(Soft)box of tricks

How a cardboard box can be turned into a useful light modifier for the grand sum of 60p

I was in my garage the other day and realised something; it’s full of empty cardboard boxes. It’s a shocking confession I know, but what with eBay and other things you just never know when you might need a box, right? The 53 I counted, however, maybe considered a little excessive. I started to think whether I could trim the numbers down a little and my mind drifted to the fact that I’d been taking some flash images a couple of weeks earlier where I’d been a little disappointed by the harshness of the direct flash light. Within moments, a plan was hatched.

ks2_5730

After a root around in the section of the garage not populated with cardboard, plus the kitchen drawers, I ended up with this selection of goodies with which I decided to make a softbox:

  • 1x small cardboard box
  • 1x roll of kitchen foil
  • 1x roll of electrician’s tape
  • 1x pair of scissors
  • 1x flashgun (I’m using an EF-42)
  • 3x sheets of tracing paper at 20p a sheet
  • 1x bottle of glue (optional)

ks2_5732

I started by placing the flashgun in a central position on the box and drawing around it to give me an approximate shape of the flash head.

ks2_5733

Grabbing the scissors, I cut the shape out, going slightly inside the lines I’d drawn to make sure that the head fitted through snugly. 

ks2_5735

Confident my cutting skills had progressed from primary school, I taped the sides of the box down. They could have been cut off, of course, but I preferred to tape them down to create slightly more robust sides to the box.

ks2_5737

I used a couple of lengths of foil to coat the inside of the box. This could be glued down if you wish, but the nature of foil meant that it moulded to the shape nicely and stayed put. There’s no need to smooth it down, just as long as the light can happily reflect around, you’re fine.

ks2_5739

Having covered up the hole in the box, I then cut a second hold through the foil and pushed the flash head back through.

ks2_5740

Putting the box to one side, I took a sheet of the tracing paper and folded it in half to provide the diffusing panel for the front of my softbox. As it transpired, I only needed the one sheet, but you could use more if you wanted an even softer result.

ks2_5741

The tracing paper was then taped on all four sides of the box leaving it ready for action.

Now, it’s pretty evident that my box had a flaw in that it covered up the AF illuminator. As I was only working in dim light, this wasn’t an issue, but if you want to shoot in pitch black you’re going to struggle. There are no worries about metering, though, the X-T2 I was shooting with has TTL metering so I could be sure of accurate exposures.

So, just how good was my softbox? I’d say the results speak for themselves:

dscf2076

This first image was taken without the softbox attached. As I was close to the subject with the EF-42 flash mounted on the camera’s hot-shoe, there’s an issue with coverage. The flash hasn’t illuminated the bottom part of the frame very well, plus the shadows behind the soft toy are very harsh. All in all, not the best.

dscf2073

With my softbox in place, however, there’s a real improvement. The coverage is much more even and the shadows are far less harsh.

dscf2074

But this shot is arguably even better, created by pointing the flashgun, with softbox attached, straight to the ceiling. It’s created a lovely even top light to the toy, which looks more like studio lighting than a flashgun with a cardboard box stuck on it.

Not bad for 60p and 30 minutes of my time, is it?

Make a home studio – in your bath!

DSCF0214

Written by Roger Payne

The time had come. I’d been trying to justify keeping my X100S and X100T for some time but, in reality, since T had arrived, S had been spending increasingly lengthy spells in the cupboard. So, with a heavy heart, I decided to sell. The obvious route was on eBay, so I cleaned the camera up and took a couple of snaps before preparing my listing.

DSCF0197

My initial shot (above) was very typical of the sort of image you see on eBay – lit with flash from the front, it hardly shows my lovely X100S in the best light, while the background is distracting. I didn’t think it would appeal to buyers, so I decided to try an alternative tack and headed upstairs into my bathroom…

DSCF0179

Admittedly, this isn’t the most obvious room in the house to start taking product pictures but, in reality, it’s got a ready made studio for product shots – the bath. White, with a nice curve, the bath bounces plenty of light around to get even coverage and it has a clean, uncluttered background that won’t distract from the item on sale.

DSCF0184

Using an X-T1 with an XF18-55mm lens, I positioned the X100S at the opposite end to the taps, flicked out the X-T1’s rear screen and used the lens cap under the end of the lens to keep everything nice and straight. The X-T1’s screen is perfect for images like this, although fixed screen X-series models will be fine – you might just have to contort yourself into the bath a little! I chose an aperture of f/11, ISO 1600 and used the two second self-timer for hands-free shooting and took a shot.

DSCF0208

Not bad. Considering this was under tungsten light in my bathroom, I instantly had a better image than my earlier front-on flash lit effort. There was, however, a slight orange colour cast as I’d left the X-T1 on the Auto white-balance setting. I switched to the Incandescent white-balance option and took another.

DSCF0206

Better. The colour cast has now all but gone, but I still thought it could be improved further – the highlight on the lens and on the handgrip were distracting, caused by the main light above and to the left of the camera as you look at it. To overcome this problem, I deployed a diffuser on the bath over the top of the camera. I had a ready-made one, but you could use a large sheet of tracing paper to get a similar effect.

DSCF0192

DSCF0209

Hey presto, the distracting highlights had disappeared! But I still wasn’t completely happy, so I tried one more option, leaving the diffuser in place and attaching an EF-42 flashgun on to the X-T1. I pointed the flashgun head straight up so the light bounced off the ceiling and switched the white-balance back to Daylight.

DSCF0194

The result is below. Good isn’t it? And you’d never know it was taken in a bath. Naturally, you don’t have to use this idea purely for auction site listings, you could be far more creative, but there’s little doubt that this is a great way to boost the look of items you’re selling. I posted the listing and sold the camera for the price I wanted within a couple of days. What did I use the proceeds of the sale for? To buy an X70, of course!

DSCF0214