How To Make A Light box

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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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{ 189 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa January 26, 2011

Thanks for the step by step! I’ve been wanting to make on and have just been lazy. :)

Sketchie is ADORABLE!

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Alyssa @ fashionfitnessfoodie January 26, 2011

Hmm I need a husband to make me one! My little cousin offered but I’m pretty sure he would get bored…He’s 11!

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Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) January 26, 2011

Amazing recap, Angela!

Both in terms of the
How to Build It
That it doubles as a Kitty Dream House
That it’s big to store
That you always prefer natural light
That “I shoot in RAW format and I use Adobe Lightroom to edit my photos” -thanks for that!

And I loved the final comparisons
Non-lightbox shot, both unedited and edited
Lightbox shot, both unedited and edited

Seeing the final edited versions of both, one can hardly tell the difference. You’re right. I think if one is willing to always edit their photos, you can fix almost anything. Or fix it “good enough” for a blog. This is not a wedding photo you are blowing up to 8 x 11 and putting on top the fireplace :) It’s a blog/web picture.

Anyone who uses a lightbox probably already would be using photo editing software. If you wanna skip the step of editing it and have lots of night shots…i can see where a lightbox would be helpful, i.e. me. I hate to edit AND i shoot at night.

Sorry to ramble but i just LOVE this whole post!!!!!

And so does Sketchie :)

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Stacie January 26, 2011

Ha! This post made me laugh so hard. You are too funny. As far as the light box goes, I’m not a good person to ask as I have no experience. However, I will say yours looks fab and super kudos to you and Eric for making one. Glad to see we aren’t the only crazy ones who talk for our pets and think for them too :) :)

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Jessica January 26, 2011

Very cool! I’m sure you get this all the time but Sketchie is gorgeous! Is Sketch a Bengal kitty?

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Clare @ Fitting It All In January 26, 2011

Your beautiful lightbox really makes me want to remake my wonky one that is held up by rulers. Add that to the list.

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Tracy @ Commit To Fit January 26, 2011

Great post! I am always looking for ways to improve my pictures. Thanks for sharing :)

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Julie (A Case of the Runs) January 26, 2011

I loved looking at the pictures in this post. I think it really makes a big difference. Glad your husband is so handy. I think he secretly enjoys showing off his skills.

Maybe someone will invent a collapsing light box and make millions, j/k!!

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Katy (The Singing Runner) January 26, 2011

I made a light box a few weeks ago but have yet to use it. I need to fix it a little and get the light to diffuse better. Perhaps I need to put another layer of tissue paper?

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Sabrina January 26, 2011

Umm okay I should probably mind my own buisness but sketchie looks a bit over weight. i realize its a bit ironic considering what your blog is about and I wonder do you feed your cat a barf diet? (bones and raw food). Given that your blog is about putting the right things into your body I wonder if you have ever considered what your putting in his body. I mean im sure you have considered it Its obvious that you and eric love him alot but I just wondered what your thoughs are on this one as you are vegan.
Sabrina.

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Melissa January 26, 2011

You never cease to amaze me! This is great! I’ve already emailed it to my husband so we can make one for my blog pix. I prefer natural daylight too, but this is a great second choice. Thanks again for sharing.

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coffeeaddict January 26, 2011

I am continually amazed by cats. Such mysterious and fascinating creatures, with a few things in common: constant curiosity: whatcha makin’ there?! let me see, let me see; their love for cardboard boxes or paper bags, the bigger the better, although my cat has been known to try and squeeze into the tiniest bags and then he gets all frustrated when he fails. We console him with his favourite treat and a brand new big paper bag; last but not least: their love for all things hot and cuddly: my cat sleeps under my desk light, knocking everything off the table as he twists and turns and last week he hogged my water bottle, I kid you not. so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if your husband is forced to make another light box on account of this one being permanently occupied.

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Mary @ Bites and Bliss January 26, 2011

Thank you, thank you!!! I actually plan on making on this weekend!

