The world’s ugliest lightbox

I’m not a very proficient photographer, and I don’t have a lot of patience for fiddling with the various settings on my camera to get perfect results, so when I saw some easy instructions for how to build your own lightbox, I made a mental note of it. I figured someday it might be a useful thing to know how to do, if I had small objects I wanted to make some effort to photograph nicely. I know I can always adjust things in Photoshop later, but I’d rather not have to add that step to the process.

Since I started making more jewelry, I’ve become even more bothered by the crappy pictures I’ve been getting under inferior artificial light, so a week or so ago, I looked up the “How to build a lightbox” instructions, and built my own last night.

Here is one such tutorial via Strobist.

Here is another using fabric instead of trace or tissue paper.

Google provides a variety of other alternatives; I saw another one built out of foam core, with solid walls; illumination is provided by clamping lights to the front walls and aiming them into the box (instead of lighting the exterior, and diffusing the light with trace paper or fabric).

Here’s my version:

Lightbox built from binder clips and used Priority Mail boxes

One clip-on lamp + one ugly old saved-from-a-basement lamp = my light sources.

It’s made from two Priority Mail boxes, with trace paper covering the cut-outs in the sides and top. I use binder clips to hold the two pieces together. I cut the top so I can lift a flap of paper out of the way and take photos from above my subject; it is generally held (mostly) in place with tape.

Yeah, it’s ugly, and it probably took longer to make than if I’d started with a single box of the right size. And there are gaps where there technically shouldn’t be. BUT it can be taken apart and stored flat, so it takes up very little space!

Here are some pictures I took to test it all out:

Testing white balance

Not too shabby.

Another white balance test

Also not bad. If only I'd made notes about what the camera settings were.

Overhead picture

I cut a hole in the trace paper on the box top so I could take overhead pictures.


Flash! A bit too yellow.

One of my current light sources is a fluorescent bulb, which is not really as bright as I’d like; this will be an easy fix (in fact now that I think about it, I think I might have a nice incandescent stored in a large yogurt container on the little table next to the window). Usually I only use that light, clipped to a bookcase, to provide additional light when I need to use my big mirror. It turns out the clip part of it balances very well when placed on the desk, so the lamp can be a desk lamp without needing to be clipped to the edge of the desk! Nice design, that.

I do want to get a large sheet of white paper to cover the back and create the bottom of the light box; the cutting mat and brown cardboard are not particularly nice.

I originally thought about making a teeny tiny lightbox out of a kleenex box, but it’s easier to put different backdrops and props into the bigger box. (I may make a tiny one anyway, because it would be fun and cute.)