I have been working on improving my blog and making it more professional. One of the weakest links for many one-woman-show blogs is the photography. I have done some research to improve my photos without buying a new camera or investing in expensive professional equipment. One thing you can make yourself to help with lighting problems is a lightbox. My DIY light box is frugal, collapsible, and you can change the background.
I have a good backbone for my blog. I think my content is worthwhile and my writing is pretty good. I speaka de English. But my pictures are horrible. For my dinosaur play mat I had some dark nighttime photos, and some glaring morning light photos. For the beautiful dyed eggs we made for Valentine’s Day the pictures all came out too dark. One of my goals is to make my blog photos better, and hopefully retake photos of some of the old recipes.
I have seen many posts on lightboxes. I don’t have room to store a big old box somewhere when I’m not using it. I want to be able to control the light but still use pretty fabrics for the background. And I need it to be cheapy cheap cheap. My solution was to use what I had to make something, with plans to upgrade materials once I could make an informed decision about how to spend my money. The only thing I had to buy was two $3 lamps. This is absolutely a cheapo, starter lightbox for an extremely tight budget, and could be improved in many ways. Once you try it you can decide how best to spend your money on equipment and supplies to improve your photography.
You can get a little collapsible lightbox tent setup on eBay or Amazon for $30ish, which includes a box, lights, and a tripod. However this does not look sturdy and is pretty small. Prices go up from there for something more durable and larger. This might be a good place to start if you don’t have time to muck around, and have more money than me.
This right here is the ultimate in use-what-you-have. Maybe you call it ghetto. I call it I spent all my money on tomatoes and glitter. And chocolate.
- Table or three folding tables, preferably window height
- 4 pieces white foamboard or a white cardboard box, dollar store
- 1 piece white posterboard, optional for background/base, dollar store
- Masking/painters tape
- Tracing paper, muslin fabric, tissue paper, sheer curtain, cheap shower curtain liner or other diffusing material
- 3 desk lamps, you can use a lamp with no shade if you have someone to hold it up to the diffuser for you
- Extension cords if your lamps don’t reach, dollar store
*Update: The most important thing is to have (diffused) BRIGHT light. Buy a couple cheap desk lamps, put 100 watt bulbs in them (most are rated for 60 watt so just turn them on to snap your pic), and put tracing paper over their heads to reduce the glare. Yes, I recommend you buy tracing paper, it seems to diffuse best and is under $10 a pack/book. This will get you the most bang for your buck, with immediate improvement. I’m considering taking the illustrative photos below again since the difference in light warrants a redo.
For your box you can use a white cardboard box, or foamboard. You need holes in the sides and top to let light in. You need lights of some type to direct light into the box. You need something to filter the light through the holes and onto your item without casting a dark shadow or glare.
You need to place a table in front of a window to take advantage of natural light. You want as much indirect light as possible. I had to move a couple chairs out of the way and put three folding tables up (you can get these at thrift stores cheap, if your windows are low enough and the tables are high enough).
I used four pieces of white foamboard (2 sides, back, and top) for my box. You can get this at the dollar store, I had a bunch for crafts and such. I used a white piece of posterboard for the background. Posterboard is 22×28, so for the space you have to work with one of your dimensions is going to be 22 inches. If you tape your posterboard to the back panel at the top you can drape it down under your item and you won’t have a horizon line or seam in the background. I used painters/masking tape to hold them together. I found that the tape came right off the posterboard, but tore the foamboard. You can disassemble your box to store it, or leave the tape and put one side in front and one side in back and fold to store. Mine is stuck behind a hutch.
I already had a pad of tracing paper, but they are available at WalMart for about $5. You can also use muslin fabric to diffuse light. You can try tissue paper if you just want to experiment with it, but it is as fragile as you would expect. If you are shopping for tracing paper you could also get a large piece you can tape directly to a window to use that as your light source. I laid a piece of tracing paper in the middle of a piece of foamboard and roughly traced that, then used those lines to make a window that was slightly smaller (to leave room for overlap). I used one side of a pair of scissors to cut the hole (and not the table underneath). I used regular transparent tape to keep the tracing paper on. I made three of these panels.
