naturally to the bottom of the inside front wall, so there would be no seam showing. Hope it helps! I think this was the one I went off of:



Currently I'm using a wacky and probably dangerous setup of three lights sans box (above light is precariously hanging off an easel) and still using the taping paper method (taped to easel at back of table) to avoid seam for backdrop. Not the sharpest tack method but works at the moment. Good luck!

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Make the cylinder a larger diameter. Make it larger (1-2" clearance all around) than the reflector on your light. Make it possible to move the light closer to the target mini. Much of the output of the bulb is falling outside the cylinder with your initial setup.


BTW, how many watts of juice does that bulb use / how many lumens does it output?

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The lamp itself is capable of holding 60 watt bulbs. The bulb in there is one of those energy saver ones, it's 11 watt. Not sure how many lumens... but here's the text written on the side:


11W 120V 60Hz

180mA 3000K



Either way I plan on upgrading the bulb - is a 60 watt bulb bright enough?


For starters I will make the cylinder larger in diameter and see how that goes, thanks for the tip!

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You have several problems here:


1) Your light box design is pretty inefficient. The sides of the cylinder don't really reflect much light toward the figure and the direct light from above isn't in a very useful position. There's a reason most ghetto light boxes are designed for light to come in at least partly from the sides.


2) The bulb is pretty far from the figure. Light energy falls off as 1/distance^2, so if you halve the distance, you'll quadruple the light energy.


3) Your bulb is pretty anemic. Light fixtures specify wattage limits mostly because of heat dissipation issues (in the cord and in the shade). The heat you need to dissipate doesn't depend on the visible light output but rather on the total power pushed through the bulb. You can put a much brighter bulb in that fixture without problems.


4) As previously noted, of the limited light you do have from the bulb, probably 60% is being scattered outside the box.


5) Finally, and possibly most important, your photographs are quite underexposed. For stationary subjects, this doesn't really depend on how much light you have (so long as you have enough to see by.) Your camera is not exposing correctly for the available light. You need to manually raise the ISO, increase the aperture, decrease the shutter speed (increase the exposure time), or some combination of the above on your camera. If you can't do those, you'll need to use a darker (yes, darker) background to fool the camera into allowing more light onto the sensor.



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I see that your photo-foo is greater than mine!


I think my camera can adjust most of those things, so I'll look into that. I have redesigned the cylinder so that the whole lamp fits within the circumference, but I also have loads of cardboard and easy access to the materials to do it right, so I should probably just go ahead and scrap my lame design and do it right if I'm going to bother doing it at all.


Thank you all for the advice! I hope to have something worthy of a miniature soon.




Messed with the aperture setting and applied your statement about light "falling off" - I made sure the lamp was very close to the mini. The following three pictures are using the same energy saver bulb, and all I did was adjust the aperture and make the light closer - everything else is the same as the last photos I posted.






So now a SUPER thanks for all of the advice! Nearly there and I only made 2 fixes!

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The exposure seems to be pretty much fixed now. The only issue you appear to have now is white-balancing. If your camera allows you to set WB by taking a photo and then letting the camera adjust, try taking a pic of the light box without a mini inside. Then use that image to set WB. I about guarantee that will give your photo a less yellowy appearance.


If your camera does not allow you to set white balance, try putting a very thin piece of pale-blue tissue paper between the lamp and the mini to act as a filter.

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I used these instructions to build a lightbox for photographing my Etsy products, and I have to say it's pretty slick. This first photo is my box, constructed of some foamcore I had lying around the house, with tracing paper taped to the sides for diffusers. I only have an iPhone for photos, so the binder clips you see are actually my iPhone stand.




And this is my current work-in-progress, photographed using the light box.



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I cobbled one together recently, not super happy with it, but it's a start. I'm thinking of going with a darker background, maybe. For my current WIP it's decent after a pass through white balance adjustment in GIMP, but it's certainly south of ideal. I took a few shots of old minis, and a thinner mini got blown out by all the white.


Here's my current setup on my new (old) desk, so stuff is just tossed on the desk.




And the test run:




I just took a box, cut holes in the sides and tops and taped tissue paper to the holes. Put a lamp on each opening (you can't see the lamp on the left, really). Taped a sheet of palette paper to the back.

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1) Unless you're trying for a special effect, use the same kind of bulbs on all sides of the box. Otherwise you get some fairly nasty mixed light.


2) For a good exposure and color balance (if you're using automatic modes), use a light to medium gray backdrop.


3) If necessary, adjust your exposure and black point in post if you miss your exposure in camera.

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Update with some new lights. I matched the fixtures on the left and right. Cheap reflector work lamps with Reveal bulbs. The CFL I've been using sits well with their spectrum, I've got to find out the bulb make/model because it's better than five other CFLs I've tried! I prefer CFL for painting because I pull the light right down close and incandescents are too hot.




And the light box just before I shot my latest WIP update:




I've also made several backdrops in GIMP using the airbrush tool to just place some random color at different pressures. Seems to work ok:



(This one was taken just after those two set up shots)


And one with another backdrop:


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