>Hello darkness, my old friend


While I love Autumn for its cooler temperatures and bright warm colors, the shorter days coupled with the time change make natural-light photography a challenge.  

You may have noticed (all few of you who read on a regular basis) the dearth of posts over the last week.  You can attribute this to the fact that (a) I’ve been busy with work and other such matters, and (b) I’ve been terribly disappointed with the state of the pictures I’ve been taking. 
I considered buying a flash for my camera, but the thought of spending upwards of $400 on a speedlight was more than I could stomach.  
So, being the resourceful and frugal gal that I am, I started doing some research on the ol’ interwebs to see what other folks were doing.  I started with Marc over at norecipes.com.  He’s got a handy little faq page on his site, where he answers such questions as “What kind of equipment/software do you use for your photos?”  He claims to use a $10 Ikea table lamp with a rice paper shade to difuse the light.  The bulb is a 40W Satco flourescent 5000k bulb.  
I also ran across this tutorial at instructables for a lightbox made from an Ikea hamper.  I started seeing a pattern – Ikea = cheap, practical photography accoutrement. 

Luckily, I work about 5 miles from the Ikea here in Atlanta, so I ran down there one day on my lunch break and picked up a couple of lamps and a white cloth storage box.  I also picked up a couple of bulbs, but I ended up having to replace them with a couple of 40W daylight spectrum compact flourescents that I found at Home Depot. 
Lights draped over base of storage box, before the addition of the freezer paper backdrop
I wound up not using the shades on the lamps, and I used the folding base of the box to hang the lights from, using their cords to hook over the edge of the base.  The cloth bottom of the box has a zipper opening, and I was able to run the cords through the zipper opening to keep them out of the way.  
Box on window seat with freezer-paper backdrop
Ultimately, I wound up taking a long piece of freezer paper and taping it to the top and back of the box  (in front of the lights) to create a more diffuse light, and to create a smooth, crease-free backdrop.
Fresh whole-wheat pasta waiting to be incorporated into chicken-noodle soup
I’m really enjoying the results.  The light is very crisp, and the clarity of the photos is remarkable.  It does limit the possibilities for composition, but it’s a good solution for now.
Testing out a vertical orientation
I have found that it works best sitting on a lower surface.  I tried it on the kitchen counter at first, and was not as pleased with the results as I was when I put it on the window seat in the kitchen.  Being able to shoot from slightly above the subject makes quite a difference.
Chicken-noodle soup and crusty bread
 I shoot with a Canon EOS Rebel XSi, using a compact-macro 50 mm lens.  I think this setup would work with a point and shoot camera, though.  I tried it on both an automatic setting (without flash) and on manual, and both worked quite well.   
All in all, it cost about $50 to make, which is certainly better than $400 for a flash.  While the results might not be as good as they would be if I had a speedlight, they’re definitely better than trying to take pictures in the dark.

9 thoughts on “>Hello darkness, my old friend

  1. >I was sucked in by the title of your post (old S&G fan!), and I am glad I was. I've been meaning to make a lightbox for myself. For now, I am still relying on the light that comes through my southern facing windows, but it means I can't take pics of anything we eat in the evening!

  2. >Hi Carolyn – I was hoping someone else would get the reference. Glad you were drawn in by it. I, unfortunately, don't get good light from my southern-facing windows (they're overshadowed by a portico). This seemed like the best solution. Let me know if you make one and how it works out!

  3. >your results are better than a speedlight! I have a $400 speedlight that doesn't do have as well. I also recently purchased those bulbs form Home depot, but still need to make a light box! thanks for such a great post!Dennis

  4. >That's right fancy there… I'm still trying to figure out how my camera even works – I got one really nice shot (well, I liked it) of my Christmas Tree, but I am really hoping to have a few good ones of the Menorah during Chanukah this year. Not that this fancy box would help with that, but still – I'm impressed with your IKEA stylings.

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