DIY Softbox

softbox fabric

Taking photos of my food projects for this blog has made it abundantly clear to me that I don’t really have the right setup for beautiful pictures of food. My two windows with good natural light are located in awkward positions (both above couches, so I can’t set up a table in front of them), and all my lines of sight are directed at unattractive backgrounds. The latter problem is easily dealt with by purchasing a cardboard display board that I can use to create my own neutral backgrounds, but the light problem is tougher to solve.

A little online research shows that there are some well-reviewed artificial lights out there that apparently work well to simulate natural light. However, since I don’t have $100+ to drop on a fancy light, I decided to go the DIY route. There are tons of tutorials on how to make your own DIY “softbox,” which is basically a device that you fit around your lightbulb that’s shiny on the inside to bounce the light around and has a diffuser in the front to soften it. The most useful tutorial appeared to involve using a mesh food tent as the structure and lining it on the inside in aluminum foil or shiny fabric, and on the outside with black fabric. The big plus is that it’s foldable and thus doesn’t take up too much space.

However, when I found this insulated food tent I figured I could take it one step further. The shiny fabric here is on the outside, but I thought that if I could remove the cover and reverse it so the shiny part was on the inside, it would be a really easy solution. It turned out to be amazingly simple. Here’s how I did it:

Materials:

13″ insulated food tent ($4.84) (**UPDATE: Price of this item has gone up to about $10.00 since the original post. Still not a bad deal, but not as good as it used to be**)

1/2 yard white polyester lining fabric (or anything thin and white, like a T-shirt) ($1.50)

1 yard of adhesive velcro ($1.89)

Clamp light ($8.99 at the hardware store… though you really could use any lamp or cord with a socket at one end)

“Daylight” 100w-equivalent bulb (6100K) ($4.79)

Here’s the food tent to begin:

softbox before

1. Take a close look at how the ribs of your food tent are attached to the cover. Mine were only attached at the tips with tiny plastic knobs, so I cut those off, leaving the ribs loose.

softbox cut

softbox ribs

2. The center knob of the food tent (the one that holds the ribs in place) was made of two parts– the top part, which showed on the outside, and the bottom part, where all of the ribs were attached. The two parts basically just clicked together on either side of the central hole in the cover, with a string running through them to pull the tent up and down. All I had to do was pull the pieces apart and off of the string, and I could take the cover right off.

3. Then I turned the cover inside out, and replaced it on the base of the center knob before re-attaching the top portion.

softbox knob before

softbox knob after

4. I used needle and thread (though you could probably also use hot glue) to re-attach the tips of the ribs to the corners of the cover. The tent is now reversed, with the shiny fabric on the inside.

softbox reattach

softbox after outside

softbox inside

5. I cut an X in the side of my shiny tent just large enough to fit the base of the lightbulb through, and added a few more spokes to allow for it to open up in a round shape. I poked the socket through it and taped it in place with duct tape. Then I screwed the bulb into my light socket.

6. Finally, I attached small strips of adhesive velcro to the outer sides and corners of the tent. I cut out a double-layered* 18″ square of my white fabric and sewed a 1/4″ hem on all sides.Then I attached the other sides of the velcro to the edges of the hemmed fabric so I could stretch it taut over the tent opening (check the fit of the fabric before attaching the velcro to be sure it’s taut). I did have to cut tiny holes in the fabric to allow the tips of the tent poles to poke through– if your tent doesn’t have protruding tips, skip this step.

softbox velcro

7. All done!

softbox done

* Double layered because the light was too harsh with only a single layer of fabric. Your mileage may vary depending on how opaque your fabric is.

This light is so much better than my overhead kitchen lighting, there’s just no comparison.

Okay, fine, here’s a comparison of completely un-edited shots:

First up is ambient kitchen and living room lighting with no overhead. In the middle is my standard overhead kitchen light. At the bottom is my setup with the softbox, with all other lights turned off. See the difference?

softbox ambient

softbox overhead

softbox light

Also, that nice wooden surface you see in the picture is a 2′ square vinyl sheet printed with wood planks. I got several in different patterns so I can change up my surfaces without having to invest in real wood.

I may end up making another one of these so I can brighten things up a bit– the lighting is still not quite as bright as real daylight.

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