The Light Tent!
An inexpensive way to create your own Light Tent for photography
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The trouble with getting serious about being an amateur photographer is that you begin to need more and more equipment together with lots of lovely gadgets! So, I thought I would make my own Light Tent to house it all. No, just kidding, but I really did make a tent. Read on to learn about how to create your own inexpensive Light Tent!
A photographic hobby becomes a costly investment over time and a lot of equipment, while really handy, can be rather pricey. Anyone who wants to photograph close-ups or indulge in Macro photography soon realises that they will need a Light Tent if they want to get great results.
I created the Light Tent in order to photograph in it. I have no studio to photograph the Light Tent in so bear with the amateurish shots in the garden in a windy Cape Town! The object was to depict what is possible to build, and not creative photography. That I shall do at a later date as soon as I have some time. This way the article gets finished and everyone gets to read it.
I’m not going in to great detail about how to use or what a Light Tent is. The fact that you are reading this probably means you already know how to make use of one. In short, a Photographic Light Tent is literally a tent with opaque or translucent sides that allow your studio lighting to reach your subject or scene but without glare or direct reflections.
A light tent can be closed on 3 or 4 sides depending on whether you shoot your scene from the top or though one of the sides. It also allows you to isolate your subject from the background and to provide neutral light.
Right, now to make one! I hunted around my city of Cape Town looking for various parts and systems that might assist me to make my Light Tent. I had several objectives in mind. First was cost. Second was that I should be able to store it away as compact as possible. Third, it should be durable, easy to maintain, and as I found later into my plans, be expandable if necessary at a later date.
What I have assembled is a combination of unrelated products. They should be easily available to everyone and inexpensive. This is just made from what I found locally. You may find an even more suitable and elegant solution. If so, please let me know!
I’ve depicted a small-scale assembly and the various materials used to make the Tent frame. The black plastic joints are from a garden sprinkler system. I found that the matching black piping is too soft to take any weight and keep structure integrity.
The white piping is 20mm PVC electrical conduit pipe, which is very inexpensive, and you can purchase in long lengths. The ones I got were in 4m lengths and cost R12.25 (about $1.50) and I used two lengths to give me a Cube around 680mm.
If you assemble the structure using the same systems as I intended originally (Top Photography only) then you will need 4 elbows and 12 T-Junctions. If you raise it on legs then you will have to buy more accordingly. I’ve also shown the four irrigation-pipe end-stoppers at a larger diameter. I just found they clipped over the T-Junctions really well to give me four broader feet and to keep the Tent off the ground. You could use rubber feet if you can find some that will slip over and stay in place.
What I would have preferred to use if I had been able to get my hands on some, would have been three 90°sided corner pieces such as on camping Tent Structures. It would have allowed me to use far less T-Junctions and have to make that many cuts in the piping. Another solution, if you can get someone to sell you some, is to use the corners from Camping Furniture such as wardrobes. You also get similar wardrobes for home use so try to get those corner fixtures first.
Now for the basic tools I used. Since moving long distance and not owning my own house, most of my woodworking tools and benches are in storage. This Tent was made using just what you see in the photograph.
No, the photographs were not taken inside the Light Tent as it was not complete at the time or was in pieces in order to be photographed.
I used an old plank that was lying around in the garage to stabilise my sawing. I used the vice grip to GENTLY secure the pipe to the plank to cut it. All my clamps are packed but the vice grip actually worked a lot better.
A small wood saw is needed to make neat cuts unless you have a really heavy-duty crafts knife. The saw is just quicker, safer, and easier.
I marked off the sections to equal lengths for the sides and cut them all up. In my opinion, it was much easier to first cut the 4m lengths neatly in two and work with smaller subdivided sections.
I used the small file to smooth down the edges and to remove the barbed edges from both the inside and the outside of the pipes. I wanted the whole system to click together easily, and not get stuck or damaged with time and use.
I then used the fine sand paper to smooth the edges even more as I am a perfectionist. If you have been wondering what the hell the yellow tile glue trowel was in the picture for… let me enlighten you. Fortunately, in my search for something to wrap the sandpaper around I found nothing more suitable than this trowel.
If you look closely at the glue trowel, you will notice that there are two convex rounded ridges with a respective concave trough on the reverse. This is great for smoothing the edges of the pipe to a nice rounded finish.
The easiest way to sand down the pipes is to roll them along a surface such as a counter top. Make sure the pipe overhangs the surface, hold the sandpaper down with one hand, and roll with the other, varying the angle to round off the edge. You will appreciate how much time and effort you will save with a fluted concave like this trowel.
I also ruined my fingertips running the sandpaper on the inner edges. I wanted a product neatly finished and to last a lifetime if possible. All in all, I did the framework in a 2 or 3 hours and I am a perfectionist.
So, I click it all together and realised how much bigger it suddenly looks when assembled! I nearly made it larger but a 700mm Cube is ideal. You can even get your tripod in there as well. The beauty of this simple system is that you can just purchase a few more conduit pipes and make various lengths of sides. So make it to the size you plan on using and expand at a later stage if need be.
Now the cloth is another story! I am still experimenting with mine so I will just give you my findings and results so far. The first and generally easiest to find either are very dense net curtains or better still are the sheer variety. What I’ve found with the one I bought is that while it does reduce the direct glare, it doesn’t blur the light sources sufficiently to not show up on highly reflective surfaces.
Another suggestion is to use a shower curtain. You get the net curtain type and the solid plastic opaque type. See which one works best for your needs. If you are industrious with a sewing machine or have a friend who is, get some proper little curtains made up to fit over your piping but make sure they overlap properly on the corners.
I finally located a lovely satin type material that literally glows but shows very little light source shape behind it. A trick is to hold up the fabric to the overhead lights or a bright window and see if it glows or just lets through light.
If your scene needs to be top lit, then you may need to make a separate curtain panel for the top but remember to leave a cut-out for your camera. My Light Tent is mostly four sided so I can photography either from the top or “front” side of the Cube.
If you need different backdrops in your Light Tent, you could incorporate those in a few ways. You can omit the rear section of your Tent and hang up your backdrop at the distance required behind it. You can also drop in your alternative over the rear Tent side so that it covers the fabric you use in the Light Tent.
The bottom of your Light Tent also needs some consideration. I used Masonite Board. The white finished type that is used on the back of built-in cupboards. It turned out to be a little weaker than I wanted so I braced it with some aluminium runners beneath.
I would suggest that it would be better to use a thin Supawood board instead. Just remember to lay down a suitable base for your scene so you don’t land up with a ‘60s psychedelic carpet pattern under your serenely disturbed Lilly!
This was a one of a kind, on-going, learning curve type of project. I got an idea and developed a need for a solution and further development. When I decided to make the Tent to be raised on its own legs, it also became more wobbly. I made cross braces for the legs from a great looking transparent washing line, electrical shrink-wrap, a single link from a chromed chain and some knots. A word of advice is not to make the ropes too tight as it will begin to twist the whole structure into a pretzel. The clue here is doing it by eye and adjusting the lengths as needed.
Now you have a clear idea of what my Light Tent looks like from the front and top photography modes. If you keep your Tent Sides in a rough Cubic shape then you will be able to utilise the same curtains and strips in any direction. The two loose front panels can be stretched over the top when photographing from a top view.
So go make what looks like a playpen for photographers! Let there be soft Light in your Tent!
Links & Alternative Light Tents/Boxes: