How to Build a Lightbox

Homemade Lightbox for photographing Model Horses - new finished
One of many versions I’ve made over the years…

Now that everyone is unpacked, it’s time to start getting better photos of the Home Herd… only I threw out my last lightbox when I was cleaning (an unfortunate victim of The Great Mouse War).

So it’s time to build a new one! Only this time, I figure I should make a plan before I start building willy-nilly.

I have a habit of starting with a very general idea, gathering possibly needed supplies, and then hacking away at the project until it turns into something acceptable. Possibly not the most constructive use of my time…

The nice thing about the internet is that It’s All Been Done Before™… and thus all I need to do is tap into the internet hivemind. A quick Google search and I’ve got a wide range of projects to choose from.

Useful Links

Since 99% of the projects require a box as a base and I’ve de-boxed my house and none of them are collapsible, I figured I’d go with my gut (and long standing habit) and jury-rig a solution. To the art store!

(Although, to be fair, I did work out the blueprint beforehand so I’d know how everything would go together.)

Links to supplies are Amazon affiliate links (where possible), but you won’t pay more if you use them.

Primordial Lightbox Gogogo!

Homemade Lightbox - cat not required
Cat not Required*

For this project you will need:

Time to make us a box!

Building the 57th Wonder of the World

Homemade Lightbox - marking lines for the cuts
The shape of things to come!

We start out by drawing the cutting lines on the back of the foam board. The side you draw lines on will be the outside of the box, so if one side is shiny, make sure you aren’t drawing on it. (Both of my sides were matte, but your mileage may vary.)

The first board will be our back and bottom of the lightbox. This will help give it some bracing since the whole thing is collapsible and thus prone to collapsing. The board is 20 inches by 30 inches, so cutting it so that it bends in half will give us a space that is 20 inches long, 15 inches high, and 15 inches deep. Plenty of room to photograph micro minis, Stablemates, and even a Little Bit or two.

Homemade Lightbox - foam board lincoln logs
Let the building begin!

The other board will give us our framing pieces for building the top and the sides of the box. Thus we will need ten strips that are 2 inches by 15 inches and two strips that are 2 inches by 20 inches. The easiest way to do this is divide the board in half and get the 15 inches strips from one side and the 20 inch strips from the other.

Homemade Lightbox - cutting folding corners
By the skin of its teeth…

When you cut the first board, make sure to only cut through the top paper and some of the foam. Do NOT cut all the way through!

Once you have made your first cut, just bend the board gently along the cut and it should snap nicely in two. The paper on the ‘inside’ of the box will allow this to bend (and fold away nicely for storage).

When making the cuts for the strips you can follow the same method. Once the board is bent, you can run the knife along the inside of the bend to cut the paper. It won’t be perfect (as you can see by the edges of my boards) but we aren’t looking for perfect.

Once the process is done you’ll have ten short strips and two long strips… now it’s time to start making a box!

Some Assembly Required

Homemade Lightbox - blue painters tape is awesome
All hail, Painter’s Tape!

Grab your painters tape and four of the short strips. Right now we don’t care how pretty it looks, so you can tape it however you like. (Read as: Martha knew she was going to make mistakes and thus was not worried about it.) The painters tape comes right back off again, so there’s no penalty for getting things wrong.

Tape the four strips together so that the two horizontal strips are sitting on top of the two vertical strips. In the end, it won’t matter how you do this, just as long as you keep the method the same for all three sides. The sides need to be relatively square, but don’t work about getting it perfect. We can wiggle things around once we have the box together.

Lather, rinse repeat and make another 15 by 15 box and then a 20 by 15 box.

Homemade Lightbox - dry fit of assembled sides
Time to dry fit and messy tape it into a box!

Once you have your three sides made, loosely tape them together so that the long side is in the middle with one short side on either end. Make sure that the horizontal strips are to the inside, and that you only tape the corners along one side so that the can bend open and closed.

Fold up the first sheet of foam board and tape the top of the long size to the top of the back, again this is all very loosely done. What we want to do now is tweak the positioning of the strips so that the box is pretty much square and will stand on its own.

Tape, Tape Away!

Homemade Lightbox - cleaning up the insides
Un-blue-ing the insides!

Now that you have the pieces where you want them, it’s time to clean up the seams. Untape the top and the back and lay the three connected sides flat on the table. Starting with the back first, go back and reinforce every seam. Since the painter’s tape I was using was two inches wide, it was each to make sure that everything was covered.

Once the back is securely fashioned, flip the sides over and start cleaning up the ‘inside’ of the box. You shouldn’t be able to see any tape on this side of things, so if needed use tape loops (bits of tape folded in on itself to make little tubes) to secure the corners together. Heck, you could even use glue at this point, but I’m too lazy to dig it out of the Closet of Endless Art Supplies.

As you can see between the Almost-A-Box and Cleaning up the Mess photos, it was very easy for me to pull off all of the painter’s tape. The strips of blue on the corners are hidden when the sides are folded up.

Covering Up

Homemade Lightbox - adding paper sides
Side coverings, take 1…

Now that you have the frame of the lightbox, it’s time to cover it up. You can use fabric, paper, tissue paper– just about anything you can think of that light will shine through. Just make sure that any blue tape is hidden from the inside.

I started by using pages from my sketchbook, but they turned out to be slightly too thick so too much light was blocked. The printer paper I had was too small to cover the openings, so I taped them together with clear tape.

In the end, I swapped them out for tissue paper that I picked up at the art store. It turned out to be strong enough to support and overhead clamp light sitting on it, which was a nice bonus!

Behold, It Works!

Homemade Lightbox for photographing Model Horses - finished
It’s Alive!

I was able to get some nice shots using a table lamp and my trusty old clamp on lamp as primary light sources, using Daylight compact florescent bulbs. (The overhead light in the living room has both Daylight and normal blubs in it, but not much light was coming through the top of the box.) I will probably pick up another clamp lamp at Lowe’s since they work better at focusing the light, but good enough is good enough for now.

Since the paper was too thick I ended up shining the clamp on light from the front of the box instead of the side, but the reflections from the walls on the inside of the box did a great job at getting rid of most of the shadows. Can’t wait to see how it looks with a more translucent paper!

And yes, poor old Blue is a bit dusty (and has a bit of grass on his hoof)… but at least his photos look better!

Homemade Lightbox - Blue Danube example shot

Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!