How To Build A Photo Box The Easy Way

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How To Build A Photo Box The Easy Way

How can you build a photo box for in the box photography?  And why would you want to do that?  What is in the box photography anyway?  Take a look on social media, and you’ll see the cool new box photo phenomenon that has been making the rounds!  Box photos are all the rage (Hip Grandma term!).

Small Divided white photo box used to build a photo box

In the box photography is a hilarious and fun activity for your kids and grandkids, and you end with a super cool photo that will make the whole family smile.  People just love to climb in the box and show off their goofy side for the camera!  If you don’t know what box photos are all about, start learning ALL THE DETAILS ON HOW TO TAKE BOX PHOTOS.  Today we will go through how to build a photo box as quickly and efficiently as possible so you can get started with the photography fun!

Gather Your Materials to Build a Photo Box

Before you begin building, you will need a few tools and the hardware to assemble your box.  First, you will need a power drill (and drill bits)  that also serves as a cordless screwdriver.  You will need the power screwdriver for efficient assembly and disassembly of your adult-sized box.

You will also need wood screws – 3” long (qty 8), such as those included in this variety pack.

A Word About Box Sizes

Now that you’ve assembled your tools, it’s time to consider how big a box you would like to build.  Of course, your box needs to be big enough to fit your subject, so if you’re working with small children, you can opt for a smaller box.  But if your subjects are not so tiny, you will need a basic box that’s big enough to fit the biggest kids (aka grown adults).

How to Build a Photo Box Sized for a Child

If you would like to start with a small box for the smallest subjects, it’s best to build a small, child-sized box.  Building a child-sized box is a great way to begin and get some good practice before jumping into the adult-sized box.

A simple way to create this smaller-sized box is by using this Square 4-Cube Bookcase from Amazon.  You can assemble it without adding the middle portion to leave the entire center empty.

Small Divided white photo box used to build a photo box

The dimensions of this box are 15.35 inches deep, 30.91 inches wide, and 30.6 inches tall.  This little box is perfectly portable, and that makes it just right to put in your trunk and take to a different location to photograph your clients or those darling grandkids.

Cynthia Russo of OriginalCyn Photography uses this small box from Ikea for in the box photography with toddlers.  The pricing is slightly lower for the Ikea box.  However, Ikea does not always have the box in stock, and shipping times are much slower than Amazon’s 2-day delivery.  Either box will make a fun way to showcase siblings, cousins, or best friends!

Toddler boys in a composite of photo boxes
Photo Credit: Cynthia Russo
Toddler girls in a composite of photo boxes
Photo Credit: Cynthia Russo

How to Build a Photo Box Sized for an Adult

When you are ready to expand your box opportunities to include adults in the fun, you will need a much bigger box!  You can see below how a child-sized box compares to the size of an adult-sized box.  Cynthia demonstrates how tough it will be to squeeze an adult into the kid-sized box.  It may be cute for one shot for your in the box photography session, but trust me when I tell you an adult will not be thrilled to squeeze into a child-sized box like this more than once.

2 sizes of photo boxes with adult inside
Photo Credit: Cynthia Russo
2 sizes of photo boxes with adult inside
Photo Credit: Cynthia Russo

On the flip side, see how small that toddler might appear in the adult-sized box unless you add some good-sized props!

When you are ready to construct your adult-sized box, here’s what you’ll need:  I recommend using these pre-cut, laminated tabletops that you will screw together into a square.

My friend Ron of Ron Nabity Photography gives these instructions for assembling a perfectly adult-sized photo box made from similar laminated tabletops from Ikea.

Note:  When I tried to purchase the Ikea tabletops online, they were out of stock.  Upon re-stocking, I discovered that they would not ship the tabletops to my address.  My local store is at least 2 hours away, and even if I had been willing to drive, the items were not in stock at that location, which was a bummer.

If you are ready to start constructing your box right away, then I recommend the laminated table tops from Amazon, even with the higher price point.  Ron’s instructions are for assembling the box using the Ikea tabletops.  I’ve added a few notes along the way to adjust for non-Ikea laminated tabletops.

