Create an Inexpensive Photography Light Box

DIY Photo Light Box

Create your own Photograph Light Box using a cardboard box and less than $5.

I don’t pretend to be a professional photographer. In all honesty, I’m far from it. Since I started blogging, my food photos have just been okay. You could see what I made, but the photo didn’t jump out at you and have you saying, “Yummmm, I want to eat THAT!” It was time to do better. My pictures needed to depict just how delicious the food really was. After a little research, I decided I needed a photography light box. Only problem, I made a small, and I mean small, budget. So I set out on a little DIY project and created this light box with $5 and a few things I had around the house.

Great pictures begin with great light.

When taking photographs, natural light is best. But sometimes, you can’t get natural light when you need it. In our house, there is only one south-facing window that gets great filtered, natural light. Unfortunately, it’s not always convenient to photograph when the light is good. A photography light box will solve that dilemma. It eliminates strong shadows and glare from my kitchen lighting and creates a dramatic, eye appealing photograph. It takes my photos from “yup, it’s a burger” to “OMG, that looks delicious! I want to try THAT burger!”

You don’t have to be a food blogger to make great use of a photo light box. Do you ever list items on Craigslist or Ebay? When you peruse listings, which listings do you click on? The ones with great photos, right? You can create high quality photos with a light box. You’ll get more people clicking your listing and that helps sell items more quickly.

Natural light, overheard light, and diffused light from a light box

Materials Needed

1. Cardboard box – You can use any size box. Take into consideration what you’re wanting to photograph. I choose a large box, honestly, because that’s what I had lying around. If you don’t have a box, you don’t have to buy one. Try the office. Paper ream boxes are sturdy and are great for this. Also, check with local stores that sell products. They are usually happy to give you their boxes, as they just throw them out anyway. Note: thicker boxes are better. Free

2. Fabric or paper – To diffuse your light, you will want fabric or paper to cover the outside of your light box. A light, non-sheer fabric would be best. Tissue paper is another low-cost option. I used a white sheet that I picked up at the thrift store. I cut it up to just cover the top and sides of my box.  $1.79

3. Poster board – Solid color poster board creates the backdrop for your photos. Use the heavier weight poster board, if you can find it. I bought 2 sheets of black ($.69 each) and 2 sheets of white ($.50 each) from Dollar Tree. Note: I’m LOVING the black background. You really only need 1 sheet of poster board for the background. It should cover the bottom of your box and slope up at least 3/4 the height of your back wall. You don’t want to see cardboard in your photos. With kids in my house, I bought extra backgrounds. It’s best to be safe than sorry. Right? $2.40 

4. Lighting – This is the most important part of your box. It’s what provides the light in your DIY light box. If you don’t already have 2 lights to use, this will be your most expensive part of this project. I used a desk lamp with a flexible neck and a clip on shop light. Both lamps contain a standard 60 watt light bulb. In the future, I’m planning to get natural daylight bulbs. The current bulbs have a yellow tint and I’ve read that the daylight bulbs have a bluer spectrum. Free

5. Tools – Ruler or tape measure, straight edge, marker, tape, scissors, knife or box cutter. You are going to need these tools to measure, cut and secure your light box. You should have them around the house. Free

Creating Your Light Box – Directions

1. Take your box and map out how you’re going to cut it – Take your ruler or tape measure and measure 2″ from the side of the box. Mark several points as you go around each side with your marker.  You’ll start to see the rectangle or square you’ll be cutting away. Go around 3 sides of your box, leaving the top and bottom side alone. Use the straight edge or a ruler to connect the dots and form the rectangles or squares you’ll be cutting away.

DIY Photo Light Box- Cutting the box

2. Cut open your box – Tape the front of the box closed. This will help stabilize your box as you cut it. Using a knife or box cutter, cut away the squares or rectangles you drew out in the previous step. Once you’ve cut out your 3 sides, cut off the top of the top. You’ll end up with a solid bottom, 3 sides with cut out rectangles or squares, and 1 solid side.

