How to build a light box for Gunpla photography

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Building Gunpla is only half the battle. Here, we’ve invited Gunpla 101 contributor Mario Lebel to document his process of building a light box on the cheap. Check it out below. 

Taking good, quality pictures of your Gunpla can be as challenging as building your kits. There are several different methods of photography available to you. One of my favorites is the use of a light box, a tool designed to provide consistent illumination for photographers.

A light box creates a clutter-free area in which to pose your model while also providing proper lighting. By eliminating all distractions, including a backdrop, a light box directs the viewer’s attention to your Gunpla alone. A light box gives you complete control of your lighting which in turn helps you to show off the details of your model. Even without the use of an expensive camera, you can achieve great pictures with the aid of a light box.

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It’s a great way to step up your model photography, and best of all, it’s easy to make one yourself.

To build your very own light box, you’ll need the following tools:

1. Assemble your box with the packaging tape. Tape one side closed and leave the other open. You can keep the flaps attached to the rest of the box as they can be used to block any direct light emanating from your lighting sources. This could help prevent any problems later.

2. Use your hobby knife to cut out a large, square hole on three of the four sides of the box. Use your ruler to keep things straight. When completed, you will use the light box on its side in such a way as to have three panels through which the light will enter. One is placed on top and the other two will be located on either side.

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3. Once your holes are cut out, cover them with your light diffusers. You have a couple options on the kind of material you can use. You can use a few layers of tracing paper or even transparent gift wrapping paper. Another material, the one I prefer to use, is fabric interfacing. It’s sturdier than the paper and easily affordable. You can find some at your local fabric store. Make sure to measure your box and the sides you will cover before buying your material. Use the packaging tape to secure your diffusing material on the box. You want to fully cover the holes you previously cut out.

4. Next, add a plain background. This is where the large paperboard comes in. Cut it down to the same width of the box. Attach one end to the front of the box and tape the other end at the top, effectively covering two sides of the box (the bottom and the back). When taping the paperboard in place, make sure not to bend it. By giving the board a curvature upwards rather than a hard fold line you eliminate any edges or corners that might show up in the backdrop. This will help keep the focus entirely on your Gunpla.

5. Find an area in which to do you photography and set up your lighting sources around the light box. I use a desk lamp for the top light source and two LED flashlights for the sides. It’s not ideal, as I have to prop up the flashlights so they provide proper lighting. I plan on buying two clip lamps so that I can attach them to my desk and gain better control of my light sources.

All done! Now you’re free to take pictures any way you want. If you don’t have a steady hand, use a tripod, or set your camera on a flat surface in front of the light box. If that’s not an option, try to keep your elbows tucked in, and your arms close to your torso. This will help to stabilize your camera and avoid blurry pictures—especially with close-up shots.

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One of the most convenient things about the DIY light box is that it can be stored easily. It’s portable, so you can set it up anywhere you want. Since the box is made out of cardboard, it flattens out easily. It’s not nearly as cumbersome or as difficult to store as you might have thought. The best thing is that since your paperboard is cut to fit inside the box when it’s assembled, it also fits inside the box when it’s flattened.

If you’ve built a light box of your own and have tips to share, please do so in the comments. We’d also like to see any Gunpla pictures you took while using a light box!  

See also: How we take photos of our Gunpla

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21 Comments. Leave new

Shouldn’t there be some white poster board on the sides of the box as well?

    It’s up to you, really. I found the paperboard I was using to be too thick for use as a proper diffuser.

Patrick Sheridan
February 8, 2016 1:12 pm

A well organized write-up – good job, Mario! I did a similar light box build back in 2014 and I think it really helped me get better pictures of my gunpla. Definitely a worthwhile project if you want to share photos of your work.

    Thanks, Patrick!

    Nice kit! I like the colour. Which model is that?

      Patrick Sheridan
      February 10, 2016 2:53 pm

      That’s the MG 1/100 RGM-79N GM Custom from Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory. Probably my favorite of the GMs.

Just finished taking a bunch of photos with a light box I just made! these things look incredible! Here’s one and although it isn’t all too fancy, i still love it

    Looks good! You can get even better results by increasing exposure time and/or using a photo editor to increase contrast. 🙂

I’ve made several of these over the course of many years and they’ve all worked wonderfully. Very much recommended over paying $$$ for a pre-made one. The hardest part is just getting the right settings on your camera to pull in enough light (but not too much light). I think for best results, use a tripod, a long exposure, and the timer on your camera to completely remove any motion from your finger.

    Thanks for the tips, Zycrow! I haven’t tinkered with the exposure on my camera yet but it’s something i’ll be doing with my next shoot.

What kind of color light did you guys use? White? Im not sure if it’s my camera or not but the background doesn’t seem as white as your’s. Tried to increase contrast in Gimp but it didn’t help much

    The main source of light (the lamp pictured above) uses 27 watts sunlight bulbs. It’s sometimes referred to as sunter lighting. It’s very bright and very clear (not a yellow light source).

I’m wondering, should I use dark or white background? And does dark require more light for the model to gain enough light?

Hi Lauren, I made a quick DIY lightbox using an 8″x 8″x 8″ box, packaging tape, and sheets of Bounty paper towel with a 22 watt fluorescent desk lamp as my light source just to try and see what the resulting effects would be. I used the same HG RGM-79N Custom GM Gunpla model as my test subject.

Modified my existing DIY light box by replacing the paper towel light diffusers with Reynolds wax paper and bought 2 pin-up lighting fixtures with LED light daylight bulbs (5000K) as my light sources. I surely like the results. There’s still plenty of improvement, though.

Added some Photoshop effects in my Master Grade GF13-017NJII God Gundam after taking its picture inside the DIY Photo light box. The God Gundam is getting ready to unleash the “Sekiha Tenkyoken” attack..

Arvsmageddon Dean
March 11, 2016 8:05 am

Here’s mine.

Arvsmageddon Dean
March 11, 2016 8:32 am

Here’s mine. Instead of using a cardboard box, I’ve used a couple of illustration boards instead with white fabric. It doesn’t look structurally sound but, hey, it works. I could use an improvement on the lighting though.

Here’s my 1/144 HG-IBO ASW-G-08 Gundam Barbatos Simulated High Resolution version shot in the same 8x8x8 Photo Light Box I made months ago. I only added two images in: one as a backdrop and the tatami mat used as the flooring.

Hey mario quick question, where exactly did you get these light diffuser papers? ive searched hobby stores walmart and such but havent been able to find any, or even just plain white cloth. Thanks, im sure if i get this ill be able to get better pics of my models for reviews and tips and tricks.

    Mario Lebel
    July 26, 2016 4:52 pm

    Hi Milky! I used fabric interface which is a type of fabric used in quilting (my mom does quilting). You should be able to find it at fabric stores. Here in Canada, Fabricland is the go to place.

    That’s not your only option though. You can also use sheets of tissue paper which is a readily available and inexpensive alternative. You might need to test it out in order to determine how many sheets you need top use.As long as the diffusing material is white and your light source is white/clear, you should be fine.

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