I shoot a lot of still life and product photography, where a good light source is essential.

On-camera flashes are almost useless, even bounced off the ceiling. Off-camera flashes and triggering systems are expensive. Natural light is unpredictable, uncontrollable and often unavailable. With the advent of cheap, low-power bulbs (‘Compact Fluorescent’, ‘CFL’, or ‘energy saving’ bulbs), continuous — as opposed to flash — studio lighting has become quite affordable, but a two lamp system with tripods will still set you back £200-300.

So I thought I’d make my own lamp using cheap CFL bulbs you can get from any DIY store or supermarket. These aren’t the more expensive ‘daylight’ bulbs that aim to match the white balance of natural light, but they’re a lot cheaper and can be swapped out for daylight bulbs at a later date.

For the full background on this project, see my previous version .

I wanted to try another one because one light just isn't enough, and I thought I could improve on my previous design. This version has a switch on the cord so it's easier to control. It is white inside rather than being lined with foil, which reduces the amount of conductive metal (and therefore risk of electrocution). It has proper fixtures for the perspex screen which make it secure, but still removable. And it's black, which makes it less prone to showing up as a reflection in my shots, and looks cooler.

For all the original photos, see my flickr set here .

Functional overview
Essentially, this lamp consists of 4 × 15W energy saver bulbs (about 75W each equivalent in tungsten bulbs), wired in parallel and enclosed in a reflective box with diffusion screen.

Step 1: Time and materials

Time required

1 hour to source materials
3 hours to wire lamp holders
2 hours to make holding panel and attach electrical components
1 hour to cut and sand exterior panels
2 hours to assemble panels
2 hours to paint and finish up


4 × CFL lightbulbs (I used Sylvania 15W bulbs, natural daylight bulbs would be better)
4 × lamp holders (available from any decent electrical supplies merchant, bayonet or screw fitting to match your bulbs)
5m dual core cable
Buy 1m more cable than you need to cut extra pieces for lamp holders and parallel wiring
Inline switch
Cable clamps
Terminal strip

1/8" MDF or wood (I bought a piece about 1m square, with a white finish on one side, normally sold for bath panels or the insides of cupboards)
3/4" Wood beading (I used about 3m, painted white)
Translucent acrylic plastic ("Perspex")
PVA wood glue
Countersunk 3/4" screws (about 50 - this project eats screws!)

Wood saw
Hack saw (useful for cutting beading)
Wood drill bits
Adjustable hole saw drill bit or spade bit
Countersink drill bit
Coarse and fine sandpapers 
Your photos, project, and instructable are all so elegant! This is so well written-up! The photos are all professional! The design is so simple and beautiful as well. Great Job!
Hey, thanks for the lovely comment!
This is exactly what I need! I just published a how-to piece and hate the intro photo because we haven't had sunlight for DAYS, and the pic is very grainy. I'm gonna make me two of these light boxes. THANKS. You're a gold mine.
I know how you feel. I made one and was disappointed with the quality of my how-to shots. So it was great to have the first light to shoot the second. And even better to have two lights to shoot my next project. Though you can see from the last photo in this Instructable (of a rucksack that I made) that for bigger projects, you really need 4 lights! It never ends... :)
Beautiful final product. It would be just as lovely sitting on a dresser or bookshelf and working as a night light or mood lighting element. I'm working on plans for something that can function as an illustration lightbox (lies flat/angled for a lit drawing surface) as well as a photography lightbox (some sort of support to easily prop it up vertically). I am definitely looking closely at your work here for inspiration. Thanks for the great instructable.
Great. Glad you like it. I have seen a kitchen table built like this - but much larger - so it could definitely be adapted in all sorts of ways. Hope to see a future instructable of yours!<br><br>Thanks,<br>Andrew
Great Instructable! I was just wondering if it is possible to use a dimmer switch with this. Would it work with these lightbulbs?
Good question. It all depends on the bulbs. You can buy special dimmable energy saving bulbs, but they are a lot more expensive than the standard kind, in the UK at least.<br> <br> I wouldn't use tungsten bulbs (which are all dimmable by nature) in this design, because they would generate too much heat, and draw too much power.<br> <br> I actually have two of these boxes now, one fitted with lower wattage bulbs, so by arranging the boxes accordingly, I can get pretty good control over the amount of light cast.<br> <br> Hope that helps,<br> Andrew

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