Photographers are pretty savvy when it comes to saving money. This DIY light box is a surprisingly simple method for photographing small, translucent objects like flower petals.
Remember holding sheets of paper against a window to trace out a design? This process is similar in technique. The sheet of baking paper will act as a diffuser, spreading light evenly through a translucent object so it can be photographed in detail. Using a well-lit sheet of paper also isolates the subject from the background with a nice, even, white backdrop. Plus, you get to take great photos without leaving the comfort of your own home. So really, it’s win-win!
Supplies you will need
- Macro lens or extension tubes
- A well-lit glass window or door
- Butcher’s paper
- Clear sticky tape
- Glass cleaner or rubbing alcohol
- Eucalyptus oil (for removing any remaining sticky tape from the glass surface once you have finished shooting)
- Small transparent objects to photograph (I like using flowers)
Picking a location
Before you start, you’ll need to locate a light source. While the butcher’s paper will serve as a background for your image, you’ll need a strong, even amount of light to illuminate the subject.
Depending on the time of day, you might have to try different windows around your house. The position of the sun will dictate the strength of the light penetrating the butcher’s paper. Choose a window that is unimpeded by exterior blinds or trees if possible.
Once you’ve settled on a well-lit window, you’ll need to prepare the glass. Wipe a small amount of rubbing alcohol or glass cleaner over the window and pat down with a cloth. This will minimize any particles that may impede light from coming through. It will also allow the sticky tape to adhere to the glass more effectively. Make sure that the glass surface is completely dry, however, or the tape and butcher’s paper will become soggy and unusable.
Take your piece of butcher’s paper and hold it against the window. The reason I use butcher’s paper is because I’ve found that run-of-the-mill copy-paper disperses light in mottled and uneven patches, which looks poor in photographs. Butcher’s paper diffuses light more evenly and makes for a uniformly white background. You can use a piece as large as you like, just make sure there is enough paper to fill the viewfinder in your camera.
Fix your piece of butcher’s paper to the glass. I recommend using clear sticky tape rather than blue-tack or colored tape because it may show up in your photographs and can wrinkle the paper. Once you have fixed the paper flush with the glass, you can begin adding your subjects.
Carefully stick your objects to the butcher’s paper with small amounts of clear sticky tape. This can be tricky on a vertical surface, so having lightweight, translucent subject matter like flowers work best. I also like to sit on a chair for this part, to avoid a backache.
Taking the shot
Once your subjects have been adequately adhered to your butcher’s paper, it’s time to get the camera out. Mount your camera on a tripod and position it so that the subject and the butcher’s paper fill your viewfinder. To capture the detail in your subject, a macro lens is ideal. I used my Kenko extension tubes to get a nice detailed shot. Of course, you could also arrange larger subjects or patterns on the butcher’s paper, focusing on pattern and light rather than macro detail.
Set your camera to Aperture priority mode (Av on Canon and A on Nikon) and adjust the aperture to allow for the desired depth of field. Remember, to maintain focus throughout the whole image, use a smaller aperture like f/22. However, this may be limited depending on the lens you use.
For the sharpest detail, using a low ISO count is also a good idea. Although this will cause your camera to automatically increase the shutter speed, your tripod will minimize camera shake, especially if you view your composition using with the LCD screen and Live View rather than the viewfinder.
Once you start photographing, you’ll notice the diffused light enveloping and illuminating your subjects. With the abundance of the soft light, you’ll discover that detail is much easier to capture and view. Using this butcher’s paper method eliminates pesky shadows, allowing the subject to lift off the background with striking contrast and intricacy.
Try photographing all sorts of flowers, fruits, leaves and other transparent materials and see your subjects in a whole new light!