How To Make A Light box

188 comments

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Last week, we built a light box!

Ok, I’ll be honest. Eric built the light box and I took the step by step pictures…

Light boxes have been all over the food blog world and while I loved the idea of them, I could never see myself building and storing one in the house. I get really intimidated by ‘do-it-yourself’ projects that involve anything outside of my domain (the kitchen).

This is where my DIY husband comes into play.

Eric and I started talking about light boxes one night, after looking at Ashley’s tutorial, and Eric convinced me that he could make one for me in under 2 hours. It was almost a dare. To himself.

I think he was secretly looking for a project that did not involve installing new door handles, but that is another story. I’m not a girl to pass up an offer, so off we were to Home Depot to gather a few supplies!

However, I feared that bad, bad things were looming ahead. [Never admit this out loud to your DIY husband.]

What You’ll Need:

  • A large cardboard box (medium might work too if you need it smaller!)
  • Duct Tape
  • White tissue paper or white fabric (we used a tablecloth cut up)
  • X-Acto knife (I laughed SO hard when I found out how to spell this word!!)
  • 3 Daylight bulbs — 100 watt
  • 3 utility lamps w/ clamp bottoms (we used 10 inch)
  • Fabric or paper for backdrop
  • 3-outlet extension cord
  • SKETCHIE! (for your entertainment)
  • Possibly other things I’m forgetting

 

Using this awesome how-to from Ashley, we gathered our supplies and were on our way!

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Grab a large box.

Buy a large box if all your boxes are beat up from a recent move.

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Wheeeee. Now I know why Sketchie loves these things…

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Secure bottom with duct tape.

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Tempt kitty cat with box until he cannot take it any longer.

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Sketchie STAY.

Sketchie SIT.

Add a ruler to the mix and watch kitty cat swat ruler.

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BAD KITTY.

When kitty cat can no longer resist, watch him enter the box and sniff corner when you aren’t ‘looking’.

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What is he smelling? Or is he spying on Eric through the hole?

Now, is the least fun part of the entire process (to watch). Eric tells me it is also the least fun part to do…

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You must measure and cut the edges of 3 sides of the box to create 3 rectangles. (Sorry that just made no sense at all). Cut 3 rectangles (better?).

Eric left a 2 inch border.

Allow kitty cat to inspect your work to assure quality control.

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Keep going…(Sketchie is getting BORED…we’re losing him! Is he asleep standing up?)

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Sketchie says, ‘Unfortunately this does not look level. #fail’

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You now have 3 rectangles cut out- right side, top, and left side. Taped bottom remains intact (this is your background).

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Sketchie does not enjoy boxes with holes. Can you see the heartbreak in his face?

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We win.

Cut off the box ‘flaps’…

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Grab something white to drape over the 3 rectangles. We used a white tablecloth, but I hear you can use tissue paper too. Whatever you use, make sure it will diffuse the light entering the box. This will prevent harsh shadows and direct light.

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When the tablecloth came out, Sketchie started to have fun again!

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He loves to hide under things and jump out at us. (I’m not sure he knew that I could see him through the hole.)

Tape edges to secure.

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Oops, I cut off his head.

Eric is doing a great job!! Cheers, applause, make him a tea, massage his back.

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Almost there…

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You can do it!

Eric cut a bit of fabric off the top rear of the box…if that makes any sense. Didn’t think so.

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Then he cut a SLIT into the rear (are we still talking about a light box?) with the idea that we could ‘drop down’ different backgrounds into the slit.

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I really have no idea what I’m talking about at this point. Just go with it.

I dropped down some pink Bristol board through the slit to test it out. It worked pretty well.

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Eric attached 10 inch work lights to chairs…one for the right, one for the left, and one above. You need a total of 3 work lights with clamps. We bought ours at Home Depot for $20, but I assume you can find them cheaper elsewhere. I’m pretty sure we got ripped off! Impulse buy.

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Thanks for the great tutorial Ashley!

Here are some of the first shots I took with the box…

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The pink background is a bit much, but this illustrates that light boxes are great for ‘product photography’; in other words, shots of single items that you want to stand out.

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The next day, guess who I found sleeping in his warming hut? He tried to tell me he was on a tropical beach.

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It actually worked out, because Sketchie got his very first ‘professional’ headshots!

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The heat from the lamps made him veeeeery sleepy.

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I’m a model, ya know what I mean. And I do my little turn on the cat walk…

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So, what do I think of the light box?

Well, first of all, I think Eric did a fantastic job! It is very professional and sturdy. He made the entire thing in about 1 hour and 45 minutes too.

Swoon.

As for the pictures, I find that my pictures are definitely better than normal night time shots.

