Last week I covered some basics on how to photograph your mani/pedi better. This week I am going to show you how simple it is to set up a mini photo studio in your home. Don’t worry, it’s very frugal! The whole project cost me about $8 and just a couple hours of work. We are going to make a light box!
Wait, why do you need a light box? Good question. A light box creates a controllable environment for your pics. You control the lighting, the background, and the subject – all on a small scale. The biggie here is that a light box allows you to filter your light source. If you are photographing your hands the biggest improvement it makes is to the skin tone. My pics all look like I have pink skin without the box and a nude color with the box. The filter also takes off some of the glare on my wraps making the designs easier to see without being ultra close-up. Also, the light box declutters the photo and you know how I like a clean photo.
I knew I needed to find a better light box than the one I had – constructed out of a cardboard box and some tissue paper, it was flimsy, sagging about 4″ at the top, and impossible to store. While searching for something a little more professional I came across this DIY light box. It was everything I was looking for: nice, sturdy, and an easy DIY project. However, I KNEW I could make it for even less money than the original tutorial. Now you know something else about me – I anything clearance! Full disclosure – my box isn’t as sturdy as the original because he used a fabric light filter to replace the screen material with. Mine is good ole tissue paper – you won’t be able to set your lamp on top of tissue paper.
- Window screen frame – used, salvaged, damaged. Have an old screen door that you can’t figure how to get into the waste bin? Perfect!
- Window screen corners
- Sticky backed Velcro – if you already have some without the adhesive on the back you can save yourself the bucks and adhere it with a hot glue gun or my favorite go-to: glue dots.
- Light filter – options: white tissue paper, pillow case, bed sheet, white poster paper
- Double sided tape or glue dots
- Clear tape
- Optional – white spray paint
- Hack saw
- Tape measure
- Table clamps to accompany said table
Step 1 – Choose your frame
The most important aspect of this light box is the aluminum frame. It is aluminum!! It is stable, super lightweight, and can hold up to some abuse – all important features in my household.
When we bought our house 2.5 years ago many of the windows were replaced. While the builder made off with the old windows he neglected to snag the window screens. His loss! Lucky for me, the 4 window screens were more than big enough to supply all the aluminum framing I would need for this light box.
If you don’t have a heaping pile of screens just lying around you could probably salvage a few from a nearby construction site, a dumpster, use an old screen door frame, or you could spend about $20 and make your own from Home Depot. You just need the aluminum and the corners, no need for the spline or roller. FYI, my local store doesn’t sell pre-made screens! If you want to purchase an assembled window screen you have to also purchase the window. Who knew?
Tip: There are a couple of different screen frame sizes, the most common one I came across is 5/16″. You need to make sure to match up the size of your aluminum with a corresponding corner size. I would suggest cutting one of your lengths and taking it to the store to compare (or you could just measure?).
Step 2 – Choose Your Size
To decide how big you want your light box you need to consider the size of the subject you are going to be photographing. Are you snapping product pics or jamicure photos? If you are photographing your hands I would suggest going a bit larger to give yourself some wiggle room. I decided on a 22″ square box. That means I need to build 4 panes that are 22″ square. If I had to do it all over again I would make all sides 22″ high but I would make the top and sides closer to 15″ wide.
Step 3 – Disassemble the Screens
You don’t want the screen fabric in your light box, it will cause a shadow, so you need to remove it. The rubber banding, called the spline, holds the fabric in place. Pull out the spline with a pair of pliers (seriously, don’t sacrifice your pretty nails for this). Then, dismantling them is as easy as pulling the aluminum out of those corner pieces.
Step 4 – Cut the Frame
Since my box is a 22″ cube I needed to cut 16 strips of aluminum at 22″ long. Check your frame and try to avoid any dents or bends. Your light filtering material will have to sit up against the frame and large bends can make it difficult to get a smooth finish in your filter. It is easiest to cut the frame if you have it attached to a table using more than one clamp. I have a plastic bag underneath the cut site in order to catch any shavings.
If you care about the look of the frame you will want to spray paint it before assembly.
Step 5 – Assemble Frame
It’s time to assemble the 4 square panels that make up the box. This is as easy as sticking a corner into the slot of the aluminum frame. I saved most of my corners from the original frame but had to replace a few bad ones.
Step 6 – Attach Velcro
Once your panels are all built you need to attach them together with velcro. I would definitely try hot glue or glue dots with regular old velcro for this if you already have the supplies. You are going to stick the soft fuzzy side of the velcro lengthwise along the frame, right at the corners. Then, use a strip of the rough velcro to strap the two side panels. Use two more rough strips to strap the top down to each side panel. You can make this pretty tight which will create a nice stable frame when it’s all assembled.
Step 7 – Attach Light Filter
Your panels are held together on the outside with velcro so you want to attach the tissue paper to the inside of the panels to keep them from stepping all over each other. To attach the tissue paper I recommend pulling apart the velcro so each panel is easier to manage. IF you are using a fabric light filter I highly recommend going back to the original tutorial and assembling it the way he recommends. It will give you ultra stability. Me, I’m cheap and didn’t want to sacrifice a single bed sheet. 😉
My tissue paper wasn’t quite as big as my 22″ square panels so I had to piece them together using scotch tape. I wasn’t sure if the visible seam on each panel would get in the way in my photos so I had to test that out… they don’t. I typically insert a large sheet of poster board inside my box just to have a consistent background – which you can get at the $ store.
To attach the tissue paper I stuck glue dots right to the frame and then attached the tissue. Very easy.
Finally, assemble your light box and add lighting! Here is how I am currently lighting my box: the top light is my grow lamp from the Home Depot – it was about $15, and the two hanging bulbs are the $5 light fixtures from Ikea. Ack! This pullback went too far! It looks like a giant mess but it sure makes for good photos.
Do you already have a light box? Share it with us in the comments!