Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lightbox Adventures

Hello again everyone!
I'm not really a big painter or photographer, so I've never invested in a lightbox. Typically I'd just put the fig on a white backdrop, make sure there was some decent ambient light and take a few snaps. It was never great, but it wasn't horrible either. Yet occasionally I'd want a nicer base pic for a contest or something. So I'd set up extra lamps, offer some voodoo sacrifice, play with the camera settings, take a lot of source pics and generally do a lot of dancing around and playing with variables. All this extra work would get me pics that were slightly better but never drastically so. I even built a standard do-it-yourself lightbox with wax paper filters, but was underwhelmed with the improvement in lighting compared to the headache of storing that extra junk. I figured my main problem was my antique, crappy digital camera.

Then a couple weeks ago I ran across a post on a different lightbox approach from Corvus Miniatures. The main point was to use direct or strong ambient lighting, but diffusing it across the miniature by having the side walls of the box covered with aluminum foil. I figured I was capable of doing something similar... and if it didn't work, I'd learn something and only be out a couple sheets of foil. Might as well try it out and see what happens! Being the penurious sort that I am, I didn't even make mine as complex as his. I simply covered two pieces of cardstock with aluminum foil. The foil was held in place with duct tape. The rest of the setup was one piece of white printer paper, my usual lamps and lighting, a stack of hardback books to be the framework, another book to raise the camera up a bit, and the lid of a Play-Do jar to angle the camera. The end result looked a little something like this:But how to really compare any difference? I'd recently put up some pics of the Space Hulk Broodlord I recently finished, so I "volun-told" him to present for a mug shot. A couple pics were made and I opened them into Photoshop to see how much work they'd take to correct... and I was blown away by what I was looking at. Here, have a side-by-side comparison:The one on the left was with bright ambient light and no redirect. The one on the right is with the aluminum foil lightbox sides. Click the image to see a larger version... the difference is even more notable. Same lights in a similar setup, same crappy camera, same background paper, same miniature... but OH, what a difference! The pic almost looks better than the real model. There's still a bit of light glare cropping up, but it is a high-gloss model and I kinda expect that. What I didn't expect was how much of the shading and color tone would appear. Wow.

There's an old saying I recall, "There's none who cry louder than a thief accused of a crime they didn't commit or a sinner who has just found God." Well, I'm a convert. If you've been being lazy and just snapping shots of figs on your table, STOP! Spend a couple minutes to put up some aluminum foil and a backdrop and you might find some amazing results. With the way I built mine, it even goes nicely flat back on the book shelf.
Hopefully this has given you guys some ideas and inspiration. Cheers and see you soon! I'm off to work on my super secret BIG project...

***Starter image grabbed from a blog for audiophiles and may or may not have been theirs in the first place. The usual standards apply. The rest of the pics are MINE! Use them as you wish.***


  1. Thanks for the tip and the Link. I grabbed the kool cloud backgrounds from Corvus minis blog, very slick!


  2. Quality tip. Thanks. I've been struggling with lighting tremendously (only being able to shoot on really sunny days, etc). This should help quite a lot. Thanks again.

  3. I'll give this a try, that's for sure! Thanks!

  4. Great thing trying out my technique, and with success.

    Thanks for linking to my blog.


  5. Yeah ... brilliant info and perfect test! I'm building one tonight - thanks to both Corvus and yourself

  6. OOH! The foil was an excellent idea! Thanks for help in passing it along. My set up is remarkably similar to what you posted (minus the foil).

  7. Very cool.

    And Harry Dresden FTW!

  8. After years of using DIY lightboxes I finally broke down and bought a one. Since doing the switch I love it. Having a dedicated booth for taking pictures makes it so much easier and I spend less time in Photoshop/Lightroom editing later. For the $30 I spent on it I got a portable one with lights that takes up no space. Here is the review of the one I am running.

  9. Nice work! National Geographic is now within arms reach!

  10. Thanks for the post.
    I have been waffling on whether or not to get a lightbox, but this seems like a great alternative.

  11. @Big Jim: Cheers! Corvus has some great stuff over there.

    @bsmoove: I didn't think the improvement would be anywhere near this drastic. I cringe to think how good your figs will look now. (Which is to say, you have some great figs!)

    @noeste: It took maybe 15 minutes of setup and fiddling for what was some amazing results. I was glad to share the tip.

    @Corvus: Told you I was going to steal it and try it out. And I've been VERY happy with the results. It was worlds better results than my last lightbox attempts.
    Thanks for blogging about the idea so I could see it. And you're welcome for the link. Hopefully it will send you some good traffic. You've got some great stuff over there that I think many would be interested in.

    @Suneokun: Do post before and after results. I'd like to see how it goes for you.

    @Da Masta Cheef: It was one of those things that was just simple, brilliant and excellent. It's one where you kick yourself for how easy it is. If you try it out, do post!

    @sonsoftaurus: Cheers! And yeah, they're not only good reads, but it is kind of a moral obligation. One of my fencing friends is the guy Butcher based Dresden's look and several mannerisms off of. They were in Kung Fu together. The weird disparity though? The RL guy has this deep, rolling voice with a cultured British accent. Heh.

    @Diehard2501: Thanks for the comment and link. I'd seen the kit set up, but never compacted. I share a 2-bedroom house with a wife, daughter and 3 cats, so space conservation is at a premium. I've been very happy with this DIY variant, but $30 isn't bad and I might pick one up in the future.

    @Igyy: Heh. I don't know about that, but I do know I'm tempted to go back and re-shoot many of my old pics. It's a slippery slope as I really should stay focused on painting.

    @Magilla: I had the same issue. This method is cheap, easy and really made a difference for me. Trying it out costs all of $0.20 worth of foil? Cheers and do let me know if you try it.

  12. Thank you for this ^_^

    After having a lengthy discussion with my crappy camera the other night- and it basically telling me "What do you expect, Im a 5 year old camera that was chewed on by a great dane and you repaired. Im cheap and was never supposed to take real macro pics!"

    So, maybe with a simple set up like this I can take some pics of something smaller than a rhino and get some WIP pics of my tallarns up :)