Are you a food blogger who wants to save money and make your own DIY photography light? Then this tutorial is for you! I created this DIY photography light tutorial to help you take better photos with simulated natural light at any time of the day or night.
The Lowel EGO Digital Imaging Fluorescent Light is super-popular for food photography. Its compact, lightweight, tabletop format is ideal for food bloggers and small kitchens.
However, at $100 or more for each each light, the Lowel EGO light can be a hefty investment for a hobby food blogger – especially if you plan to use more than one photography light. The Lowel EGO photography light commonly used for food photography is also becoming more difficult to find online. As of this post, the Lowel EGO Digital Imaging Fluorescent Light has been sold out on Amazon.com for weeks, with no indication if or when it will be back in stock.
How to make your daylight-simulating photography light
This is not the only tabletop photography light or photography softbox tutorial you’ll find on the web. There are plenty of DIY versions of the Lowel EGO light and other DIY food photography lights, and I learned a lot from them. But as I planned my own version of a DIY photography light, I wanted to improve on a few of the details.
This tabletop photography light / softbox is:
- Daylight temperature: The bulbs in this light operate at a color temperature of 6000 K – right in the 5500-6500K color temperature range of natural daylight. Use CFL bulbs, and they’ll stay cool and safe compared to halogen lights.
- Compact: This photography light fits in a small space between my stove and refrigerator, so I can take process shots in the kitchen. I can use it on my smaller background boards.
- Portable: I move my photography lights a lot, from the kitchen to the small studio table in the dining room, and back again. My photography lights need to be durable and lightweight.
- No wiring: This photography light is easy and safe to make… for anyone! No wiring required.
- Adjustable diffusion: Big diffusers can be awkward, so I wanted a light with its own clip-on diffuser. Fewer pieces to set up and arrange!
- Access to bulbs: Changing bulbs has to be quick and simple.
Daylight temperature photography lights have definitely improved my food photography. With a full-time job and a family, I need the flexibility to shoot whenever – usually after the kids go to bed. Most of the photos on my blog were taken at night, with one or two DIY photography lights and a few DIY foam board reflectors.
Make your own photography light and save money.
I saved about $76.00 per photography light!
As of this blog post, the Lowel EGO Digital Imaging Fluorescent Light, probably one of the most popular lights for food photography, retails for about $106.00 at B&H Photo. I spent just under $30 for supplies to make my own light, not including the tools I already own (glue gun, utility knife, ruler, scissors.) There are no special tools required!
If you are unable to find the right parts for your light at your local hardware store and craft stores, you can purchase many of the components on Amazon.com. These are affiliate links, so if you click them and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps support crazy DIY projects like this one. 😉 Thank you!
Supplies you need to make your own photography light
- Foam board, 27″ x 33″ (find at your nearest craft store)
- 15′ pendant light lamp cord with switch
- Twin light socket adapter
- 13.5″ x 10.5″ mesh plastic cross stitch canvas
- Two 6500K daylight temperature 60 watt equivalent CFL bulbs (link is for a 4-pack)
- Four 3 1/2″ x 3/4″ strips of self-adhesive VELCRO (one package)
- Parchment paper and four small binder clips for additional diffusion, if desired
- Utility knife
- Self-healing cutting mat and ruler (or use a cutting board or thick cardboard to protect your tabletop, and any metal ruler)
- Hot glue gun – I prefer the high-temperature type
Let’s get started! First, cut and shape the back of your photography light.
Choose a corner of your foam board and measure out a 16 inch x 13 1/2 inch rectangle. Use a utility knife and ruler to cut the foam board along the lines. Don’t forget to use a cutting mat, thick cardboard, or a cutting board to protect your surface.
Grab the board you cut out, and set the rest of the foam board aside. Turn the board so one of the longer sides is facing toward you. Mark a line up and down the center of the foam, 8 inches from one of the sides.
Using your utility knife and light pressure, score the foam board lightly along the line you just made, being careful not to cut all the way through the foam. The idea is to just cut through the top layer of paper.
Flip the foam board over and gently bend one side upward; the board should snap and fold along the score line.
Optional step: you can line the intact side of the cut with clear packing tape, placed over the inside crease (the non-cut side.) I forgot this step for this lamp, so I taped the outside crease instead, as you’ll see in a later photo. It’s less elegant, but the tape still provides some extra strength.
Next, make a hole for the lamp socket.
We’re going to mark a hole for the lamp socket in the center of the back piece. On the non-cut side of the board, measure and mark the foam along the crease, 6 3/4 inches from one side. This is the center of the board, and will be the center of your lamp opening.
On both sides of this center mark, along the crease again, make two marks, each 3/4 inch from the center. For a 1 1/2 inch-diameter lamp socket, these marks indicate where the top and bottom of the lamp socket opening will be.
Note: if the lamp socket you’re using is not 1 1/2 inches in diameter, measure its diameter and divide by two, then mark this distance from the center accordingly.
Here comes the magic geometry part!
Your lamp socket is round, but your opening needs to be an oval because the lamp socket is inserted along a fold. You’ve just marked the top and bottom of that oval along the fold line, and now I’ll show you a relatively easy way to mark the sides.
Place your lamp socket somewhere within reach. Set your folded foam board upright on a table, with the fold away from you and the opening toward you. You’ll need to open the back board to the same width as the short side of your plastic canvas. An easy way to measure this opening is to lay the plastic canvas on the table in front of the foam board, and open the foam board to that width.
Place one hand on the back of the board at the seam to maintain its angle. (If you’re having trouble keeping the foam board steady, place some cookbooks behind each side of it.) With your other hand, center your lamp socket from top to bottom using the marks along the back crease – they should line up with the top and bottom of the lamp socket. When the lamp socket is centered, gently press both sides of it into the foam board to mark its edges. A light mark in the foam board is all you need.
