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How to Build a SoftBox Photography Light


Once upon a time, I was a blogger on a tropical island. The sun seemed to shine at all hours of the day through my beautiful french doors that lead from my palm laden patio right into my kitchen. My kitchen that had 3 windows, and 3 doors, all always wide open. I prided myself on the fact that I didn't need to worry about setting up food shots. I would have some people over, cook a great meal, snap a few pics, and see what amazingness was on my camera the next day. The camera bouncing around from hand to hand with ease. I literally thought that my SLR was magic because it seemed that whoever touched it instantly turned into Margaret Bourke-White.

Flash forward to my Boston apartment with 1 small window when it's getting dark at 4pm. My pics are seriously slacking these days. I try to keep my cool mentality of casual blogging, but I want people to crave my food when they see the images. I looked into a few common food blogger options and wasn't really happy with them. Most were upwards of 90 bucks (NOT including a 20 dollar lightbulb) and would be obnoxious in the middle of my kitchen. I don't want to sit cooped up all day Sunday testing recipes and photographing, I want to have a party, make a few things, and blog about it. I doubt a 10 foot umbrella light would go over well at my next get together! "It collapses down" was the last ditch attempt to make a sale from the camera store salesman. No thanks, not to mention I don't have $120 to spend right now. Time to take matters into my own hands.

I made this light for about 45 dollars, and so far, I am extremely happy with the results! I haven't even gotten too far playing with my camera settings to perfect the pics, but they are coming out awesome already. Here are the pictures of the process, and the supplies list is down below.

I could have made my own light with a cord and a light socket, but the guys at home depot convinced me to get this instead for 3 bucks extra.

That's a bright light! an 85 watt CFL is equivalent to a 340 watt "old school" light.

This is my workspace for the most part.

I grabbed a few cardboard boxes from work and choose the best size to fit my needs. I then delicately started to take it apart trying to keep everything as intact and non-ripped as possible.

I wanted the back of the light to be pretty much square so I moved this flap over a few inches.

The light I bought conveniently had a part that unscrewed so it could easily secure itself to the box! Before I knew this, I was planning on rigging it up with some sort of duck tape situation, but this was much better.

Very clean. It was feeling pretty professional to me at this point.

Lots of duck tape.

I wanted a 90 degree angle on one of the bottom corners so the box could easily fit on a counter against a wall. 2 edges of the box are straight, and the other 2 are flared out.


Perfect fit.

Duck tape made it look awesome! The box is really sturdy and solid and I think that it will last a long time as long as I treat it well.

Foil on the inside to add some extra light power.

Finally, the light deflector goes on. This is just a piece of rip-stop nylon I bought at Jo-Ann Fabrics. I read on a few different photography websites that rip stop nylon is what is used professionally as a light deflector, and I double checked at the camera store. I was really happy with this find and it was only 10 bucks for way more than I needed.

I used the velcro with the sticky back to secure the nylon to the box.

A last very quick adjustment I made to my kitchen was putting a peice of poster board on the bottom of the cabinets that are above my counter. This made a HUGE difference in the amount of light cast below.

Ready to rock!

I also grabbed a bunch of different poster board and fabrics for backgrounds. I like to check out thrift shops to get cool old cloths to put under my food.

As I said earlier, this light is working great so far. Below are some pics from upcoming posts where I used the box with great results. I'm sure it will only get better as I play with my camera and find out the best aperture and shutter settings to use with the light and the different backgrounds.

Some spices on a black poster board.

Turmeric chicken and broccoli. I ate this tonight actually and it was fantastic.

No, your eyes do not deceive you. This IS a taco, and it IS in a waffle cone. Don't get too too excited though yet, we will talk more about the "tacone" tomorrow.

And finally, this plate-o-awesome is fish ravioli in a thai red curry sauce with squid, baby corn, peppers, and basil.

One last quick note about heat. I specifically bought a clamp light with a ceramic base because the guy who sold me the bulb said it would get really hot. To assure myself I wouldn't burn down my house, I left the light on for 2 hours before assembling the softbox, and found it, and the base and fixture, only slightly warm to the touch. I am not worried at all about this being a fire hazard, even if I were to do something dumb like leave it on and go on vacation, but if you guys burn your houses down, it's on you, not me. Consider yourself disclaimed.

To sum things up, I spent about 1/2 to 1/3 of the price, and only an hour and a half, making something that suits my personal needs better than most store bought solutions. I couldnt be happer with my new softbox, and I hope I can encourage some of you to go the D.I.Y route as well! These are the things I used:

80 watt CFL: $20
clamp light: $12
Rip Stop Nylon: $10 (for way more than you need)
Sturdy Cardboard Box
Duck Tape
Aluminum Foil


I guess duct taping runs in the family?

Very cool. I've seen lightboxes before - but never in this shape. Your photos look great!

THANK YOU! Now I have no excuse not to go make one of these.

I was about to slam you for your use of duck...but then I found this.
So, I stand corrected.

P.S. Very curious abot the tacone.

Totally Legit! I LOVE it! Thanks alot though! Now I HAVE to clean up the space in my kitchen LOL.

One question though; how do you think a "daylight" bulb would do for this project?

Great informative post! I'm saving this and making my husband build me one! Great!!!

Thanks for the tip! My first few food pictures looked horrible so I made a makeshift light box, but I definitely need to work on making a new/better one. Your photos look awesome!

Amazing man. Even though I'm a sap that now clearly overpaid for the "pro" version, I kind of want to make one of these anyway. Looks like it works better than mine...

Nice work!

This is definitely genius! Wish I could be more handy, but instead, I just shelled out $80 for an EGO light. Maybe I can convince my other half to carry out this project =)

Yum,what an absolutely great idea,this has been a challenge for me to get the kinds of photos I see on other blogs.This looks perfect and easy enough to make,following your directions.

This is wonderful. Thank you so much!

This is awesome! I plan on making one for my makeshift basement photo studio. I love your excessive use of duck tape too. :) Thanks for sharing!

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