Here is a comparison of two non-edited photographs:

A) Normal nighttime ‘yellow’ lighting on the stove top:

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B) Light Box shot:

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The difference is huge!

The light box shot looks more like natural light, whereas the first shot is very yellow and not pleasing to the eye.

I shoot in RAW format and I use Adobe Lightroom to edit my photos, so I wanted to show you what I can do to help improve the look of a bad photo with basic photo editing.

A) Night time yellow photograph, EDITED = I increased the exposure, brightness, clarity, and decreased the temperature (less yellow) to produce this:

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[I also usually white balance my photos, but I did not do this for these two.]

Side by side:

Before                                                                                   After

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B) Light Box Shot = EDITED. I had to increase the temperature (yellow tone) because the light box creates a very blue, washed out tone.

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Side by side:

Before                                                                                 After

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Which one is better- when edited?

In my opinion, you can barely tell the difference when looking at a night time edited photo versus a light box edited photo. Is this normal or am I not maximizing the light box’s potential? What photo do you guys prefer?

All in all, I am glad that I have the light box to play around with. I think it is great for product photography (or cats!) and it is really fun to experiment with different backgrounds and props. The cost was not as cheap as we thought it would be- it was around $70 CAD for everything we purchased, but it was still not crazy expensive for such a professional result.

After shooting with the light box over the past week, I do not think that the light box can compare to natural daylight. In my opinion, nothing beats natural light and I will always chose natural light over the light box if I have the choice! With that being said, it is a good option for night time photography.

The biggest drawback of the light box is how much space it takes up. Right now we are housing it in our unused dining room, but I really am not sure how long I will keep it there.

CLEAR. AS. MUD. ?

So there you have it, my initial review of the homemade light box. I’m sure my thoughts will change as I play around with it more and learn some news tricks. I’m not sure if I am using it correctly or maximizing its potential, so feel free to chime in.

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{ 188 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica @ How Sweet It Is January 26, 2011

I’m pretty sure this is how it would go in my house… he builds, I… watch. And drink wine.

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Amber K January 26, 2011

Same here!

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AGS January 26, 2011

In my house: he builds, I watch. . . he begs me to take photos. . . my photos aren’t so good. . . he has to stop, have me hold whatever it is, then *he* takes the photos. And so on!!

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Mary (How To Not Be...) January 26, 2011

Okay, I know nothing about photography but I am truly in awe! Your little background slit is ingenious! And of course Sketchie looks oh so pretty…

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Jenn L @ Peas and Crayons January 26, 2011

I watched my husband build 4 of these things (we kept going bigger!) No participation necessary =)

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Sabine @ thefruitpursuit January 26, 2011

hahahahah. respect.

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liane January 26, 2011

If I made a light box, would Sketchie magically appear in mine? Because he’s super cute!

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Devon January 26, 2011

I love the pink!

The photos look great! Looking forward to seeing more of your work from the box!!

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Katie January 26, 2011

I made one of these a coupe weeks ago, and I agree 100%. I still don’t like shooting photos in it, and I actually prefer my old “shoot all nighttime shots under the stovetop light” method. I get really blue photos in the lightbox, but I thought it was just me. Glad I’m not alone. Daytime photos are the way to go for sure!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

Im glad it is not just me too…my photos are super blue in the light box, no matter what time of day. I always have to increase the temperature of the photo.

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Ashley M. [at] (never home)maker January 26, 2011

I think the best way to combat that is to shoot in Raw . . . and just process the photo with warm filters, etc. I have the same issue. But if the light is there, the rest of the stuff can be fixed :)

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The Greek Smorgasbord January 26, 2011

This was so helpful and informative. I have seriously been debating on whether to put money into a light box, but I think I will wait while we are still living overseas (it would cost at least double). I agree with you that natural light works well, although that only leaves me a few hours each day in which I have to actually take photos!

Thanks again so much, you guys did a great job!

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Mary (A Merry Life) January 26, 2011

I really like the pink. :)

I saw Ashley’s tutorial and now that I’ve seen yours I think I could actually make one myself. Thanks for sharing the process!

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Becki @ Hike, Bike, Eat January 26, 2011

I’m lazy, so I’ll stick with regular nighttime shots, or just shoot in the natural lighting during day.

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table January 26, 2011

I love the light box shots! It’s unbelievable what a big difference it makes, in the unedited especially.

Sketchie is the most handsome cat! I’m going to look for a kitten at the local shelters this weekend – couldn’t be more excited to have a cat again. :)

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Erika @ Health and Happiness in LA January 26, 2011

Hahaha I looove all the pictures of Sketchie.

I wonder, could you put something over the lights to change the color and make it less blue? I see the lighting guys do that on set, but I don’t understand all that technical stuff very well!

