DIY Studio Light Table for Product/Macro Photography

You can buy these, of course, but for about $100 (give or take), you can build one yourself. Since I'm on vacation, I decided to spend the time to build one and then share the process on my site (which is remarkably un-grumpy for me).

I'm not a professional photographer, so the idea of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for a lighting table for product/macro work just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. There are, of course, plenty of examples of this sort of thing from the DIY perspective, but none were quite what I was looking for, so I rolled my own and now I'm posting the details if you want to give it a go.

First, materials:
  • 11 1"x2"x3' pine boards.
  • 2 1"x2"x6' pine boards
  • 10 1.5" L-brackets
  • 8 0.5" L-brackets
  • 32"x48" clear plexiglass (the most expensive part)
  • Lots of smaller wood screws with a head large enough for the brackets
  • Clamp lights, as desired, for lighting from the sides or underneath
  • Black or white curtain (mine has black on one side, white on the other)
I chose clear plexiglass because it gave me the most options overall. When I want to light from underneath, I can still have the black or white of the curtain provide a consistent background. If I need "infinite" white, or another colour for that matter, I can lay the curtain over the plexiglass or other fabric as needed. All in all, it seems to be a good option.

So, now all you need to do is build the frame:

1. Build the base. Using 4 of the smaller pieces of wood, create a basic box structure with the 1.5" brackets. This will provide some additional stability. You could, optionally, with some more wood build cross braces as well, though it doesn't seem necessary.

2. Use 2 of the smaller pieces of wood to build the front "legs". I used the 0.5" brackets and then an additional bracing screw to make it solid. Note, the legs are on the inside of the base with the wide side facing the sides of the table.

3. Use the 2 larger pieces of wood to build the back "legs" again with the same brackets and positioning as #2 above.

4. Build the upper table portion with 3 pieces of the smaller wood basically the same as the base (minus the back). Note well: this is 3 pieces, the front and two sides as we don't want a back piece visible in any shots.

5. Attach the upper table to the "legs" so that the edges of the frame are even with the tops of the 3' legs. Use a level, if you have one, to position this as it makes it easier. As does, for that matter, an extra set of hands or some clamps (I used clamps). I used the 0.5" L-brackets for this as well, though there is some small spill-over when attaching to the rear legs.

6. Using one of the small pieces of wood and the 1.5" brackets, create a lower back brace about 20" from the ground with the wide side facing out and behind the legs. This should be high enough to be useful and low enough to stay out of the picture (though you can drape your backdrop over it).

7. Using the last of the small pieces of wood and 1.5" brackets, create an upper back brace about 1' from the top of the rear legs with the wide side facing out and behind the legs.

8. Position the plexiglass so that the ends are about center on the front "table" brace and the upper back brace. I used small screws to hold it at the front and then drilled a couple of holes at the top and screwed the top into place to keep it firm.

9. Have a beer. Okay, this step is optional, but it worked for me.

So, the beauty of this, because it is wood, it's very easy to attach other things to it such as lights, diffusers, reflectors, etc. I was originally going to do this using PVC pipes, but the connector options just weren't there and, to be honest, I'm kind of happy that it worked out this way. At the very least, I have to imagine that it's a little tricky to clamp lamps onto round tubes...

Here's some shots of the finished product (excuse the basement mess). Bear in mind that I'm shooting the stand, not using it, so the reflections are from ceiling lights that I would normally have off before doing any work.


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