If you don’t know how to use a light box properly, you’ll never get the most out of it. Your photos may still come out gray, or dull, and they might have funny color casts. In short, if you’re not using your lightbox correctly, you may have to just as much post processing as you were doing before you started using the lightbox.
How to Use a Lightbox – Simple Tips to get the Most Out Of Your Lightbox
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Now, here it is in more detail! There are two major pieces to using your lightbox, or light tent.
Lighting (Choosing the right lights, and setting them up properly)
Choosing the right camera settings
Without both of these important pieces, your pictures may come out the wrong color, they may be too muddy or dull looking, and you may not get the lighting effect that you were after. But, if you lay the foundation for success, using your lightbox will be a breeze.
Lighting – Choosing the Right Lights
A lightbox is designed to make lighting really easy. You don’t really have to mess with light modifiers, because the lightbox itself is the light modifier. Choosing a lighting setup is pretty simple, since you just choose to light one, two, or three sides of the lightbox.
Really There are basically two parts to getting the lighting right: Choosing the right lights, and putting them in the right place to get the right effect.
If you built your own lightbox, or you bought a light tent that didn’t come with lights, you’ll have to choose the lights that you use carefully. You’ll want two, or three lamps to get you started. Here’s what you’re looking for:
Choose a lamp design that lets you swivel and adjust the angle of the lamp head, and if possible, use one that has a reflector that lets you direct most of the light into the lightbox. Simple desk lamps (like the one pictured above) are perfect.
You can also use less expensive Clamp Lights to get the job done.
You can even use desk lamps you already have. Just take the shade off, and use the right kind of bulb.
The most important part of choosing a light is the light bulb.
Get bright, energy efficient light bulbs that offer full spectrum light.
Make sure that you don’t mix different kinds of light bulbs, because that will cause strange color casts in your photos.
You’ll need two or three bulbs. This set of four full spectrum bulbs should do the job perfectly. (Psst- if you purchase anything with one of my amazon links, I get some pocket change to help keep this site going.)
The easy way out
If you don’t want to buy all of the pieces separately, make it easy on yourself and either get a light tent that comes with lights, or get a tabletop lighting set that’s designed for light box photography.
Lighting – Arranging the Lights
The most common ways to arrange your lights are with one, two, or three lights.
You’ll arrange your lightbox with the camera facing the opening. Place your background, and subject inside the lightbox. The setup so far should look something like this…
A one light setup usually means that you place a single light on one side of the lightbox. Light will bounce around inside the lightbox, keeping the shadows soft. But, since the shadows aren’t completely filled in, you’ll still see some dimensionality in your photo (in other words, the subject won’t look flat). A one light setup will look something like this…
A two light setup could be done in a few ways. You could use one light on a side, and the other over the top of the lightbox. Or, you could use one light on either side of the lightbox, which would will in most of the shadows on either side of the subject. Some shadows may still be visible in the front. That would look something like this…
If you use two lights, place one on each side of the light tent, as the video below shows.
If you use three lights, the third light should be positioned at the top of the lightbox, so that light is shining directly down on the subject inside. If you do this, it might be easier to place your whole setup on the floor, instead of on a table top. Using three lights should eliminate most of the shadows from your picture. The setup will look something like this…
The arrangement you choose will depend on your subject, and your taste. It’s pretty easy to play around with the exact set up to see which works best for your photos.
Choosing Camera Settings
Using a lightbox doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get perfectly white, bright photos. Sure, it’s a step in the right direction, but if you don’t have the right camera settings, your photos will still turn out dull and lackluster, and they might even be the wrong color.
It’s not that you don’t have enough light. THe lightbox is doing it’s job by providing lots of pretty, soft light. It’s just that cameras just have a tendency to make everything gray, unless you tell them not to.
Color problems, like strange yellow, blue, or pink tints can be easily corrected by using the right settings too.
If your photos are turning out too blue, yellow, pink, or green, there’s only one thing to blame: White balance.
In a nutshell, different kinds of light (like tungsten light bulbs, fluorescent light bulbs, or sunlight) are really different colors. Our eyes are so good at adjusting to the color difference that we rarely perceive it. But, cameras aren’t very good at adjusting to the color differences between different light sources, and those colors may crop up in your photos.
The best way to solve this problem is to tell your camera what kind of light you’re using. You can do that by setting your camera’s white balance manually. Basically, you’re choosing between a few pre-set options for light sources. These options usually include direct sunlight, tungsten light, one or more kinds of fluorescent lights, cloudy sunlight, and shady sunlight. Using the setting that best matches the light that you’re using will usually make your photo’s colors look realistic, and your white background truly white.
Sometimes, these pre-set white balance options don’t quite do the job. In that case, you might need to use a custom white balance setting, that exactly matches the light source you’re using. Check your camera’s manual to see if it allows a custom white balance setting, and how to use it. The following video should give you an idea of what you’re in for with custom white balance.
Once you use exposure compensation to brighten up your dull shots, and set the correct white balance setting to get the colors right, you should have a bright, beautiful, perfectly illuminated photo.
It’s really easy, once you get the hang of it.
This might seem like a lot. But, once you get the hang of all of these steps, your routine will become much more, well, routine. In fact, once you choose your lights, you really only have to worry about where to put them, and getting the camera settings right.
Use one of the easy lighting setups illustrated above (bookmark this page for future reference!)
Use Exposure Compensation to brighten dull photos.
And, set the white balance in your camera to match the light that you’re using.
See? There are really only three simple steps to follow. And once you’ve got the hang of how to use a lightbox for your photography, you won’t really have to think about it at all.
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