These indentations mark the horizontal sides of your oval!
Now that you have marked the top and sides of your opening, you’ll need to connect the points to make a smooth oval. Lay your foam board down on a table, and use a pencil and sketch connect the dots with a smooth curve.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. You will glue the lamp socket securely into this opening, and the hot glue will fill in any gaps.
Cut around the oval and pop it out of the foam board.
Notice that when you fold the foam board, the oval turns into a circle! I was NEVER this excited about geometry in school.
Make the base triangle.
Now let’s make the base triangle for the lamp. This triangle has tabs on two sides, which are then folded up against the back piece, and secured with hot glue. Let’s do this!
Starting at an edge of the remaining foam board, measure and mark a line 10 1/2 inches long.
Position your back piece on top of the marked line, with the two bottom front corners on either end of the line. This forms a triangle: one side is the 10 1/2 inch line you just marked, and the other two lines are formed by the back piece.
Trace around the outside edges of the back piece to form a triangle.
Set the back piece aside. Mark two more lines on the foam board, 1/2 inch outside of the first two lines. They might go off the edge of the foam board, and that’s ok.
Draw a line across the edge outlines, across the point of the triangle. (You’re essentially snipping off the point of the triangle.)
Your lines should look like this:
Using a utility knife and ruler, cut out the triangle along the OUTER edge outline, like this:
Then trim the small point from one side of the triangle so it is symmetrical.
Score the two inner lines, being careful not to cut all the way through the foam board. Flip the triangle base over and bend the two scored sides upward to form two tabs.
Now heat up your glue gun – we’re in the home stretch!
Lay the base triangle on a flat surface with the tabs facing up. Place the back piece on top of the base. Apply a line of hot glue to the surface of one tab, then fold the tab up against the side of the back piece. Press and hold for a few seconds until it sticks. Apply glue to second tab, fold it up, and press it into the back piece. Allow glue to cool for a few minutes.
The bottom of the assembled photography lamp frame should look like this from the back. (That clear tape along the back edge should have been on the inside of that seam. Oops!)
Next, we’ll fit the twin light socket adapter to the lamp socket, and make sure it lines up correctly in the box.
Screw the twin light socket adapter into the lamp socket until it is finger-tight. Turn the sockets until they are oriented vertically, one on top of the other. Make a small mark on the top of the lamp socket (the one with the cord) using a pencil or Sharpie marker. Unscrew the light socket adapter and set it aside.
Almost there! Insert the lamp.
From the back of the foam board frame, insert the lamp socket until ab0ut 1/4 inch of it clears each side of the hole on the inside. The mark you just made on the lamp socket should be facing up.
Holding the lamp socket in place, apply a bead of hot glue around the inside of the hole, where the lamp socket and edge of the hole meet. Let cool completely. Next, from the outside of the frame, apply a bead of glue around the edge of the lamp socketwhere it meets the foam. Be sure to fill any spaces between the lamp socket and the foam. Let cool completely.
Holding the lamp socket in place, screw in the twin light socket adapter. The two sockets should stack on top of one another.
At this point you can screw in your bulbs and turn your new light on if you want to… and YOU DO, right? Because if you’re like me, you’ll be SO EXCITED to try out the new photography light YOU just made!
You’re almost done! Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel? (Ha!) DON’T LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE LIGHT! Seriously, it’s BRIIIIIIGHT. Like, staring at the sun bright. Let’s diffuse some of that light, shall we?
Adding the diffuser
We’re going to use the plastic cross stitch mesh to create a diffuser over the front of the light. I’ve seen other tutorials for a DIY Lowel EGO photography light that call for gluing the mesh to the front of the light. My question is… how do you get inside to change the light bulbs?
I wanted a removable diffuser panel, so I paced around the house and ate snacks for an hour and thought about how to (removably) attach the diffuser. Then Noah suggested VELCRO! (He’s a keeper.)
Did you know that VELCRO was invented by NASA? Your new lamp utilizes SPACE AGE TECHNOLOGY!
To make the diffuser, you’ll need to remove a few bits of the plastic mesh to make slots for the VELCRO tabs. Using a utility knife, remove five horizontal bars of the mesh, leaving at least two intact holes at the top and two intact holes at the side of each corner. You’ll end up with four vertical slits, one near each corner of the mesh.
Peel the backing from a fuzzy strip of VELCRO. Thread it halfway through one of the tabs with the sticky side facing the edge of the plastic mesh sheet.
Fold the strip over, line up the ends, and press the folded strip together to form a fuzzy tab. Repeat for the other three corners.
Your diffuser should look like this:
And if you want softer diffusion, you can trace an outline of the mesh onto a piece of parchment paper, and clip it to the diffuser with binder clips. Parchment is one of my favorite ways to diffuse light.
Finally, hold your diffuser up to your photography light, and mark the top and bottom of each VELCRO tab on the outside edges of the lamp. This is where the hook part of your VELCRO goes.
Cut one of the VELCRO loop strips into four equal-sized pieces. Peel the backing away from a tab, and apply it between each set of marks on the outside edge of the lamp, along the front. Attach your diffuser with the tabs.
You did it!
Your new DIY photography light is ready to use!
Bonus: Make a Reflector Board
You probably have some foam board left over, which you can use to make a reflector board.
- Cut a rectangular piece of foam board.
- Mark a line down the center.
- Score the foam board lightly along this line, turn it over, and bend gently to snap the center so it bends.
- To reinforce the seam, line it with clear packaging tape on the inside.
How are you using YOUR DIY photography light?
I want to see your photos! Show me your setup! Please post a link in the comments to your blog, or to a photo, showing how you’re using your new photography light.