Lightbox Build

I make jewelry, but usually when I apply to be shown in galleries and shops, it's not the jewelry that's being judged. It's the photographs of my jewelry, which is another thing entirely.

These images of my work are more than just my first impression– they're often my only impression. So taking my jewelry-making seriously means getting serious about my photos.

A lightbox is sort of like the object photography cheat-code. To take good photos, you need to have a solid understanding of light. A lightbox gives me reliable basic lighting without having to understand much of anything. Which is good, because the 'lighting for photography' rabbit hole goes all the way down.

Lightbox Supply list:

- A cardboard box. I got mine for free from a booze store.

- Tracing paper

- Clear packing tape

- Ruler

- Boxcutter

- Pen

- Foam Sheet. You'll find these things in the kid's craft sections of a store like Michaels. Serves the same role as a long sheet of paper, but you can use a lint-roller on it to clean it up and it won't be ruined by a drop of water.

- Two worklamps, clamplights, or other direct positionable lightsource.  Make sure they have full spectrum or 'daylight' bulbs in them, or you'll spend forever in post correcting your colors.

With your high quality artisanal ruler, measure the center of one side of the box, and cut it out. I'm leaving 1.5 inches of edge, because I know this thing is going to get knocked around, and I want it to be reasonably durable. For the same reason, I'm leaving the flaps of the box folded in, and I'm cutting through those at the same time.

You don't need to be very precise about this. The hole doesn't need to be perfectly square, and doesn't need to have neat corners. 

Do all the sides. You can see here how the flaps work.

Take sheets of the tracing paper, and tape them over the sides of the box to cover the holes you just cut. If the holes are way bigger than the paper, do what I did: Tape the sheets of paper together carefully so that the edges of the tracing paper touch but don't overlap. An overlap will cast a shadow, and a gap will cause a 'beam' of light on the inside of the box.

Go a little hog-wild with the tape. Not only is it holding the tracing paper in place, it's reinforcing it, and reinforcing the cardboard as well. Mine is basically mummified.

Slide your foam-paper in like so. Make sure your sheet is long enough to have a height that fits your needs (in my case, slightly taller than my existing necklace display) and still have a protruding 'tongue'. Cut to fit for width- a tight fit means the paper will hold in place on its own, which means less fussing with positioning it during your shooting time.

My extremely fancy setup. Center your object on your backdrop, and put your two lights (you remembered to get full-spectrum bulbs, right?) pretty close on either side. Play with the angles to best light your specific object. Because I had a big window behind, I didn't feel the need for light coming from above as well, but it's an option.

Sounds like a lot of work? Not sure it's worth the effort? Here's a little before and after for you:

My previous best effort. Pretty darn good for an non-professional... but clearly non-professional.

Same necklace, this time with a lightbox. I'm not sure, but I think this might be mistaken for professional.

On the left, the best I could do relying on natural light. It looks okay at a tiny size, but breaks down pretty quickly close up: lint, weird slightly yellow light, too shiny in places, and imperfect focus. On the right, the lightbox shot: Better focus, more interesting and not too harsh light, and the yellow tinge went away. The only downside is there's no context- no way to tell scale, and no color.

Clearly, the solution is scotch. And this shot really shows off a technique that I couldn't possibly have used without a lightbox: the endless, seamless background.

If you think this necklace is pretty, there are more pictures.