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Hannah January 26, 2011

Og all the light box tutorials I’ve seen in the blog world, yours is actually the only one that makes sense to me. The photos are so clear! I’m still a bit too scared to try myself, as I’m a complete nincompoop with tools… but maybe one day!

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Natalie January 26, 2011

Is it sad that I kind of want to build one specifically and only so I can get such a good photo of my dog? Haha. I’ve found your blog a couple of times recently in google searches for food and fitness stuff. I just read your about and before and after, etc. posts and noticed that you’re from New Brunswick. I am too and living here currently! I’ve added you to my reader and since I’ve just started a new blog devoted to living a healthy lifestyle and “conditioning myself” I’ll be happy to have some inspiration!! Cheers!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 26, 2011

Hi Natalie, thanks for your kind words!

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Sara January 26, 2011

FANTASTIC!! Thanks for posting such a great tutorial – especially for the step by step photos! After I buy a good camera I’ll try this out :)

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Kath January 26, 2011

I used to live in a box!! I had a refrigerator box in my bedroom for about 6 months when I was little :)

I actually think the edited lightbox one looks the best. But for the effort of putting your hot skillet under there and having to move it from the stove, I’d just go with the stove :)

And that last photo of Sketchie is PRICELESS!

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Kat @ Cupcake Kat January 26, 2011

I love this post because Sketchie makes it awesome!

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mary (what's cookin' with mary) January 26, 2011

Thank you for this post. Lots of great info. Made a shorcut to it ;)

Those pics of Sketchie in the light box look so cool !!

Your recipe page looks so amazing these days. It inspired me to spruce mine up a bit and make things a bit easier to find… :)

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Cranberry Pills January 26, 2011

I never gave any thought to how people get such great looking professional pictures even for simple eBay items. Had no idea we could use some lights,cardboard,cloth and tape. A $5 DIY compared to a hundred dollar setup with the same quality…nice.

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Anne P January 26, 2011

What a cool post! I love the shots of Sketchie looking fab ;) I think I would probably stick with the regular stovetop photos, but I do like the lightbox for Sketchie :)

The other thing about lightboxes is that sometimes having a background blurred out or with something pretty in it can add interest… and the lightbox eliminates that, you know? But it does create very professional looking photos!

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allison January 26, 2011

I love your natural light shots. By your window, outside etc.. Sketchie is the most BEAUTIFUL CAT I have EVER SEEN!!

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Monique January 26, 2011

Oh Sketchie…. cats are so silly :) I loved seeing those teaser pictures of him in there on Twitter a while back haha :)

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Rochel @ barefootandcooking January 27, 2011

Love the idea and the tutorial. I’ve been thinking about building one for a while now and wasn’t sure what exactly it entailed. As always, you’re an inspiration.
By the way, I totally think Sketchie could be a cat model.

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Eco-Vegan Gal January 27, 2011

Love this post! I actually bought a light box (it was really inexpensive) but this is a great eco idea (wish I had thought of it!). I agree, the lighting helps make food look even better! Thanks for more great info – love this site!

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Kelly January 27, 2011

Great idea on the light box!!

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Beth January 28, 2011

I showed this post to my husband – mostly to show him the adorable kitty you have.
Then he said “Can you bookmark this page? I want to make a light box.” Sweet!

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Keeta January 29, 2011

Oh my! Sketchie is gorgeous!!! And the lightbox project is very cool. Thanks for sharing!

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Veggiegirl January 29, 2011

What kind of cat is Sketchie?

Also do you have a facebook page?

Thanks :)

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 29, 2011

He is a Bengal. Thank you :) Sorry no FB page!

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Vanessa January 30, 2011

i am enlisting my husband to build one of these! thanks for the handy tutorial.

ps – i am new to your blog and really enjoying it! i’ve been embarking on a healthier lifestyle and blogs like yours are great motivators and inspirations.

ps2 – your cat is adorable!! i have 2 cats and they are going to flip over the light box when we make it..