Lay down the last piece of foamboard, the one that is still whole, this is the back. Use masking tape to attach either side panel. Attach your posterboard to the top of the back panel, or if you want to use fabric you can skip that step. Stand up your sides and angle them in just a little so you can perch the top panel on top. If you are using fabric drape it over the back (after ironing it, despite the example I have set). I had some mid-century modern curtains that had been cut that I got from a thrift store. Now perch your top panel, carefully, on top of your creation. You can tape it if you want to secure it.
For your lights you can use desk lamps. Gooseneck ones are ideal, or at least ones where you can position the shade. The ones I got had a knob you could unscrew to position the shade, then tighten. Clamping ones may or may not be best depending on your table. You need to aim the light through your filters/diffuser holes. I had one lamp and had to buy two more at $3 each, from a closeout store like Big Lots or Building 19 (Ocean State Job Lots). The only ones I could find were 40 or 60 watt lights, and I want more light. If you try to use a stronger bulb in a lamp that isn’t rated for it you probably maybe won’t burn your house down. I will be keeping an eye out at yard sales and flea markets for lamps that will take higher wattage bulbs (these are expensive), and then I will invest in full-spectrum bulbs. I placed the lightest lamp on the top (carefully) and the other two on the sides. I did need two extension cords, which you can get at the dollar store (short ones).
One important thing that will improve your photography is to reduce blur, and one way to do that is to get a tripod. Or putting your camera up on a stack of books. Pressing the button to take a picture moves the camera enough to cause blurriness. I have had a tabletop tripod I got from eBay for a couple dollars. I will be keeping an eye out for a regular tripod this summer, you can get them for under $20.
You should now have your DIY lightbox assembled. You can place your item and take some pictures. I have an old Kodak digital camera I got for $20 used on eBay. If your phone has a decent camera you can use that. Hopefully you can now take lovely photographs with your new lightbox and experiment with different camera settings to get the most from your equipment. Of course, now you have to learn how to best compose photos, how to use your camera effectively, how to edit your photos on the computer… Good luck!
Here are my sample shots. I chose this lotion parfait as my main subject because it has mica flecks in it and I know it’s hard to photograph the sparklies.
Lovely photo taken in the lightbox, even with lamps that aren’t bright enough you can see how it picks up the mica glitter. My item is illuminated without there being harsh glare or deep shadows. It looks oh-so-desirable!
You can see how lighting affects your photography:
With all of the lighting I can get, but not diffused, I get a bright photo with item-obscuring glare
With no flash or lamps the item is very dark, even with my room lights on (yes, this is right next to a window during the day)
With the flash I get a very bright, almost garish item, with stark, dark shadows
With the lightbox I get an item that is lit enough to be clear, but it is a soft light that does not add glare or contrast that I do not want
Also note how the horizon line is detrimental in the first three photos, but with our curved posterboard in the lightbox we avoid that dark line
Before I would put something behind the item, turn on every light in the house, take photos with and without flash, and try to edit myself into a decent picture on the computer
Now I take the time to set up the light box, and spend less time editing post-production
You can see my item on different backgrounds, easily changed if you leave the box collapsible
Pretty group photo, despite the well-loved (ie used) products
*Items photographed are from Rustic Luxury NH (and are awesome)
Mid-century modern backgrounds are fabric from old curtains bought at The Melamine Cup thrift store
Other Blog Photography Links
Cheap and Simple Tools for Better Blog Photography
How To Take Great Shots Without A Big Girl’s Camera from Red Ted Art
The Secret to Food Photography When Your Lighting Sucks from Happy Food Healthy Life
Setting Up a Photo Studio on the Cheap
Studio Quality Product Photography With a $12 Set Up from Handmade Spark
Blog Tools Pinterest Board
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*Also see our Top 10 of 2013 from More With Less Mom
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Photos by me, The More With Less Mom