So you can’t afford a $200 lightbox?

I’m going to try to break the blog silence with something worthwhile your precious reading time, my dear reader. There’s much to blog about and what’s going on at LowPowerLab but for now something simple.

I like to take nice pictures, it’s like giving candy to the eye. Because the images convey presentation. And good presentation is a paradigm of quality. Look at a good blog with crappy pictures – you will read but won’t be terribly impressed, right? Look at a less an average blog with great pictures and you will instantly follow it.

Until recently I took all the blog pictures on my white work desk but lately that’s gotten dirty from all the stuff I do on it but I’m too lazy to get everything off and add a coat of white paint, that’s for another day when I’m awfully bored. So I started using blank sheets of paper under the subject, that worked pretty nicely, but every shot took a few minutes to setup and get the right light and angle on the tripod so the light wouldn’t bounce too much off the ceiling etc, what a paaaain 8-( … OK – so looking around the web yields the typical results you will find on any product – cheapo lightboxes made of fabric, for around $30-$50, the nicer ones are $100-$200 or even more. I like to spend the extra buck on the nicer thing, but finding it impossible to spend that much on something as simple as a light box I thought – doh … how hard can it be to make one?

A little about the camera. For stills I use an *old* refurbished Nikon D40, with a little SB-400 flip flash that allows me to bounce the light off the ceiling to get soft non-aggressive lighting. The funny thing is … every time I take this camera somewhere someone looks impressed at how good the pictures come out and starts hypothesizing at the cost of such camera. I proceed to tell them it’s a refurbished camera from around 2007 and that it’s worthless today. Nobody believes me and I just amuse myself. Another funny thing is that I know many people that spend thousands on heavy cameras with huge lens and only shoot them in AUTO mode, because they are too snobby to learn what white balance is, but that won’t matter so long as they look pro. I guess what I’m trying to say is you really don’t need an expensive camera to take good pictures, here’s why.

That’s the camera story. Now to get to the subject of this post and get some work done. This is so easy you already know how to make it. So I think my words won’t do the pictures much justice, so I will keep this shorter rather than longer. Start with a decently large cardboard box, tape white paper all over the inside. Then bend the outer corners of the top sides and bend them into each other such that they create funnel shape (that’s where you peek inside with the camera), and tape them together. That way you keep most of the flash light bouncing *inside* the box. I placed another large piece of white paper on the bottom, where the subject sits, but didn’t tape it. Pretty much it … adjust your flash and start taking nice pictures. Don’t you love it when simple stuff just works?

As a side note, you could really go crazy on this and add white LED lighting on the inside, or even make some holes and stick daylight CFLs in there, many other possibilities. I find it pretty easy to just bounce the flash on one side and the light comes out pretty evenly on and around the subject.

Here’s some action photos of making it, and some shots taken inside this lightbox, the final image is of a new product – Moteino Power Shield, which I will blog about soon:

8 thoughts on “So you can’t afford a $200 lightbox?

  1. Thats a great post and DIY. Super Inspiring for anyone who likes to photograph their things and for small board projects, this is a real staple!

  2. Felix, THANK YOU!

    I’ve not been able to get any amateur photographers to take interest in building a portfolio on my robot — My skill with my 8MP cell phone has been very poor because of lighting and my lack of knowledge and skill. With your post – there is hope. Flickr can make bad look good but, I would like to make a photo journal/manual of the assembly of this:

    Oh, have you seen AdiSoffer’s remote camera rig?
    He is sharing code too….

    Happy Holidays!


    • It was really a 15 minute job. But I think a phone camera just won’t give you very good output. All phone cameras are hopeless for actual photography. You can pick up a Nikon D40/40x and flash for under $200 on ebay and you’ll take great pics. Haven’t seen Adi’s posts but I know he’s been working hard. Merry Christmas to you too!

  3. Silly question: does the opening in the box face straight up, or out to the side? In other words, do you shoot photos from above the subject, or beside it?

    Whenever I do flash photos of my electronics, I get harsh reflections off any metal or glass surfaces, so I normally use ambient light with no flash. But with several lamps positioned at different angles, I find it hand to get myself and my camera in a position that doesn’t cast at least one shadow onto the subject.

    • It’s straight up. I get reflections as well if I shoot from directly above. I flip the flash so it bounces off the walls. I typically only have shadow issues from the object itself. This is not a high tech solution, but for what it is I think it works pretty well. An improvement is adding white LED lights or maybe some CFL bulbs.

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