For some time I’ve been looking to find a good, inexpensive way to make my own light box for alternative process use. After some cloudy days while trying to do salted paper printing and cyanotypes, and wanting more definite control over results, I decided to do some digging.
First, the realization came that photo exposure boxes are expensive. Cheapest one I found was well over $500 for the size I was looking for. I was talking to a friend at one of the colleges I work at as a professor of photo, and he helped me get a supply list together in regards to what needed to happen in regards to electrical, and general parts.
I’m calling this version 1.0, and already am making some adjustments, and doing a new mock-up, but here is what I went through…
- I live in the second floor of an apartment, so I don’t have a workspace to do any of this, however my mom graciously let me use her backyard and saw horses for my little project. If you know you don’t have space to do these kinds of cuts, I recommend the free cutting service at hardware stores. Lowes and Home Depot usually have the option set up, in addition to small local shops. There is a person there more than happy to cut down the wood for you to fit the size you want.
- I started with two 1/2 x 24 x 48 birch plywood. For those curious, this is a pretty heavy wood when all is said and done, and I really recommend going with something lighter if you are wanting a portable box. Although manageable to carry somewhat, the weight of the final box has to be around 30 or 40 lbs, so keep that in mind. For the second addition of the this, I’ll be trying to find a lighter wood to use for field workshops.
- I made initial measurements based off the lights I got (T8 blue black lights), and allotted for room to fit the ballast and sockets.
- This is a better look at the sockets coming into position, and the ballast. If you pick up the t8 sockets, make sure they have a flat edge, rather than a rounded one, and then you can attach them to your board via screws.
- Closer look that the sockets in place (and the crappy drawing layout I did initially). I used wire cutters I had on hand from my framing supplies, and picked up a wire stripper for about $4 at the hardware store. Although you don’t have to have it, it made stripping the wires much easier.
- This is a look at how everything comes into place. the wires are daisy chained together, and the t8 florescent lights are connected together that way.
- Another view of the set-up. This time everything is basically in place, and evened out in terms of spacing. The green caps you see on the left side are connected to a 3-prong grounded extension cord, that had the wires unclosed. I found mine by the other electrical cords in the hardware store. Sometimes it’s listed as a replacement dryer plug. (Cost about $8).
- View of the box with three sides attached. I used large clamps, some screws, and wood glue overnight to make sure these were set. I additionally let this sit overnight upside down, with the lights attached to the top to make sure that the weight wasn’t too much. (thankfully everything was fine, and it’s still doing ok weeks/months later!).
- The next day I began by attaching the front opening door to the box with hinges, and also attached a pull to make it easier on myself. Can’t remember where/when I picked those up, but it’s a helpful addition. If you want to make sure they are strong enough, generally there is a weight suggestion/limit on the packaging materials. After that, I attached the bottom full sheet of plywood with screws and wood glue. That sat overnight as well.
- After all this, I remembered I want to add a place where the electrical could come out easily. I used a desk cord cover plate to make the opening look a little prettier. Only cost about a buck and a half.
- I used my darkroom timer from my film processing area in my kitchen to keep the times going, and avoid having to keep looking at my watch, or setting other types of timers not connected to the unit itself.
- After some tests, the exposure times are pretty long, at 15 minutes for cyanotypes, but I’m on my way. For the workshop I gave at the science center I had it set up initially, and we were able to make successful prints off of it. The kids who dropped in had fun (Ages 6+), and so did the parents. Some things to keep in mind is that these will most likely will have a little less contrast on them than using the sun, but if you put the prints in a water bath, with a drop or two of peroxide, you’ll get that classic blue tint that is generally thought of.
- Version 2.0 is already in the works though. I’m going to be adding another four florescent lights to this, and I think that will cut down on times. The height is good so far for even exposure, so I’m going to keep that as it is. I’m sure other people on the internet have some great advice on using other materials, but this is what worked for me. So good luck if you decide to make your own light exposure box!