Friday, January 29, 2010

How to Make Your Own Lightbox Tutorial!


Just letting everyone know that I have a backlog of emails and MUA PMs that I'm working through and I hope to clear out my inbox by next Monday. I am so sorry if I haven't responded yet to your messages!

Also... I am trying a bit harder to keep up with comments. Safari hates the commenting system Blogger uses so I end up losing comments... and then end up being too frustrated to retype them. (Lame excuse, I know.) I will answer everything eventually, if very slowly. :(

And because mKat asked about my lightbox. Here it is! In all its amateur handmade glory.

My SO bought the materials to make it for me as an anniversary-of-our-meeting present back in December. Why? Because he knew it was hard for me to get swatching done in the winter! I'm on campus all day and by the time I get home, it's already dark. Flash swatch photos can be extremely color-inaccurate and the lighting in our apartment is insufficient to take good photos without flash. So to make my life easier, he wanted to build me a lightbox. (He thought of buying me one but they are too expensive.)

He went to Michael's, an arts and crafts chain, and bought the following materials:
  • Five 20x30 white foam core boards
  • Clear packaging tape
  • Four cheap clip-on lamps (though we ended up only using two) like these:
  • Four 100 watt (1750 lumens) EcoSmart True Color (compact fluorescent) simulated daylight lightbulbs like these:

  • You will also need a ruler, a pencil and a box-cutter.
n.b. Technically, any "daylight" bulb is supposed to be able to work but the first bulbs the SO bought (full-spectrum normal bulbs found at drugstores) were too yellow. The light needs to be white.

How to construct a cheapie-but-workable lightbox:
  • Decide how big you want your lightbox to be. Originally, my SO made it 20" x 20" x 20" which was ginormous for taking pictures of my nails. The lightbox I'm using now is the lightbox he made... except I took it apart and made it smaller. (And more lopsided. Not purposefully. His lightbox was much prettier before I redid it.) The dimensions of mine are 17" x 17" x 17".
  • Very lightly in pencil, outline the size you want your lightbox to be on your five foam core boards. Each piece should be the same size: in my case, 17" x 17".
  • Use the box-cutter to cut out the pieces, preferably using the ruler as a guide (I freehanded this and it was baaad). Be sure to do this on a surface that you are willing to destroy. I put down a couple of pieces of old cardboard on the carpeted floor underneath the foam core boards before I started cutting.
  • Tape the foam core boards together in the shape of a box (that's missing a side, obviously). Make sure that there's no gap between the boards that could let in light. If you are a sloppy cutter like me, this might be impossible. Just do your best. A few small gaps won't ruin the whole project. :) I wish I could offer better advice on how to do this step effectively. It took my SO the longest when he did it. It took me the longest when I redid it.
  • Find a place for the lightbox to live. Once you attach the lamps, it's a bit of a pain to move around.
  • Clip the lamps on either side of the box (you can use all four or just two, depending on the size of the box): apparently, the objective is to try to fill the box evenly with light rather than concentrating the light on a certain location within the box. I kind of ignore that and shift the lights around depending on what I'm lighting (very easy to do with adjustable clip-on lamps).
Lights off!

Lights on!

You can be totally done and happy with this... or if you're like me and think the thing's still too big and bulky, you can choose to recess the lights a bit by cutting out a rectangular section of two sides of the board.


If you know in advance you want to do this, do all the cutting in the beginning of the process rather than cutting out these rectangles out of a completed lightbox. Why? Because you might get something like this:


Unevenly cut rectangles (in addition to a lopsided box). Pretty ugly!

I do feel honor-bound to tell you that you might still need to fiddle with one or two camera settings to get a photo whose colors look true to life. My camera's "Smart Auto" function is kinda dumb: it takes pristine photos in non-ideal light and non-ideal photos in pristine light. When taking photos using my lightbox, I get around this annoying tendency of my camera by changing the EV (exposure value) to +0.3, which brightens the photos. I still like taking natural daylight photos when I get the chance -- especially because natural light is more forgiving on my often-dry cuticles -- but I'm now pretty comfortable taking photos of the following types of polishes using my lightbox:
  • Most cremes and jellies, including vampies, pastels and neons (except oranges and red-leaning purples, which are hard for me to capture regardless of light)
  • Most shimmers (except for light shimmers in a light base)
  • Most metallics, pearls, foils and frost
  • Single-colored glitters (like all gold, or all purple)
I still however leave photos of duochromes, holographics, flakies and multi-colored glitters to natural daylight. Any polish that is best shown with light bouncing off of it in different ways (and usually needs video to show off its awesomeness), I prefer to swatch in sunlight.

One day, I'll learn how to use a camera (and about the manipulation of color and light) for real but for now, I get pretty decent pics this way so... camera-color-and-light-ignorant I shall remain.

Anyway, I hope this satisfied at least mKat's curiosity. :)



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10 comments:

Toxin said...

Wow! Thats one funky home-made lightbox. Well done! I'm also dying to hear the results of the contest. Any word as to when you'll all make a decision?

Lucy said...

Very helpful, I was debating about lightboxes yesterday - this may save me some pennies!

gildedangel said...

That is so cool, I might do that! But then again I am quite lazy...

Michèle said...

Thanks for posting this! I'm contemplating either buying or making one, since the weather sucks around here. If I decide the DIY option I'll def take a look at this post again!

Kelly/PlaneBeauty said...

Great idea, I really need to make myself a light box. Not very good at making things though haha

mKat said...

This is great... and so very, very helpful. Thanks!

I have been having my own difficulties getting polish colours that are true to life. I do not typically go outside to photograph my hands (partially because I'm always doing my nails at night and partially because it's been so grey out for the past few months, being outside wouldn't accomplish much). A lightbox would be a tremendous help to me!

Like you though, I have an awful lot to learn about photography. Thanks so much for this!

Rebecca said...

Wow, ths was a great post! I might attempt this :D

flinty said...

Toxin: contest ends at the end of this month and we'll probably take a week or so to make the decision. :)

Lucy: it's definitely worth it if you only have time to swatch at night!

gildedangel: me too but it was more work to swatch during the day... :)

michele: I'm pretty lucky with the weather here but I can't help the shorter winter days... :(

kelly: it's so easy, give it a shot! :)

mKat: I've been trying to read up on photography but I always get distracted. I feel like I REALLY should learn how to take photos.

Rebecca: I hope it's helpful!

ida-pie said...

I think 6000 K (Kelvin) is supposed to be "daylight"

pkbmum said...

I just found this tutorial on making a light box. THis is great. But could you show how you use it to photograph your hands? I am trying to see how/where you put your hand/s and then shoot? Thanks. xx

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