Friday, June 29, 2012

DIY: Make your own lightbox

A special post is coming to you today from "Broju Studios" (that's Andy)!  A few weeks ago, he made me my very own lightbox! 

So without further ado, here's Andy's How-To. 

If you want to know how to make this read on...

Lightboxes serve a few purposes.  For one, they provide a convenient location to focus a lot of light.  They also diffuse that light to eliminate shadows.  Lightboxes also provide consistency among photographs.

There are many different ideas out on the web on how to make one of these.  None of which was hard enough to make for me.  In order to overcomplicate things I decided to go above the internet standard cardboard box design.  I also realized at the end of this project that there is a reason why the cardboard box design is popular aside from the ease of its production: cost.  This job below cost me about 80 bucks, so beware.

What do you need to produce this box?  I decided the construction would be 1x2 pine.  I dug through the Menards stock of "fine" quality stock and tried to find the straightest I could.  I ended up buying 6' lengths, since I wanted my box to be 2'x2'x2'.  Why that size?  That was what management (Boju Wife) wanted in order to shoot all of her desired objects.

I am not much of an expert woodworker and despite my desire to make this as complicated as possible I lack the equipment to make the joints very complex from a wood standpoint.  So I went the easy, flexible route: corner braces available in the hardware section of any home improvement store.  Why the felt pads?  Because my design was going to require the braces to be on the bottom of the frame, which would scratch up the wife's Christmas present from a few years ago- her craft table.

Now the lynchpin of the whole operation- the lights.  These lights below will reflect the light into the box, and since they have clamps will be easy to mount.  I looked around for something with a better clamp or construction (the ball joint is quite cost reduced on these, some lame knurled job) but these seemed to be the big box standard.  They will have to do and are cheaper than the light bulbs that go in them, hard to argue with that price. 

The lightbulbs below I ended up taking back.  For a 2'x2'x2' box 65W bulbs were simply not bright enough.  We got daylight bulbs, but I suppose you can get whatever color temperature you want and correct for it in the camera white balance.

Time to start putting this thing together.  I figured it would be nice to have 45 degree ends that mated up to each other at the corners.  On my first attempt at this, I tried marking the long edge with a 45 degree angle.  Then I cut each piece individually.  I was not satisfied with how the pieces fit together.  Note, all I have is a circular saw so there are certainly better tools such as a miter saw that would have made it easier.

How can I get nice fitup of the corners with only a circular saw?  I set it to cut 45 degrees and cut the short edge of the wood, with all the pieces clamped up tight.  See below, it is four pieces but you can clearly see the angle is consistent when cut this way.

Looks pretty good...

Here are the top and bottom laid out just after cutting.

These L brackets are nice enough to tell you what hole you need to predrill prior to assembly.  I suppose you could try it without predrilling but in order to keep the wood from splitting out I predrilled all the holes.

I made sure to square the corners up prior to using the actual brace as a template to drill the parts.

Here is the drilled corner.  Ready for the screws.

Once you assemble all the brackets on you get one of the square frames below.  Now make another one to form the top of the frame.

Here is what the assembled corner looks like.  Note if you don't do the miter cut one piece will only get one screw, which weakens the connection.

Next I took some 2' sections and screwed the brackets in.  Make sure the bracket is flush with the bottom of wood.  I just bumped it up against a 4x4 to ensure the surfaces were parallel.  Predrill these and assemble.

Now that you have the four legs, time to assemble them to the top and bottom.  I located them away from the outer corner because I did not want the screws to interfere with the screws I used to assemble the top and bottom frames.

Below is the box.  Looks fairly cubic, which is a good sign.

Next I just took some display cardboard and trimmed it up to make up the back wall and bottom.  Why cardboard?  So you can pin backdrops to it if desired and also easily replaceable.

I made the lampstand below using leftover 1x2 and some 1x6 I had already.  Note the clamp was not strong enough to hold the lamp in this orientation, so I had to use one of my own to reinforce it.  It also helps to counterbalance the weight of the lamp since my base is not ballasted.

Nothing hard here, just another L bracket that I already had.

I nailed in the felt pads to prevent the scratching.  You are looking at the bottom of the cube so you are seeing the backside of the white cardboard bottom.  So now the real test- if for some reason this does not fit through any doorways en route to its final destination in Boju wife's studio...

Looks like it fits just fine.  Here it is lit up.  Note that I ran out of little elbows and time to properly rig up the top light, so it is held on with some clamps.  As for the diffuser- tissue paper works, but we are running a cheap bed sheet that seems to work a little better.

So how did it turn out?  Due to its size we upgraded to 100 W equivalent CFLs with a "daylight" color temperature.  A bigger box simply needs more light.  It has survived the more pudgy of our two cats jumping into it as soon as it landed on the craft table shown above.  It is pretty sturdy so it certainly is a good platform for some more upgrades if desired.

Whew!  So now that all that time was put into helping me take better photos, I better put it to good use.  Looking foward to taking lots of pictures using my new toy! 

Here's a little secret:  I actually already used it to make my last Invisalign post!  Those handy photos were taken in the lightbox! 

Thank you Andy! 

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