I think the edited photo with the light box is still a little better than the edited stovetop photo. And I think you are very lucky to have such a helpful husband :)

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

I was thinking about that too. I’m sure there are some photography tools to help these things…!

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Nichole January 26, 2011

Nice! My cats would do the exact same thing. I was trying to put fresh sheets on the bed this evening and they were having the time of their life.

Are you by any chance going to attend Vida VeganCon (http://vidavegancon.com/)?

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Allie (Live Laugh Eat) January 26, 2011

Your lightbox is beautiful! I’ve been noticing some photos recently that look lightbox-ish and I must say they look great.

I made my first box in about 30 min. and it was a piece of crap. I remade one last week (a smaller one) using a white t-shirt. It’s not the best box but it’s not as big of an eyesore, so my mom doesn’t constantly want to throw it away—ha!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

bahah that is awesome. Do you find the smller one still works the way you want it to? We debated using a medium sized box but weren’t sure of the outcome.

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Allie (Live Laugh Eat) January 26, 2011

It’s not as glowy and sometimes you can see the sides of the box. That might just be because I haven’t gotten poster board for the inside and I’m using parchment paper…oh boy. I loved Eric’s slit idea. So smart!!

My mom called my old box a doghouse since I put it on the floor and piled my placemats and napkins inside :)

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Karen January 26, 2011

LOVE the lightbox. I’m totally going to make one for myself! Thanks for sharing:)

You have a dSLR, right? Have you tried messing with the White Balance? There are usually a few settings, including one for “incandescent” to help with the yellow tinge of your normal night shots. For the lightbox, you could maybe try “cloudy” or “shade” and see how that works. I love Photoshop for post-processing, but it’s always better (and a time saver) to get it right in-camera! I think if you play with the white balance a bit, you’ll definitely have more success with the lightbox overall.

And, I agree, natural light is always best if it’s available:)

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

Oh yes I forgot to mention that I aso use white balance too :) In Light room, that is! I only know how to do the basic white balance, but I’ll have to see if lightroom has other options too.

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stephanie a. January 26, 2011

hi there : ) this comment is not about your light box (which is very cool and I think I may implement) but about your thumbprint cookies. I made them with fig jam and gave them to my friend’s husband who is recovering from lung surgery (he had cancer removed for the second time this year). his wife made one request to me, and that is when he starts chemo treatment can i please bring them some of those fig thumbprint cookies. i just wanted to drop you and line and let you know so that you know how much your blog is impacting the world…bringing happiness to at least one happy cancer patient. he even called me to thank me for them (a 70 year old man, can you imagine?)!
-steph

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

Wow that is so nice! Thanks so much for sharing. I wish your friend’s husband a speedy recovery. :)

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Tess January 26, 2011

I actually notice a significant difference between the edited lightbox shot and the edited stovetop shot: sharpness. There is much more depth in the lightbox shot because you have light coming form multiple sources and angles. (Perhaps you can play with the white balance setting in the camera so you wouldn’t need to do as much editing?) The stovetop shot looks sort of grey and flat to me.

If you’re concerned about space you could update your box to be collapsible like this one: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dpup/3457693064/

I really recommend trying off-camera flash at the stovetop. The automatic flashes (and cables/triggers) can be expensive but they are really simple to use (manual ones are cheaper but trickier). Here is a post on Smitten Kitchen about it: http://smittenkitchen.com/2007/11/our-approach-to-food-photos/ And here’s a how-to on Strobist: http://strobist.blogspot.com/2006/03/lighting-101.html

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

Thanks so much for the info!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

I just went back and looked at the stove top vs lightbox and I would have to agree with you that the light box has more depth!

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Bethany @ More Fruit Please January 26, 2011

Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been eagerly awaiting it ever since you first hinted at a light box. I definitely like the edited light box photo better I think for the reason that you have a lighter background than the stove top. As for the actual food subject, I agree that there’s not a huge difference between the two edited versions. I would love to have a light box here in gloomy Seattle… but I could see how storage space would be the biggest issue with it!

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Ellie@fitforthesoul January 26, 2011

the photos are beautiful! especially Sketchie~~!! ahhhhhh he’s so cute!!!! he sure could come out in a WHISKERS commercial

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

hehehe tks

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Sabine @ thefruitpursuit January 26, 2011

The light box is still on my to -do list. my mom and I already planned it out like this: we sit and sip tea and chat while my 15year old brother makes it single handedly ;).

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Diandra January 26, 2011

Forwarded this to the BF. who loves to take pictures and is constantly looking for new ways to enhance his playing. I guess I know what he will be doing next weekend… (and he will have a picture buddy over on Saturday – OH MY GOODNESS, WHAT HAVE I DONE???)

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

you’ve created a monster!

