Make your own lightbox for product shots
Updated: Jun 19, 2020
Lightboxes are fun. They diffuse light evenly from all directions, allowing you to get a clean product shot against a white backdrop.
Here's a link to a lightbox available on B&H (It's not sponsored and I don't get any affiliate earnings or anything, it's just a link to show you what a lightbox looks like). This is what you might find at photography shops. It's not particularly expensive as far as photography equipment goes, but it's not cheap either. US$79 buys a lot of Shake Shack burgers.
Last Wednesday, a client asked if I could take some urgent product photos for a skin cream that her company produces. A magazine was going to feature her, and the product photos to be included in the feature had to be submitted by Friday. The shots would be plain product shots against a white background. I agreed to take some photos for her and here's one from the shoot:
Anti-acne skin cream from BSKIN
I don't own a lightbox but needed one for the shoot. With only 2-3 days before the deadline, and the COVID-19 lockdown still mostly in effect, I couldn't head out to buy a lightbox and didn't have time to wait for an online delivery to arrive. But I knew that I had a cardboard box and some printing paper lying around, and I'm comfortable enough with manipulating light that I was sure I could recreate the effects of a commercially-available lightbox with the materials available. (If you need a starting point for thinking about and understanding light in the context of photography, here's a primer.)
Making a lightbox is easy and takes all of 10 minutes. You need: a cardboard box, some white printing paper, tape, and scissors or a utility knife.
Step 1: Get cardboard box
Step 2: Cut all the flaps off the top of the box
Step 3: Cut a large rectangular hole in the left side of the box.
Step 4: Cut a large rectangular hole in the right side of the box. Both holes should roughly mirror each other in size and position.
Step 5: Creating the side diffusion panels: Tape white printing paper over both rectangular holes. The white paper will diffuse incoming light.
Step 6: Cut out the front side. You will shoot through this side.
Step 7: Creating the backdrop: Tape some white printing paper to the top edge of the back side (this is the top of the backdrop). Tape the bottom of the printing paper to the inside base of the box, somewhere close to the front. Make sure there is enough paper that your backdrop curves gently (you can tape paper together if your piece of paper is too short). The gentle curve is important as it helps prevent any edges from appearing in the photo and gives you that seamless "empty" look.
That's it, you're done with making the lightbox. It should look something like this:
Taping paper to the sides of the box
Notice the curve of the paper backdrop on the inside of the box
It doesn't look pretty but it gets the job done.
To light it, put a flash on either side of the box, and then put a big diffused light around 45 degrees front-top.
The paper panels on the sides act as diffusers for the flashes, scattering the light and creating nice soft shadows from the sides.
The big diffused light illuminates the front and top sides of the products. I used a 65cm softbox for this but any big diffused light source will do, including shooting a flash through a large piece of paper, white umbrella, or diffuser panel.
Make adjustments to the flashes/strobes according to how you'd like to light the items. Keep in mind that if you're lighting a white object against a white backdrop, you might need to adjust the light levels to get better separation of the product from the background.
Hope this was helpful and have fun making your own lightbox!
If you find these tips useful, please consider sharing your photos with the community by tagging #dharmaportraits on your Instagram photos - I'd love to see how you're using these tips to create beautiful photos.