DIY Softbox lights for pictures

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Blog entry by Mike_D_S posted 04-26-2016 04:16 AM 1234 reads 1 time favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’ve been wanting to take some better pictures of some of my projects, but I just don’t have good lighting around the house. I did some looking around at available softbox lights and reflectors to see if I could find some reasonably priced ones, but they were kind of pricey for occasional use.

So I defaulted to my normal cheap instinct, which was to DIY. So after doing some searching around on the web and gathering some ideas, I put these together and they work pretty well. The light spreads pretty well and while you still get some glare, you avoid the serious washed out point reflection of a naked bulb.

Each light assembly ended up costing about $20 and then are 18” square. The light assembly is a shallow 4” gang box, a plastic socket, cord and switch from a snap in candelabra socket, with a small hollow stud and coupling to hold it together. The box itself is coroplast yard signs cut into shape, lined with aluminum foil and then taped together. The diffuser is two layers of rip stop nylon taped on the edges.

Construction was straight forward. I started with the light assembly.
1. Cut a 3/8” hole in the back of the gang box in order to put the hollow mounting stud through.
2. Trim off the candelabra socket from the cord and switch. HD sold replacement cords with switches, but oddly enough the replacement cord was more than the complete cord/switch/small socket setup. So I just saved the $2 and cut off the small socket.
3. Feed the wire through the hollow coupling for the stud, the stud, the gang box and then through the threaded mount on the new socket.
4. For strain relief, pull 2 or 3 inches of wire through the socket base and tie a knot in the cord.
5. Strip back some of the insulation and connect the wires. Hot to center tap of the socket.
6. Thread the stud into the socket base, being careful not to overtighten and pinch the wire between the edge of the stud and the socket base. Then push the stud through the hole in the gang box.
7. Screw the coupling onto the back of the gang box and you now have a firmly mounted socket. Insert a light bulb and test. Note that I used 60 watt LED bulbs from the 6 bulb contractor pack HD has on sale around here for $12. This puts out plenty of light but won’t get hot like a normal bulb.

Once the light assembly is done, it’s time for the softbox shade and diffuser.
8. First you need the coroplast. In my case, I just went out and picked up coroplast signs on the side of the road. It’s against ordinance to put these signs on the public right of way next to the roads in Houston, but people constantly do it anyway. But while they are an eyesore to some people, for me they are simply a free source of coroplast. If you don’t have the ability to just pick up signs, HD sells a 4×8 ft sheet of coroplast for around $16.
9. Take one coroplast sheet and cut a piece 18” wide and about 16” long with the ribs running parallel to the 18” length. The typical sign around here is 18” by about 24” so I just use one sign per side of the softbox. Get a marker and a ruler and mark the first piece. The 18” side will be the front edge of the softbox. Mark back 12” from the 18” side and draw a line across. then measure in 7” from both sides on that line so you have a 7” section, a 4” section and a 7” section. The 4 inch section is for the gang box to fit in and it helps to had a small tab to put screws through into the gang box. So mark a small rectangle about 1” wide back from the line. the connect the edges of the 4”center piece to the corners of the 18” section and cut out the plastic side. See the pic below, the red lines are the cut lines. Cut out the side along the lines using a sharp knife.

10. Once you have it cut out, use the kinfe to split just one side of the coroplast across the 4” section where the dashed line was. This will let you bend it a little to fit the gang box in.
12. Now mark and cut the additional sides until you have 4 per light.
13. For the reflector, I used tinfoli and 3M77 spray adhesive. Lay out something to catch the overspray and spray the sides with adhesive with the hinge slot from step 10 facing up (I.E. the flap for the gang box folds down).
14. Tear off a piece of foil and with the shiny side up, lay it on the side, sticking it down as you go. If you need to use multiple pieces, try and line up the edges together as best you can. It’s not super critical if there is a small gap, but I like to work neatly.
15. Once you have the sides foiled, then go ahead and trim the excess foil off the side.
16. Take the side, hold two of them together to start the softbox itself and use tape to hold the sides together. Finish adding the sides until you have the whole box assembled.
17. Take the rip stop nylon and double it up, then tape it down to the edges of the softbox. Trim the nylon back as needed to make it fit your box size

At this point, you should now have a serviceable softbox light. I made two and there were very simple to make. You can see the definitely DIY look in the first picture. The second picture shows the softboxes turned on and you can see the light is well diffused.

Hope this inspires some other people to try it out. The extra light really came in handy for the pics I took of the vase I just finished.

-- No honey, that's not new, I've had that forever......

2 comments so far

View Northwest29's profile


1688 posts in 3094 days

#1 posted 04-26-2016 03:23 PM

Very help and inexpensive solution to light for photos. Thanks for sharing all the details of your project.

-- Ron, Eugene, OR, "Curiosity is a terrible thing to waste."

View Mike_D_S's profile


603 posts in 2819 days

#2 posted 04-26-2016 05:55 PM

I’m going to paint the outsides black tonight to improve the look. I found a roll of black duct tape I had half after finishing the roll of silver I had started with. So I’ll paint the backs black, go over the silver tape with black tape and they should look half decent from 5 feet away.

-- No honey, that's not new, I've had that forever......

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