Friday, November 21, 2008

DIY Macro - Lightbox

There once was a bird in California.

(Some might even say she was sweet)

All summer long she chirped and sang, enjoying the bounty of the abundant crops surrounding her home and taking pictures of all she could find.

But then, as Fall set in, a terrible thing started to happen - the sun started setting earlier and earlier until one day it was only a quarter after five in the evening and it was so dark she had to turn on the light in her kitchen to cook dinner.

The bird was very upset you see, because she could no longer take pictures of her food without the natural light of the sun.

(The bird had an intense loathing of yellow pictures and flash photography.)

But then she had an amazing idea! A light box! Then the bird could take lovely photos all winter long without a need for that silly old sun!

But could she? Would it be too hard or expensive to create such a lovely contraption?

She never should have worried - it was easier than pie! With a nice big cardboard box, some tissue paper, and a light - ta da! Pictures!

Alright, now that I'm finished being a complete jackass I'll tell you how to make one too.

I was born and raised in Washington - the lovely state that gets 8 hours of dark in the summer, and 8 hours of light in the winter. It's a pain in the ass come November and it's dark by 4:30 pm. You feel like you live in a cave. So, when Mr. TA and I moved down to California I figured that it wouldn't be nearly so bad. After all, we were a thousand miles farther south.

Yeah...not so much.

Now it's dark by 5:15.


45 more minutes.

Mr. TA doesn't even get home from work until 5:30 most of the time, and I'm sure as heck not going to serve him a cold dinner I prepared an hour earlier just so I could take a picture of it. Mr. TA works a very long day and he deserves a nice hot dinner when he gets home. Unfortunately by that time it's so dark I can't even get a decent photo with my tripod. Mr. TA thinks I should just use the flash or turn on a light...Mr. TA also just doesn't really get my aversion to doing that. Even if my aversion is simply that I think it looks like ass when people do that.

My first attempt at salvaging some photos was to try to take a picture of the leftovers the next day.

Yeah...not so much.

I don't care if you're goddamn Thomas Keller - you can not make leftover Lentil and Orzo Soup look any better than dog poo the next day. (OK, that's a lie. Thomas Keller can do anything.)

And then it hit me - build a light box you stupid bird. Duh. It's cheap, it's easy, and it works.

Because who wants to take a picture like this:

When you could take a picture like this:

I've slowly been improving my photography over the last few months, so now that I can continue to take photos through the winter hopefully I'll be able to really get better.

How to Make a Light Box

1 large cardboard box
6 sheets white tissue paper
heavy duty tape
knife/razor blade
a light source
ability to not shank oneself while making the box

1. Cut off two of the flaps of the box, opposite each other.Set the box on it's side so that the two remaining flaps are vertical. Cut out the sides and top of the box. Your finished product should look like this.

Also, if possible, you should include a shot of the dirty ass rug on your kitchen floor. I think it really adds to the photo.

2. Using two sheets of tissue paper per side, cover the cut out sides and tape in place. Your finished product should look like this:

3. Cut a piece of white, non-reflective poster board to the width of the your box. Secure one side to the inside bottom of your box, and the opposite side to the back of the box. It should look like this:

I'm fricken ghetto so my posterboard doesn't reach all the way up the back of the box to the top like I want it to, but this isn't really a big deal. Most of my shots are really close up anyways.

4. Now you get your light source. I went to my local hardware store and picked up this baby for $9.49 + tax.

It's pretty sweet. (That's my Napoleon Dynamite voice)

It uses a regular light bulb and has a clamp.

Which is sweet.

Then you clamp it on to something and shine it either from the side:

In which you're cow shaped salt shaker from your grandmother will look like this:

But, you have to make sure you alter the white balance on your camera. That's the difference between a yellow cow and a white cow. And no one wants a yellow cow.

Or you can clamp your light on the chair you're using for support because you have to do all of this in your second bedroom which really isn't a bedroom at all it's more of a repository for all Mr. TA's GI junk that won't fit anywhere else and because there's no room to put it anywhere else you have to use the stupid chair. Whew...

In which your cow shaped salt shaker from your grandmother will look like this:

Pretty snazzy, eh? I was impressed myself.

Don't forget to change your ISO setting though. I was using a really high setting previously because I was operating in really low lighting, but if you keep a high ISO you'll end up with a lot of noise. Here's the difference between ISO set at 400:

And ISO at 50:

They may look the same, but if you click on them to look at them full size you'll see the difference. The clarity is so much better at 50.

Long story short, a light box will really save you through the winter if you rely on sunlight for your photos. I know I will very happily get back to blogging my little heart out now that I can take decent photos again.

In fact, tonight I made Lettuce Wraps.

There are so many things you can do with such a simple project. Obviously this is the amateurs solution, but I don't think there are too many hobby bloggers like myself that are willing to run out and buy hundreds of dollars worth of equipment or take a damn flash photography class just to snap a couple shots of whatever culinary delight they're shoving in their mouth at the moment. This is the perfect solution for me, it may not be for you.

I do urge you to give it a try though.

I know I'm going to have fun taking pictures of all sorts of things this evening...

Like the tea tin I brought back from Disney World when Mr. TA and I went to Florida

Or the naughty little secret I keep hidden inside

I know, isn't it wrong? Candy corn? It's so awful...and sooo good...

