Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Building a Light Box

I like to take gadget photos. One of the main challenges is lighting up the gadget properly. My “primary camera” is my smartphone. The flash on camera phones seldom produce acceptable results, so I almost always avoid using them. I try to make do with whatever available light there is, but it’s difficult to deal with shadows. Also, without a suitable work surface, it’s troublesome to arrange shoots with plain backgrounds.

These challenges are not difficult to overcome. They don’t even cost much. Build a DIY light box.

I took a disused cardboard box, one that is still in good condition. It needs to be reasonably big so that I can bring my camera phone inside the box and still have space to maneuver inside it. Camera phones don’t have optical zoom, so if I ever need close-up shots, the only solution is to get closer to the subject. I could also use a smaller box (and that’s what I also did with an A4 box), but a larger box can provide more flexibility.

The light box pictured above measures 48 x 30 x 35 cm. The top of the box was removed, and then a large window was cut out from the smaller sides, leaving about a 1.5″ margin around the window. The window was covered with tracing paper to act as a light diffuser.

For the lighting source, I used a pair of spotlights that I happened to have laying around. You’ll need to make sure to use daylight bulbs for the most natural colour. The spotlights are placed outside the box and aimed at the diffuser.

For the backdrop, line the bottom, back and a little of the top with plain white paper. The “bottom”, “back” and “top” is, of course, relative to how you’re positioning the light box. In the picture above, the light box is lying on its side. It may be better to lay the box upright, with the opening on the top, if you want to take photos of a gadget straight from the top. I joined several pieces of A3 paper together, but it will be better if you can find a single sheet of A2 or A1 paper (trimmed to fit if necessary).

Remember that the paper used as backdrop should curve at the edges. Do not create an edge on the paper itself. Your photos will look much better with a clean continuous background.

I found that I needed some additional illumination. This is currently provided by a pair of USB LED lights, connected to a small USB battery pack. Each light has 18 LEDs. They provide just enough illumination (would be better to have more, actually). The problem with these LED lights is that the colour is a little too cool, and leaves a slight bluish tint on the photos.

But these LED lights provide an immense amount of flexibility. The long neck can be shaped to position the light at the right place.

So, let’s see some sample photos taken of gadgets in this light box. I’ve been exploring the Arduino platform lately, so here are some Arduino gadgets. First up is the Arduino Uno R3.

We’re embarking on Arduino projects now so I have some of these gadgets around. I feel a little like a secondary school kid playing with these toys and, well, relearning things I’ve forgotten about electricity.

Next up is the Arduino Relay Shield. It has an Xbee interface at the top. It’s the Xbee that I really want. But there doesn’t seem to be a much cheaper Xbee interface on its own. So might as well get it combined with something else that could be useful.

Finally, here’s the Ultimate IO Expansion Shield for Arduino below. Again, it’s really the Xbee interface that I want.

The lighting is still not all that good in some of these photos. Some adjustments are probably still needed on the LED lights. But they are already immensely better than what I can do with standard room lights.

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