Make your own light tent out of a cardboard box and household items

Feb 7, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Make your own light tent out of a cardboard box and household items

Feb 7, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Light tents can be a wonderful thing. They’re certainly not going to get your best product photos, but they’re a great way to photograph a lot of things quickly. Once they’re set up, you just keep swapping items out as you shoot. Light tents aren’t always that expensive, either. You can pick them up online fairly inexpensively. But then you have to wait for them to show up.

So, what can you do to get shooting right now? Well, you can make your own. Like photographer Doug McKinlay does in this video. It’ll cost you virtually nothing to make, as you’ll probably have most of the required items in your home already. And, best of all, you won’t need to wait for the delivery guy.

YouTube video

So, all you need is…

  • A cardboard box. Any size is fine, but find one that fits what you want to put in it. The bigger it is, the softer the light will be
  • Translucent white cloth – It needs to be big enough to cover the holes you cut into your box
  • White poster board
  • A clamp light with a daylight balanced bulb
  • A flashlight for side lighting or light painting (optional)

The most difficult bit might be finding a suitable cardboard box of the size you need. If you don’t have one, Doug suggests that check your local supermarket or grocery store. Most of those will have one they can give you for free.

The first step is to flatten the box. Then mark and cut the holes in the sides and top of the box. Doug leaves a 2″ strip around each box. You’ll probably want to slide a chopping board inside the flattened box to prevent cutting through to the other side. It also stops you cutting into your kitchen counter, too!

Next you want to cut the white posterboard into 2″ strips. This covers up the exposed cardboard inside the box making it reflect light back towards the subject. Then, on the outside, cover the holes with the translucent white material. You could also use grease proof paper here, if you have some laying around in your kitchen. Then tape the whole thing together.

Doug also sweeps up the bottom and back of the inside of the box with another piece of poster board. This gives the “infinity cove” type look you might see on a full size set with a cyclorama. Except here, it’s scaled way down for small subjects.

For lighting, Doug uses just a single light mounted to a chair above the top opening of the box.

Personally, I’d an extra light to each side, too, with all three on dimmers, ideally. That way you have a little more control over the direction of the light, and can start to add a little shadow and depth back into your subjects. Or, I’d just use speedlights. But, the choice is yours.

We’ve covered a couple of other DIY light tents in the past, including this one which uses a bigger box, and a larger diffusion area over the top for a softer light. There’s also the slightly less free option of using PVC pipe to make your frame around which your material wraps. Going the PVC pipe route is a great solution if you plan to do this more than once or twice, as it’ll stand up to a little more use and punishment.

Whichever path you go to making your own light tent, they’re a good way to start learning with product photography. You’ll probably grow out of it pretty quick, though. But, they are also great for quickly getting a lot of things shot to stick up on eBay.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One response to “Make your own light tent out of a cardboard box and household items”

  1. Malcolm Keithley Avatar
    Malcolm Keithley

    Great DIY for shooting small objects to achieve top results. Thanks.