DIY Photo Light Box - Finished box

3. Create your background – Measure the width of your box opening. Using scissors or a box cutter, cut the poster board to fit. Secure the poster board to the cardboard with tape or a clip. (Note: my box was larger than the poster boards, so I just layered the paper. It doesn’t show  in my photos.)

 DIY Photo Light Box - Background

4. Cover your box with fabric – Cut a large piece of fabric to cover the holes in your box. A large strip, the depth of your box is easiest. You can secure the fabric to box with tape. Note: I wanted a removable cover, so I didn’t secure the fabric. I cut the fabric so I could tuck it under the box.

DIY Photo Light Box - Finished project

Ready to Shot

To use your light box, set it up on a table or other horizontal surface. Place your lights above or on the side, depending on the lighting effort you desire. Now, just grab your camera and start snapping away.

Here are a few of the food photos I’ve taken with this inexpensive photography light box.

Pollo Corrido - Little Family Adventure Spanish Tortilla with Ham from Little Family Adventure

If you want more help with your photography, try these books affiliate links*). I’ve read them and they have helped me understand what makes a good picture and how to do it myself.


 For other Light Boxes, check out:

K’Nex Lightbox Tutorial from SpinHandSpun Designs
PVC DIY Light Box from DIY Photography
DIY Light Kit from Chickadee Says
Lowel EGO Digital Imaging, Tabletop Fluorescent Light Unit (affiliate link*)
LimoStudio Table Top Photo Photography Studio Lighting Light Tent Kit in a Box (affiliate link*)

Pursuit of Functional Home

*Amazon Affiliate links – I receive a little something when you click thru these links and make any purchase. The prices are the same for you! It just allows me to continue blogging and bring you great recipes, projects, and more.


  1. says

    That’s a really great idea. I too love natural lighting and sometimes try to get on my back patio to get good product shots but with my daughter, work, etc. sometimes it’s difficult. I’m definitely going to try this.

    • Little Family Adventure says

      Hi Tiffany. I saw plans for a pvc light kit, but I was on a tight budget. The lights were the most expensive part, but luckily I already had them. It’s amazing how well my pictures have turned out with such a small project.

    • Little Family Adventure says

      My kids have been having fun with this one. My oldest is using it with his stop motion animation. It’s been fun.

  2. says

    These are some great tips and since I really need to get better at picture taking, I will have to utilize them! Thanks for sharing and linking up with Countdown in Style! Don’t forget to come back on Friday to see if you were featured!

    April recently posted…#AskAwayFriday with HeatherMy Profile

    • Little Family Adventure says

      I can’t take credit for the idea. The web is full similar projects. But it has been fun and my photos have never looked better

  3. says

    Awesome post and tutorial. I was just saying to my hubby this morning that I needed a light box for my food photography and here you are! The best part is I’m pretty sure I have everything I need on hand already. Thanks for sharing at the Pin It Monday Hop.
    Jen recently posted…Duke and Sonny – Our Dog and PuppyMy Profile

  4. says

    I’m going to pin this! It looks so cool! I love photography but I feel like I’m not that good at doing food and people which is a necessity for my blog! This looks like a very cute, inexpensive idea to get great lighting. :)
    Brittnei recently posted…Whole Wheat Mac-N-CheeseMy Profile

    • Little Family Adventure says

      Thanks for pinning this Brittnei. It helps take great shots. I it help you with your food shots.

  5. says

    Nicky, this is such a good idea, and I love how inexpensively you were able to create it. Great job! I had seen these advertised for quite a bit, so this is something that I know a lot of people will be glad to see. :) Thank you for sharing it at Treasure Box Tuesday!
    Joy @ Yesterfood recently posted…Early American Cottage LoafMy Profile

    • Little Family Adventure says

      I’ve seen the expensive ones too Joy. With the weather being so crummy, I needed something to improve my photos. I’m loving the black background on the new photos. I’m looking forward to next week’s party.

  6. Cynthia says

    This is a great frugal tip! Thanks for linking to the In and Out of the Kitchen Link Party. Hope to see you next week.


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