Photo Synthesis

Photo Technique: the White Box

An anonymous commenter asked if I could explain the white box I sometimes use for insect studio shots.

Here it is:

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There’s not much to it. It’s an old cardboard box- this one once held toilet paper, I think- with white printer paper taped along the inside. The strobe is placed inside the box. When the strobe fires, the box is filled with a lovely diffuse white light.


White boxes only take a few minutes to assemble, and I’ll often make one on location if I need to. Natural substrates like leaves and rocks can be added to the box so that it approximates a field setting. The whole thing is pretty ghetto.

The exact placement of the strobe within the box is important. If your subject catches direct light from the flash it’ll be reflected as a bit of glare. The light will also bounce off some sides of the box more than others depending on where the strobe is aimed, so it’s worth playing with the configuration.

Below are a few shots I took using a white box.

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Harpegnathos saltator – the Indian Jumping Ant

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Scaphinotus petersi
– Snail Hunting Beetle, Arizona.

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Chrysina beyeri - Beyer’s Jewel Scarab, Arizona.

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Pelidnota punctata – Grapevine Beetle, Illinois.

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Camponotus vicinus – Carpenter Ant, California.

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Pyramica arizonica living inside colony of Trachymyrmex, Arizona.

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Harmonia axyridis – Asian multicolored lady beetle, Illinois.

Incidentally, white boxes are ideal for product photography. If you sell jewelry on ebay it’s worth your time, all ten minutes of it, to put one together. You won’t need a strobe for inanimate objects. Any light source with a reasonably white color cast will do.

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Comments

  1. #1 Henry W. Robison
    April 26, 2009

    Thanks Alex for showing us exactly what you mean by a white box and for your comments relative to strobe position. This method certainly produces some beautiful results!

  2. #2 Rana
    April 26, 2009

    Thanks for the explanation! I’ve seen a variation where the box has its sides cut out and replaced with white paper, with lights shining into it through the paper, but this looks much simpler!

  3. #3 Anon
    April 26, 2009

    I love it! Thank you! It is even simpler than I had imagined, which makes it that much more elegant!

  4. #4 Adrian Thysse, FCD
    April 27, 2009

    Thanks for the tip, Alex. But this is far too easy. There has got to be a way to make this more complex;)

  5. #5 Kurt
    April 27, 2009

    Those are beautiful shots! What camera/lens combinations do you use?

  6. #6 Alex
    April 28, 2009

    Kurt: Most were shot with Canon’s 100mm f2.8 macro lens, except for the two ant shots near the bottom. Those use the MP-E 65mm 1-5x lens. The camera back for these images is a mix of Canon 20D and Canon D60.

  7. #7 Bob Scoverski
    April 14, 2010

    Absolutely beautiful shots. This is motivating me to buy a flash and to start learning that aspect of photography.

  8. #8 megadosya
    May 16, 2010

    If you sell jewelry on ebay it’s worth your time, all ten minutes of it, to put one together. You won’t need a strobe for inanimate objects. Any light source with a reasonably white color cast will do.thanks..nice post

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