Building a light tent – part 2, assembly

This week I decided to build a light tent, inspired by some photos from a Flickr contact, and some instructions from Bill Huber that are available online.

In my last post, I described some of the parts. In this post I’m going to talk about the assembly, including pictures. This is my version of the instructions given on Bill Huber’s pbase site, but with UK measurements and materials.

Here’s a summary of the main parts, which I purchased from Homebase.

  • 2 x 2m 15mm PVC pipes (from the plumbing section).
  • pack of 5 equal tee joints, from the Homebase Easy Fit range. It was cheaper to buy a bag of 5 than it was to buy 4 individually.
  • 4 stem elbow joints (also Easy Fit). Important to get the stem joints, as they plug directly into the tees without the need for an additional length of the main pipe in between.
  • self-tapping size 6 (3.5mm x 12mm) screws.
  • 2 desk lamps with 40W “golf ball”-style bulbs.
  • 2 desk lamps with 20W halogen bulbs.

I also picked up a cheap single white bed sheet from Tesco for less than £3. Today I managed to find some sheets of different coloured A2-sized card from Partners the Stationers (although I had to search around a lot… our local craft and hobby shop didn’t have any card of a suitable, and neither did the local branch of Partners). Total cost, incidentally, was around £45 including the lamps – not very cheap, but this is a nice flexible setup.

The parts

Once I’d got the parts together, the next stage was to assemble the frame. To do this, I needed to cut the 2m pipes into sections, which I did using a junior hacksaw. I think a pipe cutter would have been a better option, as the cuts would be cleaner… using a hacksaw meant that I needed to file the ends and then trim off any burrs with a craft knife, but that didn’t take long.

The cut pipe and joints

The two longest sections were 60cm each (width of the frame). I also cut two at 40cm (depth) and the four legs at 35cm each (height) – leaving a 60cm section as waste. Incidentally, I found a CD marker pen was best for marking the measurements on the pipe. You can also see the joints here, one of which I’d already assembled.

Top of the frame

The top of the frame was easy to assemble: push each stem elbow into a tee; and then push the 60cm and 40cm lengths of pipe into the tees to form a rectangle.



The assembled frame

At this point I just needed to push the legs into the elbow joints. I can tighten the joints, but still undo them and pull the frame apart again quite easily, which is handy for storage. One thing I didn’t do was to add any feet (yet), so I’ve filed the ends of the legs and will not be putting it on any delicate surfaces without covering them first!



Screw in the frame

Along the back section, I measured out 13.5cm gaps, twisted the point of a craft knife into it, and then screwed in three of the screws. These are used for hanging the backgrounds. I bought white, black, light blue, red, purple, gold and silver – each sheet of card was about 80p. I’ve cut some holes into the card using a hole punch.


Completed light tent, in use

The final studio / light tent. I draped the sheet over it, and positioned a halogen lamp either side. I’m using it on a table, with my tripod in the foreground of the shot. I’m also using a remote release on the camera. I really need to get a better tripod now, as mine is only pan and not pan/tilt…

In my final post on this topic (probably tomorrow), I’ll be showing some of the results 🙂

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17 thoughts on “Building a light tent – part 2, assembly”

  1. Cool. However, be careful about making sure your pics don’t come out too flat looking, which seems to be a common problem with light tents from what I’ve read. Next you’ll be using it to produce micro-stock!

  2. That’s a fair point, thanks for the advice – they are a little flat so far, I think (you’ll see for yourself when I post some photos). I’d be interested in tips as to how to avoid this, other than post-processing for contrast etc.. Everything is possible, I’m sure.

    A couple of shots I’ve tried are also a little noisy, even at ISO 100. I read that this may be to do with lack of power in the lamps… I need to try to find something closer to 50-75W halogens I think (not sure where from, though).

    I didn’t know what micro-stock was, but Wikipedia told me. Well, who knows? 😉

  3. I would say you do need to get some larger bulbs. I don’t know if they have them over there but I am using fluorescent lights, they are rated at 100 watts. The big thing is they are much cooler and sill have the light you need.
    I use the little lights for accent lights, when I want a little shadow or need to high-lite something.

  4. Thanks for the visit Bill – I’ve added a named credit in the post, which I should have done in the first place, thanks for your great instructions.

    That’s a really helpful hint, I’ll take a look out for some stronger lights. I can feel a trip to Ikea coming on…

  5. If you have the halogen GU10 ‘style’ bulbs…

    …you can get some LED ones from Maplins, assorted colours and they run cool to the touch.

  6. Ric, thanks for the information. These are the G4 type capsule bulbs. I’m still looking around for a good alternative lamp / set of lamps.

  7. Hi, I noticed you mentioned you can’t undo the push fit connectors – well, you should be able to! – unscrew grip-collar 1/4 turn then push fitting off the pipe making sure you push the loose flange in as you are pushing off. mess around and you will see what I mean!
    BTW great that you can do all this for $45 (£22)in the US 🙁

  8. Hey Olly, thanks for your comment.

    You’re right, you can detach them, and I was able to disassemble the frame I built for myself. Clever things. If you don’t push the flange as you pull the pipes apart, they are stuck fast. Thanks for clarifying.

    Sounds like you folks can get the materials a bit cheaper over in the US.

  9. I made a lightbox today using Bill’s plans – I would say one thing to make things a little easier is to use big binder clips to hold the backdrop instead of messing with the screws and punching holes (which I could see ripping the backdrop easily) Just my 2 cents/pence 🙂

  10. Ed, thanks for visiting. I went with the screws approach, but given the difficulty of punching holes in the backdrop at the right intervals, I kind of wish I’d used clips instead. Good call.

  11. Thanks for all the info on the light box Andy, but I am having trouble with my lighting.. what did you finally come up with and where did you get it with please. Im photographing jewellery and its really difficult, so any lighting suggestions would help. Oh Im also in the UK 🙂

  12. Hi Fiona. The lighting problem hasn’t really been resolved here. I have some lamps with basic bulbs that I got from Homebase when I first built the tent, and some clip-on Fas spotlights from Ikea, but they also don’t go very high in terms of wattage… they do have reflector bulbs which helps a little.

  13. While I have not tried it, I would think any camera strobe flash would work well – a speedlight with E-TTL wireless would work, but any manual remote flash would work too.
    Of course these are expensive, so any hight power halogon bulb should give some good light too – just don’t forget to light from at least two sides, but the more the better i would think

  14. Thanks for posting the info – I have now built one of these light tents – I have found that the pipe structure is a little bit unstable so am planning to modify with some corner braces to give added stability but still with the ability to collapse down for storage – will let you know how it goes. Results of my photography will soon be viewable at as this is the project that led me down this path in the first place.

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