I Made a Light Box!

Ever since I started knitting, I’ve been a little disappointed in the pictures  I take of my work. I spend a lot of time creating my pieces, only to badly photograph them with my iPhone on backgrounds with poor contrast. My photos really don’t do the knitting justice.

I’m currently taking a digital photography class, where I’m learning to use my husband’s Canon DSLR. Knowing some camera basics will definitely make a difference, but one thing I’ve learned in my class is that the composition of the photograph really matters. It’s important to make sure there is adequate contrast between the background surface and the object of interest. Plus, (main rule of photography) it’s all about the lighting!

When I was thinking about how to take better project photos, I got inspired by this great tutorial by Flax & Twine (thanks for the inspiration!). I decided it was time to create my own light box to serve as a nice backdrop for photographing my knitting projects. I basically followed the tutorial, with a couple additions to make the box more stable.

First, I gathered my supplies. (As soon as I got started I realized duct tape was not the right tool for the job, and replaced it with scotch tape.)


Next, I chopped off the flaps with my utility knife.

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Then I drew some lines on the sides to mark the pieces I was going to remove. I wanted to make cutouts on three sides – top, left, and right. My box was 12″x12″x12″, and I made the lines 1″ from each side.


After cutting out the first of the squares, I was a bit worried about the edges staying strong enough, so I cut up some little triangles of cardboard (3/4″ on a side) to make a support on each weak edge. I hot glued eight of them onto each edge.


Here’s what the box looked like with all three sides cut out:


The next step was to add white poster board to the inside of the box. This is the backdrop for the photos, so it’s important to make sure it is smooth and clean. I cut the poster board a bit narrower than the width of the box and long enough that it could cover the back and the bottom with a smooth curve in between. I secured the edges of the poster board to the box with double stick tape.


Next, I cut white tissue paper to cover the open sides. I used two layers to start out with. It’s easy to add or remove layers to get the right amount of light into the box.


At this point, I thought I was done, but I realized there was still a serious structural stability issue. The unsupported strips of cardboard around the front opening were very flexible, and I worried that the box wouldn’t be strong enough. So I decided to shore it up with extra strips of cardboard to prevent them from bending. (Engineering note:  I made sure to cut and orient the stabilizing strips in the direction that would best resist bending.)


With all the construction finally complete, I had to try it out! I set up a few lamps to illuminate the box. Clearly the room was too dark for good photos, but I got a few decent ones inside the box.


This is some great yarn I bought from Brooklyn Tweed (and used to make the cowl featured in my blog header).


And my trusty scissors:


I’m looking forward to using my snazzy new light box to help make my knitting photos beautiful! I guarantee better photos to come in future project posts.

Beginning Digital Photography

Do you know a photography enthusiast? Someone who insists on spending countless hours of every vacation setting up the perfect shots? Someone who, anytime you snap a quick iPhone photo of him is likely to have a DSLR up to his eye?

This is exactly what my husband is like. I have had to learn to wait patiently when we visit new places while he gets great photos. And they are wonderful! I’m so grateful that he makes sure to create these beautiful images that I’m too impatient to take for myself.

Over the years, I’ve wondered how he does it. Why are the pictures he takes with his camera so much better than the ones I get with my cheap little point-and-shoot? How does he choose the right camera settings for different scenes? He has tried to explain it to me several times, but I could never remember. Why does he like it so much? I finally decided to take a photography class and learn for myself!

This winter, I’m taking Beginning Digital Photography with Marty Rose Springer of Writing with Light Photography. I’m pleased to report that it’s a ton of fun, and after a few weeks I have a pretty good grasp on all the different manual settings of the DSLR. By the way, I would highly recommend taking a class with Marty if you live in the Bay Area. She is a patient and generous teacher who enjoys empowering her students to capture what they see in the world with their cameras.

Last week in class we had a still life workshop where we worked with different camera settings with each scene. In the rest of this post I’ll share some of the photos I took. All photos have been minimally edited in Photoshop Elements 12.

First, here’s a look at how different color modes (“picture effects”) change the way the colors look. I find that it’s easiest to see the difference in the blue spool and the bright yellow spool (middle row, right). I really like how the blue spool is deep and vivid in the lower right picture, especially compared to the almost teal look of the same spool in the lower left picture.

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Next up is exposure compensation. This setting basically increases or decreases the amount of light in the image. This one is pretty fun because the effect is so obvious in the white garlic on the black background. The first image has exposure compensation of -2, the second -1, up to +2 for the last image in the set. Obviously, the last couple images are overexposed and look terrible, but it’s a fun exercise that clearly demonstrates what the setting does. My favorite out of this set is the first one, since the details of the garlic heads are easy to see and the black background is very dark to provide high contrast.

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Another effect that is easy to see is the white balance. Typically this is easy to edit later, but knowing how to set a decent white balance to begin with can make the original pictures look better. Here are several examples of different white balances, some of which look ok and some of which are clearly not right for the lighting of the room. Which kiwi photo do you like the best?

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The depth of field is a key component of any photograph setup. Below is a comparison of two different depth of field (f-stop) settings. The left image has small depth of field (f/5.6) so the ninjas in the back are blurry. The right image has a longer depth of field (f/11), which makes the back ninjas more in focus. Unfortunately I had to use manual focus for these pictures, so neither one is focused as well as I would like, but you get the idea.

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Sometimes playing around with shutter timing is fun. Here’s an example of what you can capture with a long exposure of 5 seconds. The red lines came from a laser pointer!







Finally, one of my favorite images of the night is this closeup of some peacock feathers. I love how bold the colors are, while the feather bits are wispy and delicate.


I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the things I’ve been working on with my photography. At the very least, this class is helping me to improve my skills so I can take better pictures of the things I make.  Plus now I’ll have to fight my husband for the camera on vacation!