Last July I decided, all of a sudden, that I wanted to make my own simple light box (or light tent). A light tent is a three-, four-, or five-sided box made out of a thin material (such as fabric or tissue paper) that diffuses light, used primarily in photography. Using the tent helps get rid of distracting shadows and reflections, and evens out the light within the space so that your camera’s white balance setting can do its job.
I wanted to make one that was more sturdy than cardboard, but still cheap, and also collapsible and easy to use. My plan was very successful and has helped me take much better photographs. The finished product is simple but effective.
There are a lot of tutorials out there for building one (most miniaturists have a need for good, well lit photos of tiny things) and I read through a bunch and then cobbled all the ideas together to make my own version. And now, only eight months later, here is How I Made My Light Box.
Step One: Make a plan. Here’s one my husband drew when we were designing it.
Hopefully this one that I just made will be a little more useful to people wanting to make their own:
As I said, this is a very simple design. It is only three pieces- two supporting sides and a top- but it’s functional and easily collapsible. It collapses flat and is thus easy to store. Many light boxes have a back too, but since I will always be using photo backdrops it in I found it unnecessary. If you wanted to add one you could use the same basic technique in this tutorial to add another piece of frame.
The dimensions I chose were based on my small scale collection. If you plan on photographing traditional sized models, especially in scenes, you’ll want to scale it up. Please note that for ease of description, I’ll be referring to the different pieces by the sizes and colors shown in the colored diagram above.
Step Two: Gather Tools & Materials. Have a plan before you go to the hobby or lumber store so you know how much wood to buy. I used 1/2″ square dowels for my frame. From my plan I knew I would need six 16″ pieces (orange), four 12″ pieces (blue), and two 18″ pieces (green). The dowels are usually sold in three foot pieces, so I used some simple arithmetic to figure out how many I needed and where I’d cut them.
Here’s what you need:
Enough wood to make three 4-sided rectangles for your frame
White tissue paper- enough to cover each frame
Masking tape or blue painter’s tape
14 small nails
You’ll also need a small wood saw, a ruler, scissors, and a pencil. And a nice, large flat area to work.
Step Three: Lay Out the Frame
Cut the wood to the proper lengths and lay it out like so. Make sure that you put the corners of the wood together the same way on each side, so that your 16″ pieces are on the outside and the 12″ pieces on the inside.
Step Four: Make the Attachments
The two frame sides will support the top “ceiling” piece and attach to it by a simple nail-and-hole. You make this part before attaching the frames together because otherwise you can’t hammer into the center of the wood (it would just break).
Take the 16″ short side of the ceiling piece (orange) and put a nail through the center. Then line it up with the piece of corresponding length from the side frame, (again, orange) and nail into that.
The point is to fix the nail into the wood of the ceiling piece but only to make a hole in the wood of the side frame. Then when you want to attach the pieces the nail in the ceiling piece just slides into the hole made in the side frame. This is how the three frame pieces will attach to stand up.
Wiggle the nail around so it fits snugly into the hole in the side frame but is easy to pull out again. Leave it stuck firmly in the side of the ceiling piece.
Make sure you keep track of these pieces! The piece with the hole in it needs to end up in the top part of the side frame, and the side of that dowel with the hole needs to face upwards when the frame is assembled. For that reason I marked it with pencil so I wouldn’t put it together the wrong way.
Similarly, the pieces of the ceiling frame that have the nails both need to point down so that the nails point in the same direction and both attach into the supporting side frames.
Repeat this step for the other side so that you should have two 16″ pieces with nails sticking out of them and two corresponding 16″ pieces with nail holes.
Step Five: Assemble the Frames. Making sure to keep your corners square and the nail and nail holes aligned as I described above, nail the three frames together. For extra strength, put a drop of wood glue between the two pieces before you nail them all the way together.
Here is one of my assembled side frames:
Once you’ve made your three rectangular frames, use the nails sticking out of the top “ceiling” piece to attach it to the two side pieces with the corresponding holes, like so:
Step Six: Attach the Tissue Paper.Take the frames back apart and lay them on a flat, cat-free surface. Lay white tissue paper over the space and cut to fit.
Using masking tape or blue painter’s tape, attach the tissue paper on all sides. I don’t worry about attaching it perfectly- when I inevitably rip through the tissue paper it’ll be easy to just tape more on. Just make sure the paper isn’t too wrinkly.
Once all three frames are covered in tissue paper, you can reassemble the tent and voila, you’re ready to take pictures!
Many people use a light tent with positioned lights (usually from the two sides and the top). I don’t have the necessary equipment, so I use the available lights in my kitchen/living room and the bounty of natural lighting coming in the windows. All of this light hits the box and is softened and made consistent within it. After that I use the camera’s white balance setting to make evenly lit photos.
My favorite thing about this light box design (besides the fact that it was dirt cheap- maybe $10) is that it stores flat and sets up in no time. It’s perfect for a miniaturist with limited space who wants to take good photos without a ton of hassle.