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 30, 2011

haha that’s cute :) Enjoy it!

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Daniel January 30, 2011

You’ll need to adjust the white balance properly whether you do it “in-camera” or in Lightroom/Photoshop when adjusting the RAW image. However, the lightbox will allow you to shoot at much lower ISOs and faster shutterspeeds allowing for a much sharper picture with better detail and less image noise.

Overall, great idea and I think I’ve got most of this stuff around the house already! Thanks.

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Daniel January 31, 2011

Oh, and you should be able to set up a Lightroom preset to match the bulbs that you’re using so that you don’t have to manually do it every time. Most “daylight” bulbs are stated at 3500K but run a tad cool (3300-3450).

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Angela (Oh She Glows) January 31, 2011

Good to know! Any idea how I create this preset?

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callie February 2, 2011

haha, I just posted the other day about how I had finally set up my light box as well – however, mine was not homemade and is about 2 times the size of the above – Talk about taking up space (so obnoxious)! It looks like a tent in my living room… However, I have to agree, daylight is MUCH better – this has been OK for shooting at night, but if I can, I still try to shoot before the sun sets (easier said than done). I’ve found that automatic white balance doesn’t work, and you’ll want to preset the camera to the tungsten bulb setting to even things out a bit – still will need to be edited, but much better than the auto.

In reference to your edited shots night vs cube, the cube has more clarity than the nighttime – The shutter works much more efficiently when there is more light, moves faster and creates a ‘crispness’ that nighttime photos sometimes lack.

PS – sketchie looks amazing in that light :)

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Lena February 3, 2011

It is definitely possible that someone has already suggested this in the barrage of comments, but have you tried using a more yellow light or even off-white or cream sheets instead of pure white? Might help cut the blue effect…

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Melissa February 4, 2011

It’s possible that someone already answered this in the mass list of feedback, but how white balance did you shoot at when you shot with the light box? Tungsten/Incondescent?
looks like that yellow-ish shot was shot on daylight whitebalance under incondescent lighting?

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 4, 2011

im a white balance newbie actually…the only way I know how to white balance in lightroom is by pressing the ‘w’ key and clicking on something white. Can you shed some ‘light’ on the matter? lol

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The Restaurant Manager February 11, 2011

The light box is awesome! You got some great pics!!

But the cat stole the show!! What a beautiful cat!!!

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Grumpa Joe February 15, 2011

Thanks for the simple steps to make the light box. This is exactly what I need to improve my closeups. Lighting is crucial as you know, and using a flash usually washes the colors out. There is a light box in my very near future.

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Ian May 9, 2012

Way cool, really clear instruction pics. Am implementing now.

I’m not sure if anyone suggested it, (and i’m just musing here) – the fabric’s purpose is to diffuse the light. White fabric, high white balance? Maybe a cream colored fabric instead? Or a mix? Cream from the sides white from the top? I’m going to experiment a bit. Totally concur with Karen re: white balance settings and adjusting histogram in PS, or even the simple editing capabilities in iPhoto. Word to the wise – keep a little notebook and jot down useful settings, since there are so many permutations – fabric, light intensity and on and on…

BTW re – Sketchie – Amazing fellow – what breed?

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Leah May 25, 2012

Thanks for the tips! Loved the post!

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Karen H August 17, 2012

Angela,

Just wanted to thank you for the great tutorial on the light box. Not only were the instructions great, I love your entertaining & funny descriptions. It is quite amazing how much better things look in light box photos – those final photos of Sketchie are gorgeous – so thanks for making it doable.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) August 17, 2012

Im glad you enjoyed it Karen! Thank you.

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Maureen August 18, 2012

Hi quick question please! In the photos of the cat in the light box is that white posterboard in the background or is it more of the tablecloth? Also when you use posterboard for the background do you just gently place it… What if it’s something heavy? Seems like the board is supposed to curve. Anyway thanks! Nice tutorial.

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