Adventures in DIY Lighting or Sometimes Things Don’t Work

on 4-03-2015 in Photography

Sometimes projects don’t go the way you expect.

My dilemma: I want to try recording some videos and improve the lighting for my lightbox photography, but professional lighting is both expensive and bulky.

The solution? Attempt to build my own, realize my DIY version will be worse and more expensive than existing solutions, and buy a set of lamp on Amazon.


Usually when I want something new that is relatively simple, my first instinct is to see if I can make it myself. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I respond that way for a variety of reasons, but in this case, it was a matter of frugality and being unsure if I would use the lights enough to make them worth paying full price.

Thanks to the Internet, there are a variety of DIY lighting solutions and tutorials to emulate. Many purport to be very inexpensive, but these often rely on the reader/viewer to have a collection of bits-and-bobs floating around just waiting to be crafted into something. My space (and spouse) doesn’t allow for much hoarding, so I opted for a solution that seemed reasonably priced, approximately $150 for a set of three lamps + bulbs, and had nice looking examples of the lighting possible with the set up.

This is where I made my first mistake. I should have gone back and checked around for existing lamp sets that would have provided the same wattage. Instead I jumped right in and made a visit to our friendly neighborhood Ace Hardware to pick up some of the parts I needed. I thought I’d start with two lamps and expand from there, so I only bought materials for two. I also thought I’d be able to pick up some stands (or at least something similar) at the used shops in our area, further reducing costs.

Some messy painting later, I had a pair of lamp heads, but had been unable to find cheap stands. In addition I wasn’t able to find bulbs that were bright enough to reach the 100 watts+ equivalent recommended by all the videography videos on YouTube. After a few trips to find bulbs that would work with my lamps, I did some frustrated Googling for professional light bulbs. Instead I found a 3 lamp lighting solution for $89 with decent recommendations on Amazon. Poof! There went at least half of my reason for building the lamps myself.

With the balance of DIY vs. purchased weighing against me, I reconsidered how much I would use the lamps. I knew I would need them fairly frequently for photographing my Etsy projects (and for taking pictures for this blog). If I only made a few videos, they would still be worth it. I thought it would be nice not to be making guesses about the light bulbs too. So I bit the bullet and scrapped my DIY lighting in favor of the purchasable alternative.

The Results

I’ve got a brand new set of three lights, two with fairly tall stands and a third with a shorter one. They look pretty good and came with natural light bulbs that are much brighter than the ones I was able to find at my Ace Hardware (at least this week). I tested the brightness out on my latest Etsy listings and the new lights are a vast improvement over the old ones.

Overall, I’m happy I was able to realize the project wasn’t working out and that there was a better solution so quickly. It means I can get on with the next DIY project to share with you all.

Do you have a story about a project you thought would be easy, but you ultimately abandoned because you found a workable or better alternative? Tell us about it in the comments.

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