Rule number one in food photography: ALWAYS USE NATURAL LIGHT.
You know what? Sometimes that’s just not possible.
You know dinner/supper? Generally that is served in the evening. And in the winter here, that means it’s dark out.
The solution to that is to use a light box, or light tent. Many photographers use these devices when featuring a single product. It’s a good way to get whatever it is to display without any distracting background messing up the shot.
It’s also a good way to diffuse the harshness of electric lighting and make your subject look a little bit more natural.
Professional light boxes or light tents, even the small ones, will run you at least a hundred bucks, easy. And that’s without the super-bright lighting system that goes with it. Add another minimum four hundred dollars to your total if you want to go that way.
Constructing my box cost me less than $15 and took me less than an hour. And a homemade box will give you pretty much the same results. You do the math.
Here’s what you need:
A large and sturdy cardboard box. These ones are slightly smaller than what I had originally planned, but I can always make another one when I get a bigger box.
Enough white cloth (muslin, linen, cotton, or fleece) to line the box. Tape or glue for attaching things (I like me my hockey tape, as you know, and it’s designed to attach to fabric). Double-sided tape is great if you don’t want your adhesive efforts to show. Scissors/Box Cutter/Rotary Cutter, for cutting things. White or coloured Bristol board, for your background. You can also skip the board and use your cloth, but bending the board will give you a nice edge-less angle.
At least two, but preferably more, goose-neck or adjustable neck work lamps. I already have two of these Tertial ones from IKEA, which cost $10 and come with a clamp base. I plan to acquire one more to go on top of the box. It’s important to note that these lamps support the brighter 100W (or 23W if you are using a CFL) bulbs without risk of fire.
As many bright light bulbs as you need for your lamps. I recommend using 100W bulbs (23W in compact fluorescent terms). I picked up these “daylight” bulbs, which produce a cooler, less yellow light than a regular incandescent, from Canadian Tire for $10. Halogens work well in this project, because they’re freaking bright, but they also use more energy, so that’s a judgment call for you to make on your own.
Just make sure that the wattage on your light bulb matches the maximum wattage on the lamps you are using. You can get cheap desk lamps from anywhere to use for the project but more often than not they will only support a 60W (13W CFL) bulb, and those in the know say that’s just not bright enough for their purposes. The lamp on the right is less bright.
The best part about this is you can totally half-ass the project, if you were so inclined. You don’t even need to measure the holes you cut in the box and if you’re in a hurry, you can leave the interior of the box unlined and simply drape the fabric over the top.
I plan to be a bit more meticulous, however. But only a little bit. It’s sort of half-assed half-assery.
Now of course there are a million different DIYs for making your own light box/tent. Most of them are by real photographers who actually know what they’re doing, but there are some by people like me. The dabblers of the earth. I’m going to add my own to the mix, because the world needs a bit more alidoesit flavour, don’t you think? My three favourite ones in terms of method and supplies are down below, if you want to check them out, but the concept is always the same. Box. White stuff. Light. Done.
So you take your box. Grenadier was extremely helpful in the construction of this light box, as the pictures show.
Cut off the top flaps and secure the bottom ones. The bottom is going to be the back of the box, and the sides the floor, walls, and ceiling.
Cut out large holes on each of the three sides.
Line the box with white fabric, covering the holes completely. Make sure that all you can see inside the box is white. White’s a nice reflector.
Prop a piece of bristol board inside the box so that one end is wedged into the top corner.
Bend the board to make a curve and use a bit of tape to stick the bottom in place so it doesn’t slide out. This will be your photographic surface. The curve of the board means that there are no corners or edges visible in the photographs.
Put your lamps with their bright bulbs up to all the holes in the box (as I said, I plan to have three lamps some time soon) and turn them on. Make sure the bulbs don’t touch the cloth. You wouldn’t want to start a fire. You might find it easiest to take pictures of items in your light box using a tripod, but it’s not entirely necessary to your happiness.
Tada, your very own light box!
Here’s some food in a shot taken, like I normally do, in my kitchen during the day. The light is natural outdoor light through my big kitchen window at the end of the afternoon in October. Lovely.
Now here is the same food in a shot taken at night, using the electric lights in my kitchen.
And again, in my brand new light box! I think we can all agree there’s a difference!
Other Light Box/Tent Projects: