DIY Photo Box On the Cheap

Hello, I'm Jim, but many of you might know me already by my forums name realgenius (from the movie) and this is my new blog. While I do get out and play regularly, I love the hobby aspect of wargaming and spend way to much time scouring the Internet for new ideas and techniques.

There are several DIY photo box tutorials out there. The main purpose of a photo box is to provide a background and framework for lighting models. And my main purpose is to preserve my money for buying more models, so I decided to build my box with supplies I already had around the house.

Here is what you will need:
  • cardboard box, preferably a heavy-duty shipping box
  • tissue paper or sheer fabric, for light diffusion
  • tape, really any kind will work
  • one or more lamps or other lights
  • off-white, grey or light blue paper or fabric for the background

Make sure you choose a box that is large enough to hold whatever
large items you want to photograph, but not too large that it is going to take up a lot of space or put the light sources too far from small objects you want to photograph.

I found the perfect box out in the garage: 18 inches by 13 inches by
9 inches. I didn't want a box that was too deep, since I planned on having the background material spill out of the front to provide more depth if needed.

Next cut off three flaps of the top lid and carve out the sides and the top so a frame is remaining. Make sure to trim the sides close to the edge so that you can get maximum light into the box, but leave enough to give it some structure. I left about a 2" border.

Next, secure your diffusion paper or fabric to the frame with some tape and add your background material. I've used paper for background material before, but had some problems with weird reflections, so this time I tried some fabric (from a left over Halloween costume I made for my son). The fabric has good texture, but probably wouldn't be suitable if you are going to crop and add a different background in Photoshop. I'm far too lazy for that, so the fabric will work fine for me. The color will also help warm up the cool colored lights I'm using. If it doesn't work out, it is easy enough to replace with a different colored fabric or paper.

Here's a picture of the final setup, using my painting lamps as light sources. This project took me only about 30 minutes and cost nothing since I had all the materials around the house.

Finally I was able to capture the detail of both my dark colored models and light colored helms. Here is an example WIP Exarch that has heavy contrast, but photographed well. He doesn't have much highlighting now, but I can already see that both the dark highlights and contrast in the helmet will be nicely visible. There's nothing worse that working a long time on delicate shading and highlighting and not being able to capture the effect in a photo. (Not that this model has any delicate shading or highlighting, but...)

For even more options, you can vary the light sources to create different effects and mood. By using or not using the camera's flash, moving the lights behind the diffuser or not using the diffuser and altering the light source height you can create a lot of different lighting effects (top light, side light, hard light, soft light) that can change the appearance of the model.

Good luck and may all your pictures be sharp and well-lit!