Have you ever wondered how some eBay and other internet sellers get such high quality photographs of their items? I used to assume that they simply had a better camera than mine. After four cameras and countless frustrated attempts at taking photographs as beautiful as those sellers I finally discovered their secret.
I had posed the question on the help boards of a couple of different auction sites. Luckily, many merchants who took great pictures took a moment to give me an important pointer. Sure, a good camera is necessary for good pictures, but the secret to taking great pictures is to use a light box along with adequate lighting. A light box is basically a large white box, with one open end that has lamps attached to the sides of the open end. The photographer moves the box so the open end is facing them and places the item they wish to photograph inside the box. The white interior of the box reflects light in a way that turns a good photograph into a great photograph. Use of a light box can even turn a photo taken with a bad camera into a decent picture.
I began searching for ways to build a light box without going broke. I found instructions for several different methods. However, at the time I had very little money and I needed something quickly. The instructions that I found all required materials that I couldn’t afford and had difficulty finding. The most common method described for building a light box was to procure a white PVC box and buy clip on bell lamps to click to the sides of the box. I needed a very large box and had difficulty finding a PVC box that was the right size. The alternatives were even more expensive.
After experimenting with different ideas I soon discovered a quick, inexpensive and easy way to make a light box that drastically improved my pictures. The project involves using inexpensive materials such as cardboard box, glue and thick white cardstock or shiny white construction paper. I tried using simple copier / typing paper on my first attempt. I found that even though I had used as little glue as possible and spread it very evenly there were many spots on the box where I could see dark glue marks through the paper. So be sure to use a thicker paper.
To make the light box first determine what size box you will need. I suggest that you make the box a bit larger than the biggest item you would normally photograph in it. Once you have decided on the size of box you will need simply find a cardboard box that is the same size ( a cardboard moving box will work perfectly.) After you procure the box use scissors or a sharp knife to cut all four flaps off of the top of the box.
Once you have cut the flaps off you are ready to line the inside of the box with paper. You will need a sheet of paper for each inside wall and the bottom of the box. I suggest that you measure the inside walls and the bottom of the box so you can cut the paper to the right size. If you do not you risk leaving noticeable gaps or creases in the boxes white surface.
After you have cut the paper to size put some Elmer’s or other white glue in a small bowl. Use a small paintbrush to apply a very thin, even coat of glue to one side of the paper. If you apply the glue to the paper directly from the bottle it increases the chances of the glue bleeding through and making a noticeable dark spot on the visible side of the paper. You will also need the paintbrush to make sure that the paper is evenly covered with glue. If it is not then you may end up with bumps or creases in the paper that create unsightly shadows.
Now that you have spread a very thin layer of glue on one side of the paper, press the paper firmly against either one of the inside walls or the bottom of the box. You can either hold the paper down for several minutes or move the box so the side you just papered becomes the bottom and place a heavy book on the paper. Allow the glue to dry for several minutes before repeating the process on the next part of the box you plan to line with paper. It is not necessary to paper the outside of the box.
Once your box is ready your are nearly finished, all you need are light sources. It’s important that you use light sources that will light all areas of the inside of the box without casting shadows.
One way to do this is to purchase four clip on bell lamps and clip two to each side of the box. Aim the lamps so their light will cover the whole interior of the box. This method is easy but has a couple of disadvantages. One disadvantage is that with four bell lamps the heat from them builds up fast, and this isn’t suitable for all items that you might wish to photograph. The cost of the lamps also adds up quickly when you need so many.
A large fluorescent light is a good alternative to bell lamps. It will cost less than all four bell lamps and will generate much less heat. You can also easily find large fluorescent lamps with bendable necks that allow you to easily position the lamp to avoid casting shadows. A large one should easily light the entire interior of your box.
After procuring the lamp you are ready to take great photographs. Just arrange your items inside the box, turn the lamp on and position it, put your camera on a steady surface and start snapping shots.