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How to Make An Inexpensive DIY Light Tent

How to make a DIY light tent

Note: This is a great DIY light tent tutorial that we originally published in 2008. Since then, thousands of our readers have used it to build their own DIY tents (with outstanding results!). It’s worth mentioning, however, that in the last 15+ years, light tents have become substantially cheaper. You can now purchase an inexpensive light tent on Amazon for around $30. Of course, DIY models do come with plenty of benefits, and if that’s your preferred approach, then read on!

Light tents are a great way to capture images lit by soft, flattering light, and they’re used by a wide variety of photographers: product shooters, macro snappers, flower photographers, and more. If you need to photograph (relatively) small subjects and you want to create a consistent white-background effect, then a light tent (also known as a light box) is the perfect tool for the job.

When I was looking to delve into product photography, I was browsing my local photography store, and I came across a pop-up light tent. It consisted – as most light boxes do! – of a collapsible white fabric box with a hole in the front. It also had three lights, which were designed to be positioned around the outside of the box.

I was going to purchase the light tent, but then I saw the $100 price tag. No way was I going to spend $100 on some fabric and three lights when I could do it myself for far less! So I left the store and designed a DIY light tent of my own:

My DIY light tent (with a light shining from overhead).

It might not look quite as polished as a store-bought model, but it does a very nice job, and it cost very little.

If you’re like me, and you don’t want to shell out cash for a light tent that you can build yourself, then this article should help you out. I explain the step-by-step process for constructing your own DIY light tent (and I also offer a few tips so you can make the most of it while shooting!).

Building a DIY light tent: the materials

You don’t need to spend much to make your own light tent. Most – or all – of the materials below are probably lying somewhere around your house. Here’s what you need:

A box

The box can be any size, though if it’s too big, you may have trouble positioning your lights around it. I prefer the box to be as square as possible.

You can purchase boxes, but these days, it’s easy to find them for free. I got mine from work – the office was going to throw it out – but you can always repurpose a box from a package delivery.


A light tent should have fabric over all but one of its sides, so make sure you sure you buy enough fabric to cover most of your box.

You want it to be somewhat translucent and neutral in color. For my DIY light tent, I used white muslin fabric, which you can grab from most arts and crafts stores.

Other folks have suggested fabrics such as white nylon and white fleece. If you don’t want to spend on fabric and you have some white undershirts lying around, you can even use those; cut up the sides to split each shirt in two. (If you use multiple shirts, be sure that the colors are identical, or your end result may not turn out so nice!)


I used tape to secure the fabric to the sides of the box. This is especially useful if you want to try out different fabrics. I used regular masking tape, which keeps the fabric in place but is fairly easy to remove and adjust.

White board

This will line the inside of the box and will also serve as a background for your photos. For this, I like to use Bristol board, a heavyweight paper (.006″ thick) designed for drawing/art. White board is ideal for high-key backgrounds, but if you want a different look, you can go for different colors.

I would suggest buying two or three sheets of board as you will be cutting up two to line your box (or more, depending on the size!), and you’ll also need one for the background.


This is to stick the lining in the box. You can use a glue stick for this. Another option is spray adhesive.


A light tent won’t work so well without lights. If you don’t already have the right type of lights lying around, this will be the most expensive part of your DIY setup.

In my opinion, lighting is the most important part of this box. Without it, you won’t get the picture you desire. When building my box, I went to my local hardware store and picked up some daylight bulbs. I don’t recommend using more conventional light bulbs – these will create a yellow color cast. I purchased 90-watt compact fluorescent bulbs, which didn’t cost a lot and did the job well. Basically, any full-spectrum light bulbs will do.

You’ll also want to obtain a lighting fixture. If you have one of those desk lamps, it’ll work fine. If you don’t have a light fixture that you can use, I’d suggest getting a clamp-on work light.

Miscellaneous tools

Last, you’ll want to make sure you have a few standard household tools on hand: a sharpie marker, a tape measure, a straight-edge ruler, scissors, and a knife.


The step-by-step process for building a light tent

Now that you have your materials, it’s time to build your tent! The process is fairly easy, so you shouldn’t have much trouble, even if you’re not much of a DIY person. When you’re done, you’ll be able to take clean and crisp shots, like this:

 Dps Tent Lindt

Step 1: Mark your box

Place the box face up, so the open flaps are at the top. You’ll need to mark a two-inch border along the edges of the four box faces (i.e., all but the top and the bottom).

So using your tape measure and sharpie, mark several points 2 inches from the side of the box along every edge. When you’re done, you should see a spotted border:


Then use your straight-edge ruler to connect all the points. That should give you a nice-looking square/rectangle in the middle of the box with a two-inch border around it.

(Again, leave the top and the bottom of the box alone!)

Step 2: Cut out the boxes

Next, cut out the boxes that you’ve drawn. Do this on all four main sides of the box, avoiding the top and the bottom.

When you’re done, cut off the flaps on the top of the box. Leave the bottom intact.

Step 3: Line the box with Bristol board

We want to create liners for all of the exposed cardboard inside the box. Therefore, you’ll want to cut 16 strips from your Bristol board. The length of the strips will need to match the box dimensions.

Take your strips of Bristol board, then glue them into the box. If you applied marker to the Bristol board before cutting, make sure the marks are against the cardboard so they can’t be seen. Here’s what you should have at this point in the process:


Step 4: Add the background

Now it’s time to give the box a backdrop. Take another piece of Bristol board and cut it so the width is the same as the inside of the box. The length should be much longer than the box, however!

Place the long piece of Bristol board into the box so that the piece curves to the bottom, like so:


Avoid creasing the board as this will show up in your photo. Cut off any excess paper that is sticking out the top.

Step 5: Add the fabric

All that’s left is to prepare the fabric and secure it to your light tent! First, cut the fabric into squares/rectangles to cover three of the open sides. Next, cut a big piece that’s capable of completely covering the top of the box.

Finally, tape the fabric so all the holes in the box are covered, except the front hole (i.e., the hole that faces the background). Tape the top piece on, too.

Here’s the result:


And you’re done! Now all you have to do is light the box, place a subject inside, and start snapping away! The most basic one-light setup that I recommend involves placing your light above the box so it’s pointed down:


But there are many variations you can do to get the photo you want. If you light your subject from above but are noticing strong shadows, try positioning additional lights on the other sides of the box.

Don’t be afraid to get very close to your subject, even if that means putting your camera partially inside the box:


If you’re interested in creating those ultra-bright, high-key backdrops that are popular in product photography, post-processing programs can be a big help. You may need to brighten the whites and/or the highlights until you get the look you want.

Here’s my DIY light tent in action:

 Dps Tent Softboxresult

And here’s another example image:

 Dps Tent Lindt

Capture some top-notch product photos!

Well, there you have it! As you should now be aware, creating a nice light box is pretty darn easy.

So go make your light box. Test it out on some fun subjects. Pretty soon, you’ll be creating the kind of product photos that belong on a website!

Now over to you:

Will you create a DIY light box? Do you have any additional advice? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

This tutorial was submitted by Jeffrey Bail. See Jeffrey’s Flickr account here.

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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