Saturday 30 August 2014

The Everyday War Gamer: DIY Lightbox

Many of us war gamers and modelers enjoy sharing photographs of our models through social media sites, forums and blogs. Unfortunately taking pictures of our small metal soldiers can sometimes prove to be difficult. Modern cameras are capable of capturing highly detailed images but simple things like bad lighting can ruin what would otherwise be a great picture.

An easy way to improve your photographs is to control how light falls on you minis. By manipulating the lighting you can minimize reflections and shadows that would otherwise obscure detail. Similarly, by controlling the light you can ensure that your photographs capture the true colors of your troops and help make them pop.

The easiest way to ensure good lighting is by taking pictures outside on a cloudy day. If your not patient enough to wait for perfect outdoor conditions then your next best option is to use a lightbox. There are dozens of lightboxes and light tents available commercially, but building your own is simple. Let me show you how it's done...

You can build it. You have the technology.

The first thing you need to do is gather your supplies. You will need the following:
  • A cardboard box large enough to contain the models that you want to photograph.
  • Tissue paper (the kind for wrapping gifts, not the kind for blowing your nose).
  • Tape
  • A box cutter, hobby knife, or even a kitchen knife
  • A ruler or straight edge
  • A pen or marker
Now use your ruler to draw a square on three sides of the box. The optimum way to do this is to lay the ruler on the box, along the outside edge. This will give you pretty good spacing from the edge of the box face.

The next step is to cut out the squares using your box cutter. When you are done the box should look something like this (maybe without the cat peeking through):
Next you'll want to tape tissue paper over each of the openings that you cut into the box. You can trim off the extra, or just wrap it around and tape it to various points on the box.

The final step is installing a background. If you want the seamless look that many minis retailers use then a sheet of white poster board will do the trick. Trim the poster board down so that it will slide into the box. You want to tape it against the top of the back wall, then allow it to curve out towards the opening in the front of the lightbox. This is the final result:
Voila! You've just finished your lightbox.

Let there be light!

Now that the light box is complete all that's left to do it is light it up. You will need a total of three light sources. I am using two desk lamps and a magnifier lamp on a long arm to light mine. For best results you should try to use 100 watt daylight bulbs. Incandescent bulbs will work, but will give a slightly yellow tinge to your photos (which you can correct in Photoshop or GIMP, but that's another article).

The tissue paper will allow light through, but will diffuse it so that your model doesn't catch any harsh reflections. You can control the amount of shadow by how you set up your lights. If you want lots of shadows use light coming in from only one side of the box. To reduce the amount of shadow bring in light from both side of the box, and to eliminate almost all of the shadows bring in light from the top as well.

Take some pictures!

I think that you will find that using the lightbox makes a HUGE difference in the quality of your pictures. Here an example of my results without the box versus with it.


  1. Very nice.

    I always think about making one but have no idea what I am doing. This might help.

    1. I had the same feeling until I got stuck in. The box is easy to put together. The tricky part is getting light just how you want it, but that seems to be more about experimentation than anything else.

    2. Look up articles on Theatrical Lighting to learn more about various lighting angles and why you use them. I tend to have the lights in front of the fig pointing at the mini from above. Like you would see in most theaters when they are lighting the actors

      Still this is a good project and lighting does make a difference. There are also printable colored backdrops available on the internet if you don't want a white background. The White background tends to cause issues with cheap cameras metering, ie they meter based on the bright white background and underexpose the subject (btw you can see this in action on every fig that's sitting on a white background in the pict above me.)

      IMHO while good lighting is wonderful, Most miniature photography is ruined by bad focus and the camera focusing somewhere other than the miniature.

    3. Sounds like another article. Thanks for the tips!

  2. That's a darn site better than using the top of my stove as a makeshift lightbox. The comparison pictures are great - I've never seen a side by side like that. And for the bloggers out there, I'm a lot more likely to follow a blog with photos like the top row than the bottom row.

    1. None of those pictures are good. The top ones are under exposed and the bottom sans lightbox figs are over exposed.

      using backdrops like these can help that issue. There are backdrops available for free printing on the internet. Here are some that are available from Hanger 18

    2. I'm trying to get a sense of the over/under exposure. If you had to describe to someone why you could tell the lightbox photos are under-exposed, what are the indicators?

      Is it the fairly uniform colour tone, and the lack of seeing the purple (as compared to the out of box photos)?

  3. What are you using for a camera? Do you need something flash (digital SLR) or can you get away with a decent camera phone or point and shoot?

    Also, great article, thank you ++

    1. All of the pictures in the article were taken with a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone.

    2. I'm stoked to hear that. Just to be noisy, what resolution are you choosing for the shot, and do you lower it with a photo editor afterward for posting on the webz?

    3. I just used the default setting on my phone (3264x2448), and I didn't adjust the resolution afterwards (although I did do some post processing in GIMP to adjust the white balance). The collage was done via PicMonkey, which is a free browser based collage tool.

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  5. Great article, I'm going to put a link from my own Blog to this :)

  6. A really useful article. Thank you

  7. That's a great article. The details of why stuff is done is as important as why it is done. Thank you.