Well, you know what happens when someone can't keep a secret right?

They get their head bitten off...

It's the candy corn version of sleeping with the fishes.

Oh, what's that? You can't keep a secret either?

Well, I can fix that!

Oh, well...I guess I shouldn't leave any evidence, huh?

Surely he'll never tell of my indiscretions...


Marija said...

Amazing tutorial! Thank you so much for this!!

Amy said...

This is so great! I made a half-hearted attempt at a lightbox last winter, but didn't think to do the tissue paper sides...I think the diffusion from those must make all the difference. Well done and thanks so much for the great post! :)

Kristin said...

Look at you, all crafty. You know, of course, that I will never do this, because I can barely manage to take a photo AT ALL, much less BUILD something to set it up properly.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize if I have offended you with my yellow, flash-produced food photos. The photos look like shit, but the food tastes really good. Which is why I'm not willing to wait to eat it so I can take a good photo. You are a better woman than I.

Weyn Cueva said...

I am a crafty person at heart yet I have never in my dreams thought of this genius idea. Thanks a bunch for sharing. :)

And by the way, I love how you write. :)

emily said...

I can NOT. THANK YOU. ENOUGH!!! I was contemplating only cooking during the day and microwaving our stuff for dinner. Thanks for not only saving me from yellow photos, but in some part our marriage! ahahahah. GREAT post.

Thanks, Emily

Galina said...

What a great idea! Thank you for sharing.

Mallory Elise said...

oooooooooh. thanks :)

Fiona said...

That's a great tutorial. Many thanks. Not only is it getting dark early here, but I live in a dark house, too. The only bright room in the house is our uninsulated sunroom - which is currently 25 degrees.

The real question, of course, is whether I can build one big enough to put my son in. I need photos of him, too.

Sweet Bird said...

Amy: It's really all about the diffusion, apparently. I'm still an amateur at the too!

Kristin: No dear, you have not offended me with your photos. I love your photos! You need more of them! Just not of the butchering...I can pass on that.

Weyn Cueva: You should def try it out, it's cheap, easy and obviously makes a huge difference. It'll keep me blogging over the winter.

Emily: I know what you mean, my husband just doesn't get it sometimes!

Fiona: As entertaining as I think it may be to put your little one in a box, you might try using the cut out sides free standing, you know cut out the sides of the boxes, cut out the centers, cover them with tissue paper, and place the light behind them to shine on your son. It's a ghetto-fabulous light diffuser! Put one on each side and place him in front of something cute, like a fireplace and you've got instant portraits!

katie said...

oh sweet bird, I love you! Scratch that, I'm in love with you.

cookiecrumb said...

Somebody's having fun!!
Nicely done; thanks for all the how-to.

Carolyn Jung said...

What a genius idea! Thanks for sharing the great tip.

dessert girl said...

Wow, so simple, yet so awesome!

Mrs Ergül said...

I really appreciate this! My house has almost no natural light coming in!!! This will surely help. I'm gonng bookmark it and get it done one weekend!

Debbie said...

OMG you are too freaking funny! I absolutely LOVE the tutorial...thanks for the info and thanks for the laughs...I needed BOTH!

Amanda said...

1) thanks for visiting my blog today!

2) BAHAHAHA! Your post cracked me up, loved the GI junk room and the dirty ass rug comment. SNORT

3) THANK YOU for this tutorial. I am going to make one of these. I need to figure out how to adjust the ISO on my camera, but this is a great help!!

_ts of [eatingclub] vancouver said...

Teehee... I guess you're taking matters into your own hands. Sort of like, "Damn you, sun, for setting so early!"

We read about making a lightbox and were planning to... but of course, laziness won out. We ended up buying a laundry hamper to act as such.

Sweet Bird said...

Oh Katie, you know I feel the same way ;-)

Thanks Cookiecrumb, now I just have to get access to all the prime ingredients you do!

Carolyn Jung and dessert girl, thank you for the lovely compliments.

Mrs. Ergul, I have skylights all throughout my house, yet this thing gets better light!

Thank you Debbie and Amanda, I do try to be at least somewhat entertaining.

Yes, ts, I'm taking on Mother Nature!

Mo said...

Thank you for showing up who still live in Wash (where it's 2:15 in November and I'm having to turn the lamp on) something that will help and not be expensive!

I stumbled upon your blog from foodgawker's link to your "how to make paneer". I LOVE your commentary. From the paneer's "I'm like friggin MacGyver" to this one's "ability not to shank yourself", I am laughing my ass off while readin about yummy stuff. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Can I follow you around like a puppy and learn from you? I went out and bought a cannon rebel XS thinking it would solve allllllll my problems. I'm even more frustrated than ever. Guess I should read the manual. But honestly, I don't even know what white balance is. Where would one learn these things? Thanks for the tips.
Dana Zia

TeaLady said...

OH!! Thank you!!! Thank you!!! Thank you!!! I was so tired of yellow food I almost gave up eating after taking pictures at nite holding it in my hand under the stove light using one hand on the camera. Yellow food!!! YECH!!!!

melardenio said...

this is great for the Wannabees. Thanks for the TIPS

Anonymous said...

great DIY - (you're a funny lady!) I will try this one. Like yourself, I'm a hobbyist but a newbie with food photography.