A secret lair in a volcano wasn't within budget.
Since photography is one of my favourite hobbies, increasing the types of equipment for me to use of course comes naturally. One such piece of kit I’ve been fairly keen on getting is a light box. I, however, didn’t want to pay dearly for one especially as I wanted a reasonably large one. The solution of course – as many others have previously opted to do – was to make my own. There’s a lot of How-To’s available on the internet and they pretty much all go about using cardboard boxes (although, there are some rare exemplary ones such as the K’Nex light box), but, I wanted to make my own type (and document it, of course).
First up – materials. I had the full intention of making a light box type thing this weekend, but, I didn’t have an actual design or type in mind. I essentially went around shopping and found things I thought could be useful. The first thing I bought was the roll of shelf lining from Costco. I didn’t actually have much intention of buying it in the first place but as I was walking around on Saturday I saw it and thought it was worth a shot. Lots of DIY light boxes use thin paper or cloth to diffuse the light – I just had to hope that this translucent rubbery thing was good enough.
The second thing I managed to get was the foam floor mats (a pack of 4). I took a stroll through Bunnings in order to find the perfect thing for this box construction. My first thought in mind was to actually buy a plastic container that I’d put on its side, cut it up and then put the lining over the windows. The problem with that was finding a large enough container, and, that cutting plastic would be just a total pain. I even considered constructing something out of wood, but sanity took over as I realised how heavy it would be. In between thinking all this, I of course did come across these mats along the aisles. My main concern was whether or not the foam would be strong enough to keep its box properties. However, the thought of having a light box that was easy to disassemble when not in use won over and that I figured I’d be able to think of something to strengthen the foam one way or another.
After having done a quick test of the general construction of the box portion of the light box as well as to see if my fears about its strength was founded, it was time to actually make stuff 😛 First was cutting out inner portion of the foam mats. This needed to be done three times for the Top and the Sides. In cutting out the square in the foam, it had to be as large as possible, but, still be small enough to be covered by the shelf lining. The cutout you see here actually works out well as the photos will show in keeping the lining attached to the foam.
It took me a while to contemplate how to get the lining attached nicely to the foam, without ruining either of the materials, but, I eventually went with simple cable ties. After (haphazardly) placing holes in the plastic sheets with a hole punch, I threaded a cable tie through it and through the holes in the foam mat. A simple solution which can be reversed (at the expensive of the cable ties). Due to the nature of the shelf lining, it fortunately didn’t need to be pulled taught – which is good for both the foam and the lining. It meant there was going to be minimal distortion of the surfaces.
And here are the panels (the third is off screen ;)). You’ll notice some BBQ skewers there along the edges of the plastic. Looks a bit terrible but it works. They’re there to add strength and reinforce the foam mats. Also, they sort of work in keeping the plastic shelf lining flat against the foam. Ideally I would actually put cable ties all along the edges to reduce movement and what not, but, I currently don’t have enough of them. It’ll be a slight modification in the future after an additional trip to Bunnings. The BBQ skewers will also be the same. It looks a bit stupid really at current, so I’ll be replacing them when I can with a better solution to the structural issues of the foam. You’ll also notice that the lining isn’t as opaque as one would expect. This is fine since I don’t have bright lights for use in this setup, and, I wanted something where I can variable change the light diffusion by simply placing additional sheets of plastic on top – or at least, that’s my excuse for now 😉
And here’s the light box in all it’s boxy glory. You’ll notice an additional blue foam mat being used as the base there. These were lying around the house being unused, so I figured I’d snatch it up for my use here. This particular mat is a lot stronger and stiffer than what I bought from Bunnings and so works well as a base and as something to help keep the form of the box.
As you can see, I’m not using much of a special light for this. Just a normal desk lamp. I did, however, try to improve the light it produces by lining the interior of the lamp with aluminium foil – which I think works alright in improving it slightly. Either way, getting better light bulbs is one of my plans for the future – need a bright white light for this to work out properly. In tests on this with yellow lights, whilst the white balance on the camera does wonders, I think it sort of messes up the backdrop which is of an orange-yellow colour.
Now, for the backdrop – the cardboard I bought from the news agent. The holes in the foam proved to be handy once more in allowing me to use a simple suction-cup hook with a peg to be able to hang back drops from inside the light box:
It might’ve sounded weird to be saying I was using a suction cup on foam, but its more about the fact the suction cup can’t fit through the holes in the foam :p Anything that works really, as I had rummaged through the garage for anything useful. Consequently, with the holes in the mat, I can change the position from where I’m hanging the backdrop. This is particularly handy given this piece of cardboard which isn’t particularly long. Depending on what I’m taking a photo of, I would be hanging it mainly from halfway up the mat.
Anyway, this has been a pretty simple project and I’d say it turned out well to create a large-sized light box that can be easily stored away when it’s not being used. There’s room for improvement in terms of materials, but that can all be fixed in the coming weekends now that I know what I’m aiming for.
To top it off, here’s two more photos in a sample setup.