DIY $30 Ego Light/Tabletop SoftBox
Being that we are living on a rather constrained budget, spending oodles of money on lighting equipment just isn’t in the cards for me. So what people like myself do when they find themselves in the throes of passion for their new hobby is figure out a way to build what you need yourself.
After wailing over the prices of soft boxes and especially the Lowel EGO Light Unit for tabletop photography, my wonderful wife found a couple of websites that had DIY solutions. The one that inspired me the most was this one by Bob Deutscher. After a couple days of mulling it over in my head I dragged the wife to Michaels, Home Depot and IKEA and came away with approximately $30 worth of materials with which I would build my box. It was so simple to build that it still blows me away. Best of all, it’s incredibly sturdy, light and requires no sewing, woodworking, engineering, soldering, cutting of metal, sacrificing virgins, satanic rituals, or nuclear launch codes. Anyone should be able to build this and with a little imagination, adapt it to many situations.
I loved the idea of the Lowel EGO lights for doing food photos for my wife. I loved the dual bulbs and tabletop design so I tried to model my light after them without being too complicated.
2x – Elmer’s Foam core boards, 20 x 30 x 3/16th inches
2x - 5500K compact fluorescent bulbs
1x – IKEA Hemma cord set
1x – white cross stitching screen
1x – light socket y-splitter
Stuff I had:
A hot glue gun
White thumb tacks
A very long ruler
Skills I learned in shop class as a kid
Like a good little planner, I first sketched out a rough blueprint by measuring my lights in their Y-socket so I knew how big to make my base. As you can see i went for a trapezoidal base. The beauty of all this sketching and estimating lengths is that I was able to use just about every piece of foam board, even the scraps. I don’t think it could have worked out any better.
Once I was confident that my design would be structurally sound, I went about measuring and making my lines on the foam board. For the light socket hole, I measured the board until I found the center and lowered my planned hole an inche to ensure the box’s center of gravity wouldn’t be too high. To get the right size for the hole, I found my center point and using the bit for the socket that screws on, I traced around the inside of it for a perfectly sized hole.
When the hole was cut out of the foam board, I found much to my delight that the threads on the socket screwed tightly into the hole for a perfect fit! Putting the ring on the other end was just icing. It was super sturdy even without the outer ring.
When cutting this stuff, I highly recommend going lightly and using your ruler as a guide for nice straight lines. I used some really wide binder clips I pilfered from my workplace to hold the ruler to the board as I cut it. With my lines measured out carefully I scored along the lines in a perfectly straight line, taking a couple of light passes to get through to the thick paper coating the other side. I scored just deep enough really that I could bend the board into a nice shape that would fit my base (my apologies for not having a photo of that but you can see it in later shots). I then went about cutting out the base and was left with a few nice pieces that I used to reinforce the flaps on the outer edges of the box and a brace for the top which would double as a place to secure the screen.
When cutting out the base I left a margin wide enough to use as flaps to glue to the walls of the box for extra support. I figured this would be better than running a bead of glue on the bottom edge and this ended up working perfectly. To glue the pieces you need nothing more than a cheap hot glue gun.
Since I was working solo I used some push pins on the inside walls to hold it all in place with the base flaps keeping the sides solid. A few hot lines of glue and a quick press together and it was done. The back flap didn’t sit flush because of the way the sides took up more room than I’d figured but I glued what I could and it still looks good. I then glued the reinforcements to the back of the front side flaps to stabilize them. This thing is really coming together at this point! For good measure I also ran a bead of hot glue on the inside bottom edges of the walls to help secure it to the base. At this point you may or may not want to line the inside walls with foil to reflect more light depending on your preference. Due to the dual bulbs though this thing already kicks out a tremendous amount of light.
With the walls of the box secured to the base, I notched both ends of the extra peice I had left for the top brace and scored lines in it to fold down for gluing it to the walls.
I screwed in the light socket and the lights and stood back very satisfied at this point.
Now that the top bar was secured in place, I unrolled the cross stitching screen and laid the box face down to measure out the right size to cut. I left a margin of about an inch and a half around the edge to fold it around my box and secure it with push pins. You could use anything you want to secure it but I like the thumb tacks because I can easily remove the screen if anything happens to this one or I don’t like how it diffuses light.
When all was said and done I had half of a sheet of the foam board left over which I scored in half and folded 90 degrees into a small stage to tack a sheet of white paper to for an infinite white background.
Above you can see my typical setups for taking some pictures. There are of course all kinds of ways to use this and this is only one example. The box itself is very light and I’m considering adding a mount in the base to screw it onto my tripod’s ball head for some angled light. I love the quality of the light that it puts out and if it’s not diffuse enough or I can’t move it far enough away from my subject a sheet of bright white sketch paper tacked to the screen will diffuse it nicely.
Overall dimensions of the box are 22.5” wide x 20.5” tall x 6.75” deep.
After some use I decided to line the inside with aluminum foil and it made a big difference in the amount of light it puts out. I recommend doing this once you’ve got it all together. It only took me two long sheets and some clear tape.
The simplicity of the HEMMA light socket from IKEA was the deciding factor over a more complicated setup involving wiring together a socket and cord. The threads and the outer ring that fits over them is just too elegant to pass up. Unfortunately I never found a similiar cord that had a light switch built into it so I have to plug in the light to turn it on but since the who bulbs inside put out almost no heat I am ok with plug/unplug for on/off. The socket itself was also only $3.99 and has a pretty long cord and comes in black or white.
Hopefully this may be useful or inspirational to anyone else looking for a budget softbox that’s light and has a fairly small footprint on a table top. Cheers!