The best 52 cents you’ll spend in photography

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[Guest post by SPS Team member extraordinaire, Josh Ryder]

If you’re like me you’re always on the hunt for that next piece of gear to push your photos to the next level.

That usually means you’ve also got someone rolling their eyes at you when a new item hits your Amazon wishlist.

That’s exactly why our project today is such a great fit for everyone- introducing the DIY Light Box! Total investment: less than a dollar! (it’s a win for everyone)


First things first: What is a Light Box, and why do I need one?

A Light Box is simply anything that provides a clean background, good lighting, and light diffusion for product photography. It’s probably better if I just give you a look at my “professional” rig:

That’s right, I put my Light Box together with a cardboard box, white posterboard, and tissue paper. Total investment: a price that everyone can live with.

The next question is: Why would I need this?

If you do go the DIY route with this project the total investment is nearly nothing and will teach you if this a helpful tool for your photographic journey. The applications for a Light Box are broader than you may think.

A clean background is helpful for product photography if you have a Etsy or online shop.

Have a food blog? A Light Box helps your food to be the star of the show.

A Light Box can also capture your littles’ work of art or just about anything that you’d like to capture the memory of. 

It can also be a helpful step to learn some basics before you make the jump to full-scale seamless paper backgrounds.

But I’m getting ahead of myself: let’s get this product going.

For this project you’ll need:

  • Cardboard Box
  • White Posterboard
  • Box Cutter (for goodness sake, be careful)
  • Tissue Paper
  • (that’s it! I was serious about the 52 cent investment)

Begin by cutting the flaps off the top of the box, this will become the side of the box that you’ll shoot into. Once you’ve got those flaps off, you can dispose of those or paste some spare posterboard onto them for a free mini-reflector (Bonus!).

Now, rotate your box so that you’re looking into the box at what used to be the bottom. As if by magic, it’s now become the back of your Light Box. Cut “windows” into the new top and sides of the Light Box. This allows light to enter into the box. I measured an inch-ish from the sides all around the area I was cutting out. Now’s a good time to recount those fingers, still got all ten? Great.

Because I’m frequently adding flash to my Light Box I add tissue paper over these “windows” to diffuse the light. Don’t tell, but I resourced my wife’s craft closet for white tissue paper. After that, press your posterboard into the back of the cardboard box, creating an “infinite bend”. I added tape to secure the posterboard on my box. If your posterboard comes out the front you can either trim to fit, or leave it as you might enjoy the extra real estate to shoot with. And after that, step back and enjoy your brand-new Light Box! You’re a real masterclass photog now!

(Pro Tip: I used white posterboard for my Light Box, but you could just as easily use a different color. Maybe even black to capture a completely different feel or make lighter foods pop with contrast. However, this would incur a second 52 cent investment.)

(Ultra Pro Tip: Your new Light Box is completely portable. Walk it around to find the right light as it changes through the day. I’ve found great afternoon light in my open doorway, awesome golden light on my transformer box next to my driveway, and off-camera-flash shoots when I need a bit more dynamic look. Experiment! You’ll be surprised at the uses that your new project will open up)

I’d love to see your progress with this project and what you decided to shoot with this new tool. Tag me with your shots either on Facebook or Instagram (@joshuaryder)!

Thanks a bunch for putting this together, Josh!

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1 thought on “The best 52 cents you’ll spend in photography”

  1. I really love this idea, who would have thought with just a tiny investment, so many new avenues open up. Would love to hear more of these little tidbits and gems!

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