Building a Homemade Photo Light Box

Building a Homemade Photo Light Box

This week I am going to show you how to build a light box. This was extremely frugal for me considering I already had most of the needed items on hand. If you don’t, I’ll show you some thrifty ways to get them. Even if you have to buy some of these items it’s far less expensive than purchasing a light box for $100 or more. See frugal tips for building the photo box at the end of this tutorial.
How to Build a Photo Light Box
You will need
cardboard box (like a medium moving/packing box)
4 sheets white tissue paper
white craft glue or sturdy shipping tape
box cutter or craft knife
white poster board or a white sheet
2 desk lamps with bendable necks (must hold standard size light bulbs)
2 energy saving DAYLIGHT bulbs, 60 or 75 watt

What You Do
If you are able to find a white box, use that. If not, a regular brown cardboard box will work as well. I happened to have a stack of white cardboard boxes in my garage. If using a white box you will want the white to be on the inside. Cut the box open by finding the seam that connects the box together and open it there. Turn the box inside out and seal it back up with shipping tape.
Now you will need to cut windows in your box. You will need two windows, one on each side. If you are using a regular brown box, cut a window on the top of the box as well. Now cover those windows with white tissue paper. I used white craft glue to attach the tissue paper, then I used the scraps from the windows I had cut out to reinforce the edges. I simply cut strips from the scrap cardboard and glued them over the edges of the tissue paper. Why do you need 3 windows in a brown cardboard box? because of the dark ceiling, you want light to flow in. The white box doesn’t need that, the light will reflect of the ceiling.

ANOTHER DELICIOUS IDEA >>  Thrifty Thursday: Week #14
Next you’ll need to insert a piece of white poster board or even a white sheet, inside the box. This will provide an even back drop and will also cover any seam at the back of your light box. Mine has poster board, but I will be switching to a sheet.
Last step is to position your lamps next to your box (I have one on either side) so that you get the lighting that you want. You want the lamps with the bendable necks so that you can move the position of the light easily. Be sure to use the DAYLIGHT bulbs, they give off a white light. Soft white bulbs have a yellow tint and that’s what will get all your photos rejected on the food photo sites.
Now I can’t tell you how to take pictures, I’m not a professional photographer. However, I can tell you to either find your camera’s manual or look it up online and spend 15 minutes reading about the different settings. I can’t believe the difference a few little changes made in my photos after reading the instructions! ;)
This light box is portable, however I highly recommend keeping it somewhere where it can remain stationary. If you tear your tissue paper, just replace it, no biggie.

ANOTHER DELICIOUS IDEA >>  Buying a Side of Beef

These three photos show the difference the light box makes. My favorite is still afternoon natural daylight, but the light box helps tremendously!

Kitchen lighting, no flash

Afternoon daylight

In light box

Money Saving Tips:
Getting a box – Ask friends, family and if there’s a local factory in your area
Tissue paper – Walmart or dollar stores are the best place. If you are a thrifty parent, you already have some tissue paper you saved from one of your child’s last birthday gifts ;)
Desk lamps – thrift stores, garage sales or even craigslist have these cheap. You can get brand new ones that will do the job or around $11 at Walmart!
Light bulbs – This is probably the biggest initial investment in this project. I believe I paid around $8 for a package of these bulbs, but they last forever. Make sure you get the bulbs that say DAYLIGHT!
Total cost for my light box:
Box in my garage – $0.00
Lamps – had one, bought the other – $11.00
Bulbs – $8.00
Tape & glue I had on hand – $0.00
Tissue paper I already had – $0.00
poster board I had on hand – $0.00
Total cost for mine $19.00
Here are some other ways to build your own light box:
Made from white foam board
Using a cardboard box
This one gives same basic info as the cardboard box one above, but I love how she wrote it, she cracks me up :)


  1. Alta says

    Awesome! I saved some boxes already, and have one lamp, guess I need another. I was thinking I’d cut several pieces of fabric (that I happen to have around the house) to line the bottom, just to give different effects with different foods. Might have to make a box this weekend! Thanks!

  2. Woensel says

    Completely awesome! Am so going to try this out as soon as I can my hands on a box big enough. Thanks so much for the this thorough post. Appreciate it very much!

  3. asata (a.k.a. Life Chef) says

    Thanks so much for this. The light box has been on my “list” forever. You can totally tell I need it if you see my blog photos. Chef? Yes. Photographer? Heck no! So hopefully this will help. It’s certainly in the right price bracket! Thanks again for the post. I’m sure others will find it very useful.

  4. Barb, sfo says

    That’s so cool! Wish I had a place to keep one so I could do this. It would make my food photos SO much better.

    Of course, my kids think I’m completely weird for taking pictures of food…LOL!

  5. Amanda says

    Alta – You can make a go of it with one lamp, but you would need to have the ceiling window and position the lamp over the top. If you get another, check thrift stores and freecycle!

    Woensel – Absolutely! Be sure to check plants and factories if you have any in your area. Worse case you could buy one from UHaul.

    Asata – So glad it was helpful! :)

    Barb – You could probably make it collapsible if you don’t tape the bottom of the box (basically the back of the light box). You’d have to be careful about the tissue paper though.

  6. Cheri Sicard says

    Thanks for the photography tips Amanda. This week I have a post at Cheri’s Fabulous Foods about saving money by making your own coffeehouse drinks. At Fabulous Living you’ll find directions for making your own barrel composter for the garden. These cost several hundred dollars to buy, but are easy to make, and it churns out fresh garden ready compost about every 2 weeks!

  7. Bridgett says

    That is a great idea! My hubby does photography and spends a fortune on equipment. I will have to show him this post and see if he goes for it. I am hoping!

  8. The Sweet Life says

    Nice! I need to think about setting up one of these…I don’t really get any good light inside the house for my food phoots.
    On a side note, how can I put the little “Thrifty Thursday” icon on my blog? (I’m still figuring all this stuff out!)

  9. Bunny says

    I made one of these Amanda, I need to get the light bulbs though and some bending lamps. I never thought of the light bulbs!

  10. danazia says

    Thank you so much! Great idea! I will get to work on it as soon as I read my camera’s manual! ;o)
    Dana Zia

  11. peasepudding says

    Thanks for the tips. I have just bought a light box/tent but I have been using it with natural light outdoors. I’m not really happy about the lighting so I will use your idea of two lamps. I have tried to understand my manual ( Nikon D80 – it was a gift) but it’s rather confusing so I will just keep practising. it is quite frustrating when you present something well but the photos don’t do it justice.

  12. Gina says

    Great idea, wish I thought of it! Daylight in my opinion is always best, but sometimes some of us just don’t have that option. I use 2 lights as well with the same bulbs. Adjust your white balance before you shoot for best results!

  13. Karena says

    Hi! I found this posting on Foodgawker and I kinda want to try this out! I've just started blogging and hate how I can't seem to get good shots of my food…I always wondered how everyone did it! Lightbox!! Half the problem solved ;)

  14. says

    Thanks for this great tutorial! I’ve seen the idea before, but everyone else always used halogen lights, and I just don’t have any of those lying around. I have *everything* to make this one sitting right here in my house. You’re a gem!


Leave a Reply

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

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>