DIY Lowel Ego Light Box

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This past weekend, I had myself a fun little DIY project. If you know me, then you know that if I can save a few $$$ by doing something myself, I’m certainly going to do it. Don’t believe me? Then check out my DIY Crate Coffee Table as proof!

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Anyways, something you may have noticed over the past few weeks is that the pictures on the blog have become increasingly better. Part of that is due to a new DSLR that helps me take fantastic photos, but most of the improvements can be attributed to Adobe Lightroom and this little light box. The most important component that helps drive traffic to a food blog is undoubtedly the pictures. And with photography, it’s all about the lighting. If you don’t have a good light source (i.e. the sun), then you’re going to have to make some adjustments to simulate it as best as you can. In comes this fantastic DIY Light Box!

If you’re like me and have a full time day job, then you know that all of the cooking and picture taking happens in the evenings. But like most homes and kitchens, I only have the ugly yellow overhead lights to work with so all of my pictures have been coming out yellow and unappetizing. I was so jealous of all the other food blogs filled with bright beautiful pictures I knew I was doing something very wrong. So after doing a little bit of research, I stumbled upon the Lowel EGO Digital Imaging Tabletop Fluorescent Light Unit from Amazon. I simply had to have it! The only problem is that it’s $125! While this might not seem like a huge investment in the world of photography where a single lens can set you back 1-2K, it seemed like something I could easily make myself for a fraction of the cost. So with that, I did a quick google search and sure enough, there were tons of guides out there for a DIY version of this light box. I followed the guide from theadventurebite.com because it seemed the most straightforward out of all of them. And with an order to Amazon and a visit to the hardware and craft store, I built my own for under $30!

What you’ll need for 1 box: 

  • (2) 20″ x 30″ Foam Core Poster Board (1 for the box and the other for a bounce board)
  • 1 Ikea Hemma Cord Set
  • 1 Light Bulb Socket Splitter
  • (2) 23W 6500K “Daylight” Bulbs (must say daylight bulb or shine in the 5500-6500K range)
  • 1 large piece of white packing paper (or anything that is white and opaque to help diffuse the light)
  • 2-4 large binder clips

Note: Some people prefer the Full Spectrum Light Bulb ALZO 27W Compact Fluorescent CFL bulbs because of their specific color temperature but the 6500K daylight bulbs from your local hardware store work just as well in my opinion.

Other things you will need that I had lying around:

  • Tape measure
  • Box cutter or sharp knife
  • A large straight edge

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Step 1: On both of the long sides of the board, measure out two spots, one at 10 1/2 inches and the next at 19 1/2 inches. Draw a straight line connecting the two points. This will be where you make your cut.

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Step 2: With the help of a large straight edge (or shelf like I used), make your cuts. Make sure to only cut through the first side of the board and most of the foam. Do NOT cut all the way through. You are essentially making a small tri-fold board.

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Go slow and be patient with this step cutting a few mm at a time. The last thing you want to do is cut a huge piece of your board off and have to start over. Once you have your board cut most of the way through, give it a gentle flex to crease your board.

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Step 3: On the center portion of your board, measure up 9 inches and across 4 1/2 inches and mark this spot. Remove the ring from the Hemma cord and line it up over the dot. The point is to have the lights high enough so reflect the light but also low enough to keep the board from toppling over on itself. IMG_1376

Trace the INSIDE of the ring like so. IMG_1377

Step 4: Cut out the hole and thread in your hemma socket from the back.

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Next, install your twin socket adapter and your bulbs.

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Step 5: The last step is to use the binder clips to attach your white sheet of paper. You can use anything from parchment paper to plastic film. Just make sure that whatever you’re using is opaque enough to diffuse the light but still allows light to come through. I like to wrap the edges of the paper around the board and clip it from the top. IMG_1520

And by using binder clips, you can easily remove and change your filters when needed.

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Plug in your light box and give it a test run!

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The picture below was shot at f/3.2 ISO 6400 with only the overhead kitchen lights. Notice how grainy and yellow the picture looks. Gross. And sadly, these were how a majority of my pictures on the blog looked before switching to the light box.

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And this one was shot at f/3.2 ISO 400 with all the lights off and only the light box turned on. What a drastic difference right? Not only am I able to shoot at a much lower ISO to increase picture quality and reduce noise, the photo looks 100 times more natural and way more appetizing!

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By the way, before the light box, this was my set-up. Pretty ghetto right? It worked well for a few photos but the lamp was just too hard to position (Selma was my impromptu light holder). I still use it as a secondary lamp to get a little extra light in the room from different angles but now the light box is my go-to light source.

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In addition to making your own light box, I would also invest in another foam board to use as a bounce board. This will help reflect the light and soften shadows.

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Pricing

The below table shows the rough price breakdown of the total cost of this project. Your costs may obviously differ depending on where you source your parts but it should roughly come out to be the same (or even cheaper!). But compared to the current price of $125 for the Lowel Ego Light Unit, you can make 4 of these and still have money left over!

Item Price
(2) 20″ x 30″ Foam Core Poster Board $6.00
1 Ikea Hemma Light Cord $9.00
1 twin light socket adapter $4.00
(2) 23W 6500K “Daylight” Bulbs (must say daylight bulb or shine in the 5500-6500K range) $7.00
1 large piece of white packing paper (or anything that is white and opaque to help diffuse the light) $1.00
2-4 large binder clips $1.00
Total $28.00

 

There are many other DIY tutorials out on the interwebs that are wayyyy more extravagant than this set-up. But in my honest opinion, you don’t really need all the extra bells and whistles. This will get the job done AND it’s easily collapsible so you can store it away when you’re not using it.

A few final tips and suggestions:

  1. When using the light box, shoot in manual mode. If those two words scared you, I would suggest reading up on what that means. I’ve never shot in manual mode before but after a few days or playing around with the settings it’s become like second nature to me. There are a bunch of good tutorials on the interwebs on how to use this setting. I start shooting at the following settings and adjust from there:
    • Shutter speed: 1/60
    • ISO: 400
    • Aperture: 3.2
  2. Shoot in RAW format so you can edit it later if needed.
  3. Shoot in complete darkness with only the light box on. This will help eliminate that ugly yellow glow from other lights.
  4. Lastly, I would HIGHLY recommend investing in Adobe Lightroom. I mainly use it to adjust the exposure and white balance but it’s been an invaluable tool for sorting and cleaning my photos.

And with that, if you have any questions or comments on this tutorial, feel free to leave a comment below!

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