Tutorial: DIY Photo Lightbox on the Cheap

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Acrylic charms attached to a game system in a photo light box.

My acrylic charms in action, taken in the photo lightbox.

Today I’m going to talk to you about product photography, and more specifically how to build a photo lightbox. It will likely be the first in a line of articles on the topic, but this one will get you hitting the ground running.

Though my day job is in professional illustration, I have a great time selling products featuring my artwork as a side gig. It’s been a great way to test my creativity, to earn some passive income, and to get myself out of the house and network with other incredible makers at local craft fairs.

Around this time last year, I was scouring Etsy, other blogs and maker profiles to learn the best tactics to selling on Etsy. The two biggest topics remained the same: solid SEO tagging (which will be a blog post of its own one of these days), and excellent product photography.

Handmade products in a photo light box.

Product examples all laid out within my 14 inch photo light box.

It makes sense; your photos are the only visual representation of your product for someone who is ordering from far away. They can’t pick it up, observe it, touch it, or ask you questions at your craft fair table. They’re going on what you show and tell them on the Internet. Good photos are worth their weight in gold.

 

So, why a photo lightbox? With a lightbox:

•  you get clean, bright, white light, showing your products clearly in the colour they’re intended to be.
•  the image is free of other distractions, focusing solely on your product.
•  the product itself is well-lit, allowing the photos to be crisp and clear, showing off all the little details.

If you’re doing product photography, you want a photo lightbox. Simple as that.
So today, I’m going to show you how I made my photo lightbox for all of $10, and how to use it.


Photo Lightbox Tutorial!

You will need:

lightbox-tut1

How to:

Untape/unfold your box. Carefully, on a basement floor or cutting mat, trim off any unwanted edges with the box cutter. Your goal is to have three full sides and a top – a bottom is optional. My goal was to make it foldable, so each side can be folded in to be stored flat.lightbox-tut2

Next, use the box cutter to cut out large window panels in two of the sides and the top of the box. Leave the back side intact. You should keep a relatively wide border on each box side for stability purposes.

lightbox-tut3

Cut your fabric of choice to fit each window you cut out. Use the stapler OR the packing tape to attach the fabric to the box sides and top, keeping it as taut as possible.

lightbox-tut4To use your photo lightbox, set it up on a stable surface. You can rest the top window along the edges of the sides (if this doesn’t work, use some temporary tape). Set up lamps on the top and the sides. Make sure the bulbs are bright white and not warm light!

lightbox-tut5Cut your white poster paper to a size that will sit inside the box when resting against the back of the box and the bottom, creating an edgeless background. Place some products in your lightbox and take some time to play around with the lamps’ placement to make sure you have nice, even light without any significant shadows.

lightbox-tut6Take photos! Use your camera’s settings to get the best photo you can – you may have to play around with your settings to get the best possible outcome. Take time and experiment. Write down the settings that work best!

lightbox-tut7

Your photo lightbox is done!


It really is that simple. It isn’t always the most attractive, but it gets the job done. Here’s a photo of the setup I use at home for all my product photos:

lightbox1

See? It’s not even as pretty as my illustrated tutorial would suggest! But, it works. I just set up the box in my workshop when I need it, and store it when I’m done. With the photos that come out of it, you would never know it’s set up in a dingy basement workshop!

lightbox2

Tips:

  • Don’t sit the lamps directly against the cloth! Fire hazard!
  • You don’t need a fancy DSLR to get great product photos. You can get a nice point-and-shoot camera for about $100, or if you have a nice smartphone, you can even use that. Most of my photos are taken with a DSLR, but some are taken with my little Canon P&S and they look great too – you wouldn’t know the difference.
  • Become familiar with a photo editing program, enough at least to do some basic cropping and brightness/contrast/colour adjustments. Even if your photo looks great right out of the camera, a little extra tweaking will bring it up to perfection level. I’ll get into the photo editing aspect of things in another article.
  • If you want to block out light on one side temporarily, a sheet of black poster board will do the trick.

That’s it for today, so get out there, build a photo lightbox and snap happy!

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