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Thursday, August 01, 2013

DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography

DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
I can barely tell one end of a camera from the other, and hate getting behind it. Which isn't very helpful for a beauty blogger. I can't be bothered to frame a photo, get it set in natural light and all that rigmarole, so I just point, shoot and leave. A colleague recently told me my problem was bad lighting, especially indoors, and that a photography tent would help quite a bit.
A light tent, it turns out, costs around $100, so I decided to make my own crude, inexpensive light tent without spending a penny, though I'll eventually have to confess to my family that I'm the one who used up every bottle of glue and inch of tape in the house. And if you have been reading my Facebook page, you'll know I didn't have much glue to start with after my niece presumed the gluesticks were deodorant/perfume and applied it all liberally over herself when no one was looking.
The beauty of this is that even if you are, like me, the swot who failed art, craft and needlework (I went to an all-girls' convent school), you can still make a usable light tent. Here's how.

What you need to make your own light box for photography:


A cardboard carton, large enough to hold an average-sized beauty product: I suggest the box your microwave came in. Or a box that used to hold an outdated desktop PC monitor. Or a decent printer-cum-fax machine. See that it is sturdy and not creased and bent out of shape.
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
Bristol board, card paper, chart paper: Three or four large sheets. This is thick paper used to make greeting cards. I used the first three sheets of a thick 2013 calendar. This is a good idea because as the months go by, I'll have more sheets. Clever recycling there, if I say so myself.
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
Plain white paper: To correct any errors or fill gaps. I used paper printed on one side.
White cloth: Muslin, thin cotton, a couple of old undershirts, camisoles, whatever. As long as it is thin and white and has no design. People from India can raid their husbands'/fathers'/grandfathers'/brothers' wardrobes and filch a dhoti - the men will never know.
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
This is how thin my cloth is
Glue: Oodles. I began with a stick and used up quite a lot more.
Clear tape: A few yards, literally.
Scissors: One pair. Or more, if you keep forgetting where you left them.
Light: Ideally, a table lamp. A flashlight would suffice in a jiffy, provided it emits white and not yellow light.
Marker pen: As many as scissors.
Points to note while gathering the above: Your Bristol board, paper and cloth have to be the same shade of white. Do not pick blueish paper, off-white cloth and greyish-white card paper. You can get away with some shade difference in a corner or two, as you will see below, but for most part, keep them similar.
Got everything? Good. Now.
1. Tear or cut off the flaps from the top end of the box and even out the edges.
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
2. Mark a square (or rectangle) inside each side of the box, leaving at least a 2'' gap from the edges. See picture.
3. Cut out the squares like in the picture. This can be a painful process. Never mind if they're not perfectly straight. We aren't sculpting out darn Adonis here. You should now be left with a cube (or cuboid) open at the top, closed at the bottom, and with four framed sides. If not, go get another box and start again.
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
4. Cut the Bristol board into strips that measure just a little more than the edges of your frames on the box (see pictures).
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
5. With enough glue and sellotape to cover a small country, line the inside of your box with the Bristol board strips - edges of the sides and then the bottom with a larger piece of board.
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photographyDIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
6. Fill in any gaps with thin strips
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
7. Now get to the cloth. Cut it out into three pieces to cover three sides of the box, over and above the edges.
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
8. Cut out another piece of cloth large enough to completely cover the top. Do not affix this yet.
9. First affix the three pieces of cloth to three sides of the box with glue-and-tape/staples/adhesive of your choice. Pull the cloth over the frame as tightly as you can without bending the cardboard. Your box should now be closed on three sides by the cloth and open on one side. (Bottom also closed and top open)
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
10. Take the largest Bristol board/chart paper. Affix one end of the paper to the top edge OPPOSITE the side without the cloth i.e., opposite the open side of the box.
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
11. Affix the other end to the bottom of the box, below the open edge, like in the picture. The paper must have a slight bend, and not be creased.
12. Now take the last piece of cloth and cover the top of the box tightly, fixing it firmly on all four sides. See picture.
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
13. Time to get out your table lamp. Foldable is ideal.
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
14. The light should be right above the cloth on the top of the box, so the inside of the box is brightly illuminated. Edit: Shikha has just told me you can add more sources of light, to either side of the box outside the cloth - all white light, of course - for greater illumination, to diffuse the light more and avoid shadows.
DIY: How to make a light box or tent for beauty photography
15. Voila. Now place your palette/polish/beauty product on the Bristol board inside the box, turn on the light and snap away.
Both these photographs were taken with a Canon 500D on auto-without-flash mode, indoors. Can you guess which went into the light tent and which remained outside? Both are unedited and sans watermark.
Answer: The one to the right. It is brighter and sharper - albeit marginally - than the first one. Yes, I need practice and more skills before my photos are decent; not the light tent's fault. The world's best pair of shoes isn't going to make me as fast as Usain Bolt overnight.
I'm sure you can do a lot better than that with a light tent!

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