light box header

DIY Photo Light Box for $3

Having a photo light box on hand means that you can create stunning product shots easily. It’s not much hassle to set it up, you can use it no matter what the weather or light is like outside, and if you plan it right, its totally collapsible.

There are plenty of these you can buy on Amazon or online, if DIY isn’t your style. But I was inspired by a big pile of cardboard sitting in my kitchen destined for recycling. Why not make the most of all this sturdy stuff?

This project requires the following ingredients:

  • sturdy cardboard (5 pieces; if you don’t have any lying around, you can often get it for free from stores or fast food places if you ask!)
  • 1 sheet of white Bristol board ($0.50)
  • 1 roll of packing tape ($1.00)
  • 1 package of white tissue paper ($1.50)

Other tools that you’ll need (but probably have lying around) is an exacto knife, scissors, marker, and a ruler.

Step One  – Cardboard Panels

Decide on your dimensions. Mine is approximate 24 inches by 14 inches. I wanted it to be deeper rather than wide, so that I could include a lot of items arranged together in a single shot.

Since this is a collapsible project, we aren’t going to be taping up all the sides. The box consists of two main pieces:

Window Panel

  • 1 piece 24 x 14 inches (left side)
  • 1 piece 24 x 14 inches (top side)
  • 1 piece 24 x 14 inches (right side)

Backdrop Panel

  • 1 piece 14 x 14 inches (back side)
  • 1 piece 24 x 14 inches (bottom side)

You can adjust these measurements to whatever dimensions you want for your box. Cut out all 5 pieces of cardboard. I used an exacto knife over a stone countertop, being extremely careful. If your cardboard is thinner, scissors might be enough to cut it.

Step Two  – Cutting Windows

I wanted three windows for my box: one on the left, right, and one on top. This means that I can position lights on any or all sides at once.

To measure out the windows, I wanted a 3 inch frame around each, so I simply drew a line 3 inches in from each side of the panels. I used the ruler to make sure these were straight.

Then, simply cut out the three squares to create the window panels.

Step Three  – Attaching the Panels

It was important that this box was able to collapse, because I store it under my bed when I’m not using it. Therefore I couldn’t simply tape the sides of the box closed – I need them to be able to bend and stay in position.

Clear packing tape was ideal for this as it’s strong, doesn’t distract too much, and it is pretty flexible. You could use duct tape, but the result would look messier. Regular scotch tape probably won’t be strong enough for the job.

Window Panel

  • Attach the 3 panels together along the 24 inch sides.

Backdrop Panel

  • Attach the two panels together along the 14 inch sides.

The method I used to ensure that these panels had flexibility was as follows:

  1. Hold two panels together at the angle I want them to sit at when in use (a 90 degree angle).
  2. Use two small pieces of tape to fasten them together in this position.
  3. Lay the two pieces flat. Keep the small gap in between the two pieces.
  4. Securely tape from one end to the other, tucking the tape ends around the other side.
  5. Flip over and do the same thing – still ensuring that the small gap is preserved.

This way, the panels will be able to lay flat, but will also hold together at the 90 degree angle when in use.

Use this same method for all 3 joins.

Step Four – Light Filtering

In order to create that perfect ambient lighting effect for your products, you’ll need to apply something slightly opaque on the windows. Its up to you whether you use paper or fabric, but I think tissue paper is a great choice.

I like tissue paper for this because its affordable, easy to layer up, and easy to replace if it tears. White is a good daily-use colour choice but if you wanted to go fancy and make a few different panels, you could try colours.

Two sheets of tissue paper made for the perfect amount of light filtration for me. I folded one large sheet, measured it to fit about an inch beyond the edges of each frame, and taped it down carefully.

Step Five – The Backdrop

This is perhaps an optional step, but I think it makes things a whole lot easier when trying to set up a photo stage.

Take a large white sheet of Bristol board and measure 14 inches. I left it the same length as the sheet came in, so that it could extend as close to the front of the box when sloped as possible.

Tape this sheet to the top of the 14 x 14 inch square on the Backdrop Panel.

And that’s it!

Staging and Lighting

As you can see from the photos, these two pieces work perfectly in tandem. The Backdrop Panel will need something behind it to prop it up, which is just a sacrifice I have to make for the sake of having it collapsible in two pieces.

I’ve used two household lamps to light it from the right and left. These bulbs are energy efficient 8.5w 120v daylight bulbs, which means they have that crisp white light that is perfect for photographs. These bulbs below (which are Amazon affiliate links) are pretty much the same thing, just a different brand than mine.

I love the result, and how cheap and easy this project ended up being. I can’t wait to take more photos with it!

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Welcome to The Lucky Sprout! I’m Rebecca and I’m a creative consultant, entrepreneur, and maker of things. I love inspiring others to step up into their purpose, and here on my blog you’ll find all kinds of content to inspire and empower you.

If you want to connect with me, I’m never far – you can find me being silly on Instagram, roaming farmers markets, or sipping tea lattes under the nearest blanket!

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© Offshoot Creative Consulting + Rebecca Wilson, 2019.

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