How to Hack Construction Lights to Photograph Food

  • 01 of 05

    The Hack

    DIY softbox in action
    DIY softbox in action. Evi Abeler

    All day you have been planning a dinner recipe, you rushed home from work, picked up ingredients, and spend hours preparing and testing the dish for your blog. Finally everything is perfect and you want to take a photo of your creation. But, it's 11pm and that beautiful natural window light everybody drools over is gone. What do you do? Follow this easy hack to create your own mini softbox to light your food when natural light is no longer available.

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05


    Materials to make a DIY softbox
    Materials. Evi Abeler

    Here is a list of materials you'll need to hack light:

    • a construction light
    • a daylight balanced fluorescent light bulb (e.g. Kinoflo)
    • translucent heat resistant paper (e.g. baking paper)
    • tape
    • scissors
    • a light stand (or another stand to clamp the light on)
    • white cardboard or foam core
    Continue to 3 of 5 below.
  • 03 of 05

    Create and Diffuse the Light

    DIY softbox
    DIY softbox. Evi Abeler
    1. Screw the daylight balanced fluorescent light bulb (for example a Kinoflo bulb) into the construction light
    2. Cut out a square from the translucent heat resistant paper that is a little larger than the diameter of the light fixture's opening.
    3. Loosely tape the paper over the light fixture. Leave some openings so the heat is not trapped.

    Warning: Even though fluorescent lights are considered cold light and emit way less heat than old fashioned tungsten bulbs, they still get warm. The paper should never touch the bulb and you should not leave the light on when you are not around.

    Continue to 4 of 5 below.
  • 04 of 05

    Mounting the Light

    DIY softbox mounted on lightstand
    DIY softbox mounted on lightstand. Evi Abeler

    Clamp the light to a lightstand, chair, or another object. I usually place it to the side of my dish and just a touch above the food, to begin with. You can easily adjust the direction of light by moving the light fixture up or down, or to the side. Also, play with the distance between the light and your dish. What happens if you bring in the light or pull it further away? 

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Adjusting the Light

    Salad lit by DIY softbox
    Salad lit by DIY softbox. Evi Abeler

    The side of your food that is closer to the light source will catch more light and be brighter. If you feel that the other side is getting lost in the dark—especially if you are shooting on a dark surface or with a dark background—you can add a reflector to bounce back some light into the scene. A folded piece of white paper or cardboard works well. I like to use white foam core as a reflector. Two muslin clamps hold my board in place. Play with the reflector's size, distance to the food, and angle, and see how that changes the light. 

    If you like this setup hack another light and add it to the light stand. You will get double the power and can light a larger scene.