Jan 1, 2012

Turn your Christmas lights into a softbox?

Making better photos involves a seeing, finding and using light for the look that you want. My goal for the blog in 2012 is to do something fun with light every week and talk about it here.

Don't store your Christmas lights away just yet... How about turning them into beautiful photo light instead?
Christmas Light Softbox-0800

When I first got back into photography in 2007, I saw a guy's use of a Christmas strand to make a Christmas Ring Light. That must have stuck with me because this year I had the idea to make a softbox style light out of the Christmas tree lights this year.

I started with a 2'x3' piece of foam board. With small slices into each end, I was able to put two strands of lights covering one side... these are the tiny lights.
Christmas Light Softbox-6683

Joshua was due for another chair photo so I used the DIY project for that. Set up in front of the chair, the Christmas light softbox added a some nice directional illumination to the existing room light.
Christmas Light Softbox-6678

Overall, the light helped, but wasn't all that bright. Shutter speeds were low, so a tripod helped get some reasonably good shots...
Christmas Light Softbox-0769

The real magic happened by moving the light closer and turning off the main room light so that there was more shadow definition.
Christmas Light Softbox-0820

Moving in close, you can see the Christmas light contraption in the eye highlights.
Christmas Light Softbox-0832

After the chair photos, Joshua played on the floor. I propped the DIY softbox on the floor in front of the couch and took photos. Because it is a constant light, there is much less "flash shock," so he just sat there and let me snap away. Good stuff.Christmas Light Softbox-6749

The verdict? It definitely works. This is easy, cheap, beautiful light.

The good?
This was a very easy, low-cost project. Wrap the lights and turn them on.
It isn't a flash, so for the baby, it was great.
Also, because it is constant, you can use this with any point-and-shoot or video camera. You may need to do some +/- exposure compensation to get that right.
I think this would also be good for objects, close-ups, food or anything else where you use a tripod.

The negatives?
It is not very bright. Shutter speeds will be low, ISOs will be high.
Positioning it is not simple. Standard spring clamps work, or you could hang it on a wall, but you will want a light stand or something similar to move it exactly where you want it.

To make it better...
I would like to try lights with brighter bulbs. Unfortunately I don't think the newer LED bulbs will be have the same light quality.
Covering the board with foil or reflective tape would probably add a lot of efficiency without degrading the light quality. Same with more strands of lights.
Multiple points of light, if they are close together, can be as good as one big light. Have fun, wrap something in light... and of course get some pictures. Happy New Year!

Don J.


  1. Thanks for the idea, lightning is not my best side...

  2. I have several strands of C-9 lights would that work for more light?