Introduction: Collapsible Light Box for Those Short on Space and Cash

I decided to take on the challenge of creating an affordable, collapsible light box for people who may be short on space as well as cash. The problem I found with many of the affordable foam core light boxes is that every time you want to take it down you risk having the tape rip the walls apart. That in combination with the potentially frustrating assembly as one fumbles with the foam core like a house of cards lead me to the idea of a dove-tail like joint for the box.

Step 1:

This light box design cost about $4 for the foam core and another $1 for the poster board that I use to create a seamless background. It's quick and easy to assemble, tear down, and store away. I still need to find brighter lighting, I used two dim desk lamps to test, but it definitely has potential!

Step 2: Cut Into 20"X20" Panels

First I cut the foam core into 20"X20" panels. I then labeled each panel according to it's location on the box to keep myself from getting confused.

After I labeled my 4 sides I measured a 1" thick margin where each joint connected. Then I laid out the panels according to where they connected to the 'back' panel. Imagine the sides and top folding up at each joint and you can visualize how the box will connect.

Step 3: Label Panels and Draw Tabs

With the joints touching I measured out 3" notches and drew my line across both panels to ensure that everything would fit together nicely. For someone who is less than precise when it comes to measuring, this is a great technique to ensure a good fit. I then shaded in the notches that I wanted to cut out with my exacto knife. I did this to keep from cutting out the wrong notch accidentally.

Step 4: Check to Make Sure Shaded Tabs Line Up With Non Shaded

By tilting your panel up you can see where the notches fit into each other. The white ones, or tabs will fit into the shaded ones, the ones I cut out.

Step 5: Cut Out Shaded Boxes to Create Tabs

Once you cut out the shaded boxes to create your notches, you should be able to easily assemble the light box.

Step 6: Admire Your Craftsmanship

Here's the light box assembled. This will create 3 nice white surfaces to bounce light off of to create a nice even light source for product photography. The final step is adding a strip of poster board to create a seamless backdrop for the product. Since the light box is 20" wide with a 1" margin on each side I needed to cut my poster board to be 18" wide.

Step 7: Use Posterboard to Create Seamless Background

Again, I did not want to use tape which could tear the box and the poster board, so I cut notches into the poster that fit into the tabs on the 'back' panel. I set the poster's notches into the 'back' panels, then laid the 'top' panel on top of it to hold it in place. It worked out great.

Step 8: Bounce Light Off the Walls of the Box to Illuminate Subject

Here are the 2 dim desk lamps I used to test the setup. I'd recommend getting a couple of those silver dome lamps with daylight bulbs to give brighter, better light. Here's a comparison of the light box set up vs. the flash on my camera.

Step 9: Compare Light Box Vs. Flash Photos

As you can see, the flash blows out the subject when you try to get close to it and creates a harsh shadow. It also flattens the image because the light source is only coming from one location straight on. The light box feels nice and soft and helps show off the contours of the subject by providing light from multiple angles.

Step 10: Take Apart and Store for Later Use

Once I finished with the light box you simply pulled it apart and all of the panels lay nice and flat so that you can store it easily til the next use!

Thanks for checking out this tut. I'd love to see attempts and improvements! If you try it out send me your results by commenting on my post here:

Step 11: Better Lighting and Colored Fabric

Here is my new and improved light box photo. I found that my little desk lights weren't quite bright enough to show off my subject matter, so I got some clip lights and put in a daylight bulb so that all the colors were as true as could be. I also made sure to white balance my camera before shooting my subject and I added a nice patterned fabric beneath to make it pop.

Step 12: Better Lighting

The angle wasn't quite right when I clipped my lights to the sides of the box, but I didn't have any special light stands to fasten my lights to. To serve as stands, I tried clipping the lights to a couple bookends and it worked perfectly. They were easy to maneuver to get the lighting just right.