Tutorial: Making a Light Tent


A light tent is a device into which small objects are placed to photograph them. Usually associated with macro or still photography, the light tent is an indispensable tool that scatters light, illuminating the item evenly and reducing (potentially eliminating) shadows. To achieve this objective, the light tent is covered in a translucent material (e.g. plastic, fabric or paper). Commercial light tents are available but can be expensive and, in my experience, not nearly as good as one you have specifically created to suit your personal needs.


I got back into serious photography through a desire to take better photographs of the model cars I make. It soon became obvious that one of the biggest hurdles to taking good macro photographs was getting the lighting right. Having heard through a model making forum about the benefit of using a light tent, I decided to build my own.

Unfortunately, my first attempt at making a light tent was not a complete success, as I had terrible problems with White Balance (WB) and colour casts. However, it did make me realise that a properly constructed light tent would give me great photographs. I then bought some commercial items (Calumet Cocoon, Calumet Light Tent) but they were too big, too fiddly, and required lots of light. So, I decided to try and improve on my original light tent and, in doing so, discovered some helpful tips which I am sharing in this tutorial.


Step 1: Cardboard box

Step one is to select an appropriate cardboard box. Firstly, it needs to be strong, as it must remain rigid once the sides have been removed. Secondly, the cardboard box needs to be an appropriate size. By appropriate, I mean big enough to comfortably fit your subject but not so big that it gives you a problem storing it. The cardboard box in this tutorial is just a little larger than 30cm square.

Figure 1: Cardboard Box
Figure 1: Cardboard Box

Cut out four sides (front, top, left and right) but leave the bottom and back solid. Use a sharp scalpel (be very careful) and leave about 3cm on every edge for rigidity (see Figure 1).

Step 2: Tissue paper

Next, cover the top and both sides in white tissue paper. You can use any translucent material but be aware of any colour cast that it might introduce. Also, if the material is too thick, you might need some very powerful lighting to illuminate your subject. My experience is that white tissue paper is the best material to use (see Figure 1).

Step 3: Background

Next, cut and fit some background card to shape. It is important that the card is not too thick, as you want to be able to curve the card upwards gradually to create a seamless bottom surface/background.

Figure 2: Cardboard Background
Figure 2: Cardboard Background

I normally use white card but you can, of course, swap the background colour to suit your subject. To help you swap out the background card, use Blu-Tack to hold the card in place in both top corners (see Figure 2).

Step 4: Lighting

Finally, we need to illuminate the light tent, preferably from multiple light sources. I use three light sources: an angle-poise lamp to reach over the top of the light tent and task lights on either side. I originally used three lamps that we already had in the household. They were all different temperatures and the resultant images were so difficult to adjust for white balance as a result.

Figure 3: Natural Lighting
Figure 3: Natural Lighting

I then bought two Daylight Company Portable Lamps and replaced the bulb in my angle-poise lamp with a natural light bulb and this resolved my WB problem (see Figure 3).


So, after all this trouble is it worth it? I think so. Figure 4 shows that shadows have been all but eliminated and the seamless background makes the subject stand out.

Figure 4: A Sample Image
Figure 4: A Sample Image

Hopefully, you found this tutorial interesting and it has inspired you to have a go at creating a light tent of your own. If you have any feedback on the tutorial or on how the light tent can be improved, please get in touch.