Wargaming Tradecraft: Building a Sturdy Light Box


Building a Sturdy Light Box

There are a lot of terrible photographs of miniatures out there. Aside from being shaky and blurry, sooo many miniature photos are DARK. (Even when entering contests!) Today, I'm going to show you how to build a sturdy light box.

Now, you can find a lot of light box builds online and they can be as simple as a cardboard box. Or, you can buy your own light boxes ranging between cheap and questionable to expensive and quality to really expensive professional setups.

All told, this PVC Light Box ran me about $50. It's really sturdy, can be disassembled if you don't glue it and can even be flipped if you want to photograph something tall.

I take all my finished photos inside my light box now, like the Hordebloods.

Why a Light Box?

As I discuss in my Photography Light Strength article, direct light creates big shiny white spots that destroys detail and washes out colour. Direct light can be anything from the lights in your room to the flash on a camera. Never use your camera's flash.

A light box creates a frame that holds white cloth which diffuses light shined through it. This means the area is bright without light shining directly on your miniature. It also provides somewhere to Place a Background.

A light box also allows you to take good quality pictures even when natural sunlight has gone away. It doesn't matter the time of day or the weather outside. You'll take consistent photos of your miniatures.

Technically, you could use coloured cloth if you wanted to create a coloured effect while taking photos.


Here are the supplies I used to build the Light Box, so you can picture what I'm talking about when I touch on planning it next.

  • (3) PVC Pipe
  • (8) PVC Pipe Elbow
  • (6) PVC Pipe Tees
  • PVC Glue
  • (3) Clamp-Mount Lights
  • (3) Bright-White Bulbs
  • Heavy White Fabric
  • (6) Small Mounting Plates


First things first, decide how large of a light box you need and do some doodling to decide how everything's going to fit together. Keep in mind that when using T-ees and L-bows for corners, you can't just have a normal cube shape.

After sketching rough plans, you should make a better quality one, including all the T's and L's.

Don't forget that when pressing a pipe into a joint, it'll shorten the pipe, but you also have to add the width of the joint. For example, the top width in the image below can be calculated by:

21.750" pipe - 1" joint - 1" joint + 2.125" elbow + 2.125" elbow
= 24" width

Confused? As long as it's not lop-sided, you're good.

I went bigger so that TheWife can take pics of her larger crafts in it too. You could make it smaller, which would bring the light closer to the mini.

Mitre Saw

On the right you can see my laser-guided mitre saw, which makes cutting things like pipe or Building a Tabletop much easier. (Obviously you can use a regular saw to cut this plastic pipe.)

I talked about off-setting drill bits when I Made my Custom Hordes Templates, The same thing goes when you're cutting pipe. So take the blade's width in to consideration when you're cutting the pipes.

Assemble / Glue

These are just some photos as I assemble everything after cutting up the lengths of pipe.

Strongly recommend that if you plan on gluing the pipes, fit everything together first. When you apply the glue, you just need to use the sponge applicator to put a little on the inside of the joint.

To be honest, I fitted it, it was strong, decided not to glue. For portability, I should glue the sides and not the long pieces. Would make tear down easy.

PVC glue is VERY strong

Don't get any on you and work in a well ventilated area.
Seen how super glue eats styrofoam? This stuff destroys it.

Fabric / Lights

The fabric can be just thrown over the frame if you don't have the ability to cut and sew it to fit nicely.

Lucky for me, TheWife was kind enough to fit the cloth for me.

Clamp lights are really handy because if you have limited space, they end up "built" in to the lightbox. (If it's heavy enough to support them.)

Using Compact-Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) is a good idea because they don't produce the same amount of heat as regular lights - a good consideration when working close to cloth.
Clamp Mounts

You'll need to cut a slit in the fabric so the clamp can close cleanly around the pipe. What I didn't plan for originally was that these clamps weren't strong enough to support the weight of the lamp when clamped on a ROUND object like these pipes.

This meant I had to dig up some metal plates from my heavier duty bitz boxes and screw them to the pipes to create a flat surface for mounting.

If your clamps aren't strong enough, you might get away with cardboard, but if you can find something sturdier, all the better. Wood would work well if the clamps spread far enough.

And you're done! All ready to take higher quality photos of your miniatures. Some tips:

  • Brighter lights the better
    • The cloth is used because it diffuses the strength of the lights, preventing ugly highlights.
    • Will let you position the lights further away from the cloth and create a stronger glow.
  • Create a Background
    • Miniatures stand out better against a soft background.
    • Curve the paper so there aren't any seems visible behind the miniature.
If there's one thing I might do down the road, it's build a form to hold the background. For now, miniatures are heavy enough to hold the background print in place while I lean it up against the box background.


Think you're all pro building stuff out of PVC now? You've just picked up a skill useable for all sorts of things, like 3D terrain or...

Say "cheese" Mori!
Once female turtles are a few years old, they'll start laying eggs (Fertilized or not.) and they might not without a sand pit. Not laying eggs can be fatal for a turtle. Plus, climbing is excellent exercise and turtles love diving. Sometimes she'll just climb up, dive in and repeat over and over.

Some notes on this stand if you feel like building your own:

  • Make sure your turtle is large enough to not get stuck underneath!
  • Don't build the stand so tall they can climb out of the tank!
  • PVC glue isn't pet safe and wasn't needed.
  • Use galvanized screws to hold pipes together and prevent rusting for health reasons.
  • Aquarium stores sell tank sealant, use this around any areas you connect the pipes to the rubbermaid container to keep water from the sand.
  • Drill holes in the submerged pipes if there's nowhere for water to fill in.
  • Have a strong support under the tank to bear the extra weight of the stand. (Unlike water, which has its weight evenly distributed in the aquarium.)
  • Use sandbox sand to fill the container as it will be kid-safe and won't contain chemicals. Never use calcium sand as it's not actually good for your turtle. (It's basically just tasty sand and might not pass through their system.)
  • If food or feeder fish (never goldfish, minnows are good) get under the stand, your turtle may go crazy trying to get under. The weight of the sand should prevent them from flipping the stand and they'll learn fish are unreachable, but you'll want to get out stuck food to prevent it from going bad.


  1. That is one serious lightbox!
    And dual usage as turtle terrain is just a bonus.

  2. Thanks :) And it was a lot of fun to design and build. Crazy sturdy too.

  3. Nice tutorial. I've considered making a light box for longer than I can remember so maybe now I'll finally get off my ass and do it.

  4. There are definitely options for buying a lightbox around the same price, but it won't be as large.. not necessarily a problem for miniatures. The purchased ones also seem to tear down easier. Maybe at some point in the future I can do some kind of side by side comparison of quality.


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