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Sunday, March 25, 2012

DIY Photo Cube Tutorial Instructions

Another DIY photo cube. :-)

You can use any size box that fits your needs. This one was made out of a necessity to fit into a particular space (11 inches wide).

For those of you familiar with one of my pet peeves, it’s having to set-up and tear-down my photography arrangement. Because it’s such an involved process, I only photographed once a week, if that.

But I found an 11-inch wide space in my workroom (I decided the etching equipment can come out when I use it and doesn’t need to be a permanent fixture). So then the trick was setting something up that worked to my rather severe specifications and still fit into the tiny space provided.

Lampshades were not an option this time unless I wanted to hit up a dozen stores looking for the exact shape and size needed. So instead, I took a used USPS priority mailing box and an Exacto knife and got to work.

I don’t have photos of the process because it took me all of ten minutes and I was just anxious to see if it would work first, but it’s easy enough to explain.

Ah heck, when I read someone’s blog, I’m more of a visual person rather than a written instructions kind of person, so let me make another one and show you.

I took a used USPS Priority shipping box that is Large Flat Rate (12x12x5½ inches).

Then, using an Exacto knife box cutter, I cut one of the sides off.

Then I close up either the bottom (or top; it doesn’t matter) with tape (I use my strong, wide packing tape ‘cause I don’t want this thing popping open while I’m using it).

Here’s what it should look like now. Mentally replace that piece of Scotch tape you see with packing tape… since I only made this second one for explanation purposes, I didn’t bother using my good tape.

Now, remember I said I wanted something that would fit an 11-inch wide space? But this box is 12 inches wide. I was going to fold the two side flaps in about half an inch so that it would fit my space but I ended up doing something slightly differently (see last photo).

Next, I took the leftover piece of cardboard from the side panel I had removed from the box, cut off one of the lower sections (where the crease is) and put a sheet of aluminum foil (Reynold’s Wrap) on it.

This sits nicely in the back of the box (so nicely, in fact, that you don’t need any adhesive to hold it in place) and creates a nice reflective surface to more brightly illuminate your piece without causing harsh reflections (like from a direct light source). The thing I was striving for was to have the inside of the cube be a lit-up as possible without any direct light that would cause reflections and other harsh effects.

Next lay your cube down so that one of the sides is facing up and score then cut with your box cutter like the photo. You want a margin of about an inch or so. Enough to maintain some structure integrity. And don’t worry about jagged edges. This is not an aesthetic creation in any way.

Do the same thing to the other two sides. So now your six sided cube should have a completely open bottom, a completely open front, two framed sides with cut-out openings, a framed top with a cut-out opening, and a solid back that has foil facing inward.

The final step is to tape (now you can use Scotch tape) vellum or tracing paper over the three openings.

So when I went to place my new photo cube into my 11-inch wide space, I discovered that I could tape the box on TOP of where I was going to put it and the 12-inch wide box was completely in line with my 12-inch wide structure.

Here’s what I’ve got the photo cube on. The box is resting on and taped to the two metal handles at the top. This cart is available through Target and Cosco and other great places. The drawers come out completely (something I require in my workroom) and it’s on wheels so easy to move.

In the final photo, you can see how it’s taped to the metal frame of the cart.

The lighting is three Bayco 5½ inch aluminum heat lamp frames from Home Depot (I removed the metal pieces in front). These have clamps and swivel joints so it’s pretty easy to position them where I wanted. The cords aren’t real long, so I had to bring a power strip close by.

The bulbs (also from Home Depot) are EcoSmart 14-Watt (60W) Daylight CFL Light Bulbs.

And there you have it. I can bring my tripod over if I want an angled shot, but mostly I will just use my table-top tripod positioned straight down.

Here are the first photos I took with the new set-up.

BTW, if you don’t already know, I offer the gradient paper I shoot on as something you can print out yourself (use a good quality setting when printing). Click here to see the options.


  1. yzthanks so much for posting this !!1 I have been staring in bafflement at my beads and sculpture, you have solved my problem, i do believe ! Now !!! off to foil the plot !1 ..the box...nivee!!

  2. Very creative - thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you!
    I didn't think you could get enough light with CFLs.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this! I meant to do it for a while, and pulled it off today. It definitely makes a difference! I shared your blog on my FB page :)

  5. Wow, thanks everyone for the words of encouragement.

    For the record, I'm sure I'm not the first person to have made a photo cube out of a box. But hopefully I have at least shown the details of one way it can be done.

    I recently upgraded. Took the plastic lamp dome off the light (you can actually see it in the photo that shows the set-up... it's the white plastic dome-shaped thing just above the top CFL bulb).

    Since the dome already had a hole in the top (for where the bulb goes), it was MORE than ready to go.

    I place the dome over my items, put my camera right on top of the hole, and shoot.

    The only time I use a different set-up is if I need an angled shot (these are obviously just straight down shots).

  6. I love it! Nice use of the multi-drawer station as well! I am sharing this on my fb page! www.facebook.com/mariagotartonline

  7. Nice job Laura! Great photos, great explanations, nice offer of the graduated backgrounds, clever solution to your needs with the rolling drawers, sweet, simple, and to the point. I use a light tent with three lights. I'm going to try the aluminum foil on the back wall and see if that gives me a little more light.

  8. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Every bit of help is appreciated.

  9. Thanks for sharing Laura, I had also made a similar , cheap-ola photo box, but now that I see yours, I think that adding the foil for reflectivity is a great idea. I'm off to do that now! Warm Regards, Tammie