Transmogrification – Trash to Light Tent

If you were ever curious about how those pictures of objects seemingly hovering over an endless background (like the ones of my new camera) were shot, you just got a taste of a Light Tent.  Most are constructed about the same – like this one.  You have what is essentially a box, with opaque panels on most sides that you can shine lights through.  There is a long seamless sheet of white or black material that starts at the upper back and swoops down and ends on the foreground floor.  They often collapse to a smaller size for easy movement, and unfortunately seem to cost upwards of $150.  I’ve been looking for a better way to take pictures of small objects, but at that price, it didn’t seem too attractive.  Luckily, I stumbled on a great Strobist article which shows you how to do the same for $10 or less, depending on what sort of trash craft supplies you have laying around.  For me, the grand total was $0.

DIY Light Tent from the front

Interested?  Read on after the jump.

Just like the professional version, we need a rectangular or square frame.  Got a cardboard box?  Good – all set.  Mine is about 18″ tall and 14″ wide, but anything larger than a foot or so should work.  With the bottom taped shut and the top open and pointing forward on your work surface, cut out the left, right and top (actually the side, but you get the picture) panels, leaving an approximately 1″ border on the sides you cut out.  Use a box cutter or razor blade (and plenty of caution) to do this.  You don’t want to mangle your box or yourself.

Once you’re done there, tape some white tissue paper or tracing paper over the open panels.  These are going to diffuse whatever light you decide to shine through the box.  Last thing you need is a strip of poster board or some other sort of thicker-than-paper but flexible material.  Cut it to the width of your box and keep it long enough to add up to the height plus width of your box.  Or so.  Rocket science this isn’t.  Tape it to the inside top rear corner and let it come down the back wall, curve, and cover the inside bottom.  This piece provides the magic.

An Inside View of the DIY Light Tent

The last thing you need is light.  The best would probably be one or two off-camera flashes, set to very low power, shining through the side panels.  In a pinch use one.  In a greater pinch, use a lamp or the sun shining on the box – just make sure your White Balance setting matches whatever you use.  The sun worked fine for me here.

Side View of the DIY Light Tent

If you only have one light but want to knock down the shadow a bit, add another piece of white poster board to the inside on the side you aren’t lighting to reflect the light back a bit.  The only other problem I’ve had is that with so much white, if your object is too dark, the camera is going to have a hard time balancing the two – make sure you set your exposure for the item you’re actually shooting, not the whole scene.

When you’re done, just pull out the posterboard and cut the tape on the bottom of the box and it should fold flat.  Pretty easy, right?  Trash into treasure.

  • Aperture: ƒ/9
  • Camera: Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT
  • Focal length: 28mm
  • ISO: 100
  • Shutter speed: 1/160s


  1. Me too, but some projects just lend themselves a lot better. Everyone has a box, a knife, and some tape. If you don’t have tracing paper or tissue paper, it’s only about $1 away. Some project require power tools, exotic sprays, fiber optic bits – the return on investment here is quite a bit higher. Honestly, other than durability and to a minor extent portability, this is as good as what you can buy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *