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When I tell people about my job, traveling around the world and writing about social justice organizations, one of the most common questions I am asked is “so what do you do while you are in the US?”
A lot of what I do is the kind of thing you might expect: answer email, research upcoming trips, re-connect with supporters. There are some parts of my job most people don’t know about. For example, I spend time speaking and preaching at churches and meeting one-on-one with people who want to talk about next steps in their lives.
And then there are jobs that are so completely random; I never expected I would be doing them.
“Hey Brad, I have a special project for you.” (When your boss tells you this, it’s either really good or really bad.)
My special project was to build a light box for World Next Door. I was sent a link to a DIY page and asked to make one to be used in upcoming issues.
A light box is pretty much what it sounds like – a box full of light. It’s designed to diffuse light sources so there are no shadows inside. If you place an object inside it and take a picture it gives the illusion of the object resting on an infinite, uniform plane.
Most high-end product shots use this technique, and we wanted to use it in our magazine for our “In the Bag” feature where we highlight our favorite travel gear.
However, most high-end product photographers have high-end budgets and buy light boxes made of molded plastic with custom light bulbs and diffusers. Most look like a cross between a microwave and star-trek-style transporter.
My job was to make one for under $5. My materials? Cardboard, tape, and a bit of fabric.
Who Needs Directions?
The instructions were pretty simple: get a box, lie it on its side with one end open. Then cut out the top and two sides leaving a one-inch margin. Cover these holes with tissue paper and voila! Light box!
My first box was a dud. It was too small, the cuts were uneven and the paper wouldn’t lay the way I wanted it to. I felt defeated, once again bested by the intricacies of cardboard.
I inspected the instructions more closely and discovered I had been tricked! While it said to use tissue paper the pictures revealed they were really using fabric. Zounds!
What Do You Mean “Plain White?”
With renewed zeal I drove to Jo-Ann’s fabric outlet. I strode to the fabric section, intent on securing a perfect piece of white muslin to diffuse the light.
Selecting my fabric I… wait, is that one whiter? What about this one, it’s a few cents cheaper? Is it more important that it be white-white or could it be a little yellow-white? What’s the difference between 100% and blended? When did white become so many different colors? AAAH!
Some time later I emerged from JoAnne’s, nervously clutching my fabric swatch that, after much careful consideration, ended up being the one I grabbed first and didn’t feel like putting back.
I also wasn’t positive it would fit (how many centimeters in a yard again?) but when I placed it over the box it was… perfect!
Using my new-found fabric and a larger box I retrieved from World Next Door’s basement, I finished light box 2.0 in no time at all. Straight edges, re-enforced corners, spotless fabric and a white poster board curved along the back to create the uniform background.
It looked a blank elementary-school diorama, or an empty puppet stage. The only question left was, would it work?
We arranged desk lamps for light sources and placed our first test item inside. We took a picture and… well they say a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let this one speak for itself.
The team spent much of the rest of the day taking pictures with the light box and giggling over how great the results were.
And after that? After that I got back to answering emails, researching upcoming trips, and meeting with people.
That, and waiting for my next “special project”.
About the Author: Brad Miller is a year-long fellow with WND. A student of Psychology, Biology, and Theatre, he's worked as an actor, teacher, balloon artist and last-minute fill-in guy for any number of projects. He loves camping and tinkering with broken and discarded things. Brad's passion in life is to unleash the potential in others.