My DIY Light Shed

Categories: DIY, How To, Photography
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Published on: 2012.03.02

Inspired by a “how to” post on a photography blog, I decided to build my own light shed out of easily found and inexpensive items. I was happy with the results. Here, I’ll detail my process and why I went this route.

(7 images after the jump)

A “light shed” or “light tent” is a product you can purchase from any number of photography-oriented retail outlets. What does it do? It provides a controlled setting for product photography, by completely surrounding the subject with a white surface. Also, the walls and roof of the shed allow light to enter while diffusing it. This helps eliminate unsightly shadows and background elements.

Usually even the small cheap ones cost $40 or more. I set about to make one for less than $20. It was a little harder to find the materials than I’d thought it would be, mainly because I was trying to avoid Wal-Mart. But after checking in Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and other stores, and finding nothing, I ended up at Wal-Mart anyway.

I found a collapsible mesh clothes hamper for $2.88, a three-pack of flexible cutting mats for $3.97, and a twin-sized flat white sheet for $5.00.

Collapsible Hamper 3-Pack Flexible Cutting Mats Flat Sheet (Twin Size)
(Images are Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

The hamper, laid on its side, formed the body of the light shed, while the plastic cutting mats (found in the kitchen section) became the floor.

DIY Light Shed
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

Then it was a simple matter of draping the white sheet over and around the shed and setting up the lights.

DIY Light Shed
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

You can use whatever lights you have. In my image above, there’s a LumoPro LP160 on the left and a Canon 420EX Speedlite on the right, both firing via Cactus V4 wireless flash triggers. As it turns out, that was too much light for this shed, even after I dialed down the power of the LP160 (the Canon flash doesn’t have manual power controls). So I removed the Canon flash and set the LP160 flash on 1/8 power to get an image like this:

DIY Light Shed Test Image
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

Then I repositioned the flash above the light shed for a better result:

DIY Light Shed Test Image 2
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

All for less than $12.

The downside of my light shed is its size. For photographing anything larger than a cantaloupe, the mesh interior of the hamper’s sides would become visible, so I’m limited to using it for relatively small objects — which is pretty much what I wanted anyway.

The upsides are:

* the low cost

* time factor (it comes down in just seconds, and sets back up very quickly. It required less time to set it up than it did to take the photos of the battery charger and lens above)

* plastic cutting mats are better than my initial idea of a paper floor, since paper can tear or get marked very easily; these plastic mats are washable.

* if the sheet gets dirty, it just goes in the washing machine (this isn’t possible with light sheds that you buy from photography stores).

* the whole thing folds flat. The hamper collapses to the size of a stack of 10 CDs (without cases). The sheet folds smaller than a lens and easily fits in a camera bag. The plastic mats, while flat, don’t fold, but they’re easy enough to transport.

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