Introduction: ~$20 Portable Lightbox for Photography

Hi there! This project came about from my hobby of collecting and trading vintage film cameras online. I needed a more professional-looking method of taking photos for my ads. I saw a couple of different 'ibles here doing roughly the same thing, but I had a particular requirement: I wanted mine to pack up easily, as I live in a dorm and have to store my stuff over the summer. Credit for the original idea goes to Tommy Jordan, the guy that shot his daughters laptop. The original posting is here, I just improved upon it.

This setup could be used for anything from macro photography to online inventory photos. I give the measurements for my version, which is about 18" by 18", but you can scale it up or down however you'd like. The whole shebang can be made for between $20 and $25, depending on if you already have the tools and some of the materials. It also takes only a few hours to make. I actually took about 9 hours to build it originally, but that's because I had to redesign it several times before I was happy with it. This instructable only covers the box itself, the lighting is up to you. I used my two incandescent desk lamps and a vivitar 283 flash, and was quite happy with the results. Also, I know it looks pretty ugly in the photos. I'm not very good with scissors.

Addendum: I apologize for the weird black spots all over a bunch of the photos. I took my D40 camping recently and the sensor got a good bit of dust on it and it is greatly affecting the pictures. I managed to manually clean it about 3/4 of the way through the instructable.

Step 1: Step 1: Materials & Tools

Tape Measure 
Hacksaw or PVC cutter (not pictured, I got mine cut at the store)
Common office stapler 
Exacto  knife or utility knife.
Duct tape

Now: Materials and cost

11x 16" lengths of 1/2" PVC pipe: $2.29 for a 10ft section at Ace Hardware, and they'll usually cut it to size in the store
-Note: You could technically get away with using 10 sections, which would make the joints a little bit cheaper, but at the cost of making the frame a lot more flimsy. 
2x 90 degree 1/2" PVC joints: $1.29 apiece 
6x 1/2" PVC three-sided corner joints(Don't remember the exact name): ~$1.89 apiece 
1 24" set of white sticky back velcro: about ~$3 or $4 at Wal-Mart
1 20" x 30" Elmers Foam Board: ~$4 at Wal-Mart, may have been cheaper, I can't remember
1 70" x 71" Frosted Shower Curtain: $2.14 at Wal-Mart

Step 2: Step 2: Assemble the Frame!

Now, we can start off. I made my pipes 16", because that was the largest size that would be able to fit on the bench where I do most of my close-up work. If I had more space, I probably would have made it two feet wide on all sides.

Start off with the bottom of the frame. The two 90 degree joints will go in the front. Two of the three-pronged joints will go in the back. You should therefore use three sections of pipe to join these together. If I did it over again, I would use the three-sided corner joints in the front instead, but I originally had not planned on having a solid base. I'll cover this later. Also, adding three sided corner joints would have cost me and extra $2 or so.
Next, add the uprights, and then the top. The pictures are pretty self-explanatory. Do not use PVC glue on the joints, otherwise you will not be able to break down the box and store it, which was one of my primary goals of this project.

Step 3: Step 3: Add Reflective Backgrounds

Now, the problem with just using the shower curtain for the box is that the color of whatever is behind it will bleed through. Now, this would not  be a problem if I were using it on top of a white carpet, but I have it setup on top of a plywood workbench with a orange back. To that end, I installed a removable reflective layer for the bottom and backside of the box to keep the background as neutral as possible. It also doubles as a way to slightly reinforce the frame, and to set whatever object you're photographing on top of. 

Step 1: Cut the foamboard  into four pieces
I forgot to photograph the second part of this step, but you need to cut the board into two large squarish pieces, and two thin rectangles. Dimensions are as follows:
2 17.5" x 15" pieces
2 2.5" x 15" pieces
This is pretty easy to do. Just measure 2.5" from the top of the long side, and cut once across. Then cut straight down the middle, 15" from either side.

Next, you will take the two skinny pieces and tape them to the short sides of one of the two large pieces. Leave about 1/4" gap between the pieces to act as a hinge. This will be the back piece. The flanges are to prevent the background from bleeding through, as the light will be least bright near the back edge. (See picture #4)

Now, here is where the velcro will first come into play. The velcro will hold the posterboard in place, and prevent it from shifting or falling over. You will need four 1.5" long pieces. This is kind of hard to explain in words, so please refer to the photos. Place them on the left and right pipes of both the bottom and back, right next to the joint pieces(see pictures). It doesn't really matter whether you put the hook or loop side on the pipes, but I'd suggest using the hooks for the bottom pipes, and the loops for the backdrop (or vis-versa), just to prevent getting the two foam pieces mixed up. Now place the matching pieces on the foamboard, and attach. I really shouldn't have to explain that, but you never know.

Step 4: Step 4: Add the Side Diffusers

Now remember that shower curtain? This is where you get to slice it up. You will need to cut it into two pieces. They both need to be roughly 50 x 20. This step covers the sides, the next covers the top, rear, and base. 

Once you've cut the curtain, you'll need to install more velcro, in order to attach it to the frame. One note, the regular adhesive on the back will not attach very well to the curtain, so I used a desk stapler to secure the patches. Rather than go off measurements between the patches of velcro, which really vary depending on how tight or loose you want your curtain, it's easier to just go from one side to the next. Just like with the foam board, place two patches of velcro on the left and right pipes up top.

I also put one patch of velcro on each of the front posts, in order to have the curtain wrap around, and prevent undiffused light from bleeding through from the front. Just like with the posterboard, each of these pieces should be 1.5" long. Refer to the pictures for a little bit better explanation. Also, check out the notes on the photos.

Step 5: Step 5: the Backdrop/drape

Yey! We're almost done! Now, the last part is pretty simple. You only need two patches of velcro for this one. They will go on the frontmost pipe of the top side of the frame. The pictures explain it pretty well. Pull the curtain between the backdrop foamboard and the rear top pipe. Now wrap the upper 1/3 of the curtain piece over the top, and secure it to the frontmost post on top with velcro. I find I get better results by putting the back piece on top of the sides, as it hides the edges better.

Step 6: Finishing Up!

Now, you are completely done getting your lightbox constructed. You should have lights set up on the right and left side, and preferably on top, also. Make sure they are all using the same kind of bulbs, as if you mix fluorescent and incandescent sources, you'll get a weird difference in color in different parts of the photo. I used two incandescent 40w bulbs from my desk lamps, and a vivitar 283 flash from the front. 

Now get out there and make some awesome photos!