Introduction: Plastic Light Tent - the Light Kennel

I live in Victoria Australia, have been photographing the gradual recovery of the forest after the fires in February this year. This involves photographing insects, small plants, and fungi as they emerge from the ash beds. When taking photos in strong sunlight it is best to have a diffuser of some sort to even out harsh shadows and over blown highlights. Many photographers use fabric tents and screens:
But in the woods these fabric tents soon get wet and dirty (particularly in ash beds).

Recently I saw some people had made light diffusers out of plastic containers:

I realized that plastic was an excellent solution to my problem. Plastic would get not be effected by moisture and is easy to clean; but I needed something bigger than a bucket. I decided to adapt a plastic storage box. Ordinary plastic lacked the right diffusion so I modified the translucency with sandpaper.
The Light Kennel was born.................

Step 1: Materials and Tools

What you will need:


White transparent or translucent polyethylene box pref with lid; you choose the size but it should be deep; and as uniform as possible on the bottom and sides.(Anything that will cast a shadow eg wheels/rollers is not a good idea)

Masking tape


Electric drill

Hole saw a bit bigger than your camera lens assembly

Small drill for pilot holes to guide hole saw

Dremel (Dremel clone, or aviation snips and/or nibbler)

Medium coarse (~80 grit) sandpaper and block or pref. sponge sanding blocks

Stanley Knife or large box ripper for trimming

You might find a half-round file handy for smoothing the plastic

Sharp pen that will mark masking tape

Ruler (or straight edge and measuring tape)

Step 2: Box Selection

I started with deep plastic storage boxes, these come in many sizes and are relatively cheap. They also range in transparency depending on the type of plastic used. Usually the more transparent the plastic the more brittle it is. Reasonable transparency is best for this design because the diffusion that comes from the sanding gives a better result.

You wont need the lid of the box unless you want to make a removable patch for the camera port so you can still use the box for storage or carrying.

Step 3: Sanding the Interior of the Box

I used the 80 grit sandpaper to finely abrade the inside of the more transparent box on all four sides and the bottom (the top when in use). If you know someone with a sandblaster this might do a better job than the sandpaper technique described here but I have not tried it.

Originally I chose to abrade the inside of the box, not the outside, so it would stay cleaner. If the roughened surface is on the outside it quickly picks up hand prints and dirt and the job just doesn’t look as nice. I am now sure, after making the first one, that abrading the inside is also better for the best light diffusion.

Start by wrapping the sandpaper around a soft round object the right size to do the inside corners; do right around the bottom and from the bottom to the top. If you use a sponge sanding block you can bend it or push the corner of the block into the corners of the box.

Use long straight strokes in one direction; only when you have done one direction completely go at right angles to the first stroke to finish. This last step will involve some twisting of the sandpaper in the corners of the box.

After you have done all the corners you can start on the sides. Use sandpaper on a block or a sponge sanding block to sand the inside faces of the box on all four sides and the bottom. Take care to make long straight strokes first vertically then horizontally in one direction only – it gives a better finish.

The idea is to make the plastic evenly translucent; check your sanding by holding the box up to the light. Go slowly and check often; try to get the effect as even as possible.

IT DOES NOT TAKE LONG so don’t overdo it.

Step 4: Cutting the Camera Port

Ultimately where you put the camera port comes down to a matter of choice. You could do what
did and make a round hole in the bottom (top) of the box; this would restrict you too downward images though. For my current work shooting straight down is very rare; so I decided on a wide slot shaped port running down the side of the box would be most useful.I guess I could have also cut a hole in the bottom (top) as well, but this would allow direct light to come in if the camera was not in that position and in the field I didn’t want the extra complexity of a separate cover for the hole. Nevertheless the sandpaper roughened box is so good a performer and very convenient to use, I may make a downward box for indoor work later on.

I chose to make my slot in one of the two smaller sides to provide the biggest possible depth of field from the camera.

Cover the selected area with masking tape and mark out and cut the port using a hole-saw at each end and a Dremel (or what-ever) to cut the straight lines as before when cutting the lid. Make the port a generous fit for your camera so you can move the camera around easily to get the best shot.

(I also made a second light kennel without the sanding using a softer more opaque plastic box. You will see a comparison at the end.)

Now remove all the masking tape, clean up and give the box a test.

Step 5: Testing the Boxes

I didn't have time for an expedition to do some field testing. I set up a tennis ball and a mandarin orange on a white painted cast metal table. The sun was strong and low in the sky; late afternoon.

I did a quick series of test images - see below.

These shots are straight from the camera; no post processing. I let the edge of the light kennel get in the picture so you can see how it looks but I would normally exclude it from the shot. I left my Panasonic FZ50 on auto to see what it would do; the settings it chose are as follows:

No kennel 1/400 sec, F8

Un-roughened Kennel 1/500 sec, F7.1

Roughened kennel 1/400 sec, F7.1

all at ISO 100.

This is not really much of a difference from shot to shot so the camera was seeing pretty much the same amount of light.
(Talk about speed and convenience! The entire photo-shoot for these experimental shots took less than two minutes and I always shoot multiple shots.)

The sandpaper roughened version is a real shadow thief; perhaps too flat for some work. Nevertheless you can use the principles outlined above to make a light kennel with the right amount of diffusion to suit your particular requirements.

One last option; you can make a drop-in inside patch for the port from scrap plastic or ply. This allows you to use the box to safely hold a few light soft things like a plastic ground sheet.

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