Monday, 17 October 2011

The BoX

I've mentioned The BoX in a few posts before. Here's the detail on how I made the micro-studio to help me photograph miniatures.

A disadvantage I feel every more acutely living in London is that property prices are insane. Consequently the flat I rent is tiny. Setting up to do even the simplest photography shoot takes about half an hour as I extract all the bits from their hidey-holes where I have stuffed them. The same is true of shooting minis, which I had always photographed in a rather traditional “studio product” way with two strobes (that’s "flashes" to you) on lighting stands. I decided there must be an easier and more compact way to achieve the same results, especially as minis are so tiny.

Product photography in its traditional form is all about diffusing the light evenly over the object (let’s leave more exciting stuff at the door for the moment). I reasoned that some sort of box could do this in a compact manner without the need for external lighting stands, diffusers, reflectors or soft boxes. After a fun 40 minutes with a cardboard box, some tape, white paper and a craft knife I had completed the prototype of The BoX (white version). The schematic below summarises how it works. It can be used with both a traditional anglepoise lamp or a flash (as long as the flash is remotely triggered). The suspended, domed “mezzanine” of tin foil reflects the light back up, it then bounces around the white walls before falling, diffused, on the mini.

I was stunned at how well the device worked from the outset. As I mentioned, I use a flash with a remote trigger to light mine. There are advantages and disadvantages to using a flash or continuous light source (like a lamp). The flash means you can hand-hold the camera but the lack of light in the box before you shoot can sometimes make focusing a pain. A lamp, on the other hand, will give you light to focus by but will generate a lot of heat and you’ll need to lock down your camera on a tripod for a long exposure. Seeing as I’m trying to avoid setting up lots of kit, I opted for the flash.

Next on the agenda is to make a second version which will be for shooting minis against black. I suspect this will be a lot more difficult as getting the balance between the mini being well-lit and the background not showing any highlights is always tricky.

A view from the front, with the front flap lifted for access. You can see the tinfoil dome. Crinkling the foil helps to diffuse the light.

A view from the top showing the flash. The thing to its left is the remote receiver which links to a trigger unit in my DSLR's hotshoe.

The BoX, closed, ready for shooting. I used a box which held reams of A4 printer paper. This proved to be the perfect size.


  1. Evening! I feel your pain on the ludicrous property prices in this city; they've gone (even more) crazy over this last year.

    Anyway, this is brilliant - I'm absolutely hopeless at photographing miniatures, so this is really useful; the diagram's really clear, too. Roughly what size is the box? 3'x2'x2'?

  2. Hi Fulgrim. Glad you find the diagram useful. The box is smaller than that. It holds A4 paper so is about 30cm x 21cm x 20cm. Damn those bankers!!!

  3. Ok, cool - I have a printer box about that size sitting round so I'll have a go myself. Thanks for the info.

    And yep, having just worked myself into near collapse getting some nonsense ready for Frieze so that oligarchs can launder their filthy lucre, the other 1% aren't my favourite people in the world right now (well, more so than ever).

  4. Great post. I think I need to build a better box...

  5. Really neat idea, with the tin foil and flash. Building stuff from cardboard boxes is the best form of recycling, really ;-) Can I suggest you build a steampunky exterior to it as well?