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JL goes Vegan January 26, 2011

Yep, it takes up a lot of space! I have to keep mine up high so that cats don’t break through the parchment paper on the sides! LOL Unfortunately, most of my food photography is after work in the evening so I need an alternative to natural light. It’s working well for me.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

parchment paper is a great idea too! Stronger than tissue…

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Marit January 26, 2011

fantastic!
I have no space for such a contraption but i would love to have one.
I’d probably build it myself tho…
firstly i would like to reccomend that you adjust your whitebalance in your camera. most modern cameras have a setting for it and it works like magic…
second, i’d get colour-filters for the lights. these are relatively cheap and you can get different ones and play a bit with combining them to jazz up the box a bit.
also…although for light diffusion the white is perfect, a white background is very unforgiving and you might find the pictures more comfortable with a different background. your pink was spicy enough but as you’re dealing with foods there are no reasons why you can’t compliment the dishes with different textures and colours …

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

Thanks for your suggestions!

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Jen January 26, 2011

I’m not a blogger or a photographer but that was still a really fun post!

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Dani @ Body By Nature January 26, 2011

Wow this is awesome! I especially love the photos of Sketchie, such a cutie!

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Lindsay @ The Reluctant Runner January 26, 2011

I am also intrigued by the light box, but have nowhere to store it. I really like the pictures that come out of it, they’re nice! Maybe someday when I have more space :)

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denise January 26, 2011

Sketchie is SO cute :) Great post. Thanks!

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wendy (healthy girl's kitchen) January 26, 2011

It was your post a few days ago about your lightbox that got me interested in one. I live in Cleveland OH and I work all day, so my food photography has been less than ideal for months now–very yellow–I didn’t think to edit my photos (duh!). Natural light rocks! And so does a Canon Rebel camera! Anyway, I purchased a lightbox and lights over e-bay for $60 USD and it’s on it’s way to me. Thanks for sharing your story and experiences and great advice! I especially enjoyed the kitty parts.

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nicole @ Making Good Choices January 26, 2011

I want to make one of these, but I have no room to store it in my NYC apartment. When I have a house I’ll get my husband to make me one! THanks for the step by step though!

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chelsey @ clean eating chelsey January 26, 2011

I shoot RAW as well, and I’ve been getting so frustrated with my photos lately. I edit them, but maybe I need to take some more time to do it!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

I know what you mean, it can be hard to get used to! Raw format really washes them out. It basically strips away a lot of the ‘good stuff’ and then you have to pump life back into the photos when editing. The bonus is that you can do this (and fix errors with lighting/exposure) and not diminish the quality of the actual photo. :)

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Elizabeth Holli January 26, 2011

My boyfriend built one of these for me for Christmas using Ashley’s guide! I had seen it and written it off as an impossibility (I don’t know why–I just assumed it would be too much for me LOL) but I guess he bookmarked it because it was a total surprise. I love it and use mine all the time :)

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

that is so nice!!

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Danielle January 26, 2011

That is pretty cool! I like the the lightbox photos the best! I also like the unedited one a bit more because the tones seem more earthy, i like it!

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Lauren at KeepItSweet January 26, 2011

This is terrific! If I had the space, I’d definitely set up a lightbox to have as an option.

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Heather (Heather's Dish) January 26, 2011

i have been meaning to do this since i saw that tutorial on Ashley’s blog and just haven’t made the time…i bet if i involved the hubby we could get it done pretty quickly though ;)

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Marisa @ Loser for Life January 26, 2011

I made one this past weekend, too! My pics still need work because I have no idea what I am doing! LOL! Plus, point and shoot camera can only go so far, ya know?!

Your pics are always gorgeous, Angela! Light box or not!

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Debbie January 26, 2011

I think this was my favorite post you’ve done! It’s my favorite, not for the content, although it was interesting, but for the tone. It was fun (and funny) and I loved reading it!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

Thanks Debbie :)

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Erin January 26, 2011

Love the pic of Sketchie in the warming hut! Totally made me laugh!

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Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat January 26, 2011

OMG Ange thank you so much for posting this!! I think I might have to embark on a little arts and crafts/DIY project soon because I could totally use one of these. And for the record, I too had NO idea that X-Acto knife was spelled like that!!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

Eric and I cracked up when we read X-Acto…I don’t think either of us had ever seen it spelled out before.

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Elizabeth@The Sweet Life January 26, 2011

Thanks this is so helpful–thank goodness for helpful husbands!

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Jessica January 26, 2011

Thanks for the tips, very handy!

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Liz @ Tip Top Shape January 26, 2011

I kinda agree that the edited photos look the same, but I imagine as you learn to use the lightbox better the pictures will improve? Not that they really need to improve-your pictures are always pretty good :D

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

Yes that is what I’m hoping too! I also want to experiment with dif. backgrounds.

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