Ron's Instructions to Build A Photo Box for Adults

Following are a few photos and descriptions of my photo box construction. My primary interests were to build a box easily, preferably already white, and build it so that it can be disassembled for storage and transport and easily reassembled on location.

Please read:  I used power tools to build this. Be careful when using power (and hand) tools. You are responsible for your own construction and use of your photo box.

A completed empty photo box
Photo Credit: Ron Nabity

This is a basic sketch of how the tabletops go together (looking at the long edges). Notice how each end overlaps the next panel, all the way around the box.

Diagram showing how to build a photo box
Diagram by Ron Nabity

Look at the bottom of the tabletops.  At each end there are hole patterns in the corners – these 5 holes were pre-drilled by Ikea for attaching table legs. These tabletops are mostly hollow except for these corner areas where these holes are. This is important – this is the only area of the table that is strong enough to use screws or brackets.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Your tabletop may not be hollow, as mentioned above.

Notice the larger holes; these are the locations I pre-drilled for the screws to enter. These holes will align with the solid parts at the end of the next panel.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Your tabletop may not have pre-drilled holes as shown.  No worries!  You can easily measure and drill pilot holes using your Power drill (and drill bits) for this portion of the build.

screw holes used when building a photo box
Photo Credit: Ron Nabity

You're Almost There!

I layed a screw on the top of the panels so you can see how long it is compared to the panels. You can also see one of the screws partially in place, beginning to hold the pieces together. I pre-drilled the hole that goes into the end of the receiving panel. Be sure you use the correct size drill bit. If you don’t know how to pre-drill holes for screws, Google it or get someone to help. You only get one chance with these panels.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Here is where you will use the 3” screws included in this variety pack of screws.

screws in position when building a photo box
Photo Credit: Ron Nabity

This is a wider view of the assembled box. Two screws at each corner, eight screws for the entire box. Those are the only places strong enough to hold a screw. When tightened down, this box is pretty rigid. I would assume that if someone inside the box put their weight on a wall heavily, it could weaken the box, possible break it.

The tabletops are rigid and lightweight (individually). When they are assembled, the complete box is bulky and heavy and takes some wrestling to move it and place it on the [stand] side tables.

a complete photo box screwed together
Photo Credit: Ron Nabity

The Back of the Box

Once you have your box all assembled, you can stretch a piece of white nylon fabric across the back of the box.  Nylon fabric is easy to tack on with a staple gun or some thumbtacks.  It also helps keep the box’s weight low and works with either the kid-sized or adult-sized box.

If you’d like something a bit more hard-core across the back of your box, you can cut a piece of thin plywood painted white or pre-coated white panelboard to fit on the backside of the box.  If you opt to use a piece of plywood or panel board for the background, know that most home improvement stores such as Menards will make a free cut for you when you purchase your material through them.  By all means, take advantage of that service and save a step by having your material cut before bringing it home.

The Box Stand

Once you’ve completed construction on your box, you will need to think about how you’d like to raise it up.  Why raise it up?  Why can’t I just use it on the floor?  These are great questions, and I have some great answers!

First, if you are photographing children, you will save your back some aches and pains by having them raised to a comfortable height.  Also, you will want to have room for them to dangle their feet or other creative items.  So how do you raise your child-sized box?  Any table or raised surface will work quite nicely.  The box is light enough to move around and lift onto a table and then be moved and put away when you are finished using it.

NEVER LEAVE A CHILD UNATTENDED IN A RAISED BOX.  ALWAYS HAVE AN EXTRA ADULT ON STANDBY NEXT TO THE BOX.

Moving the adult-sized box is not as simple.  For this big beast, you’ll need a sturdy pair of legs for your stand.  Remember, your stand must hold the weight of 1-2 adults plus the weight of the box.  I love these legs because they can be screwed directly into the bottom of the box and are rated to support 800+ pounds.  Another option would be to screw the legs onto a piece of plywood, fashioning a separate stand on which you can place your box.

Bonus Tip For Building a Photo Box

Special Effects Made Easier

Here’s a really handy trick you can put into use once your box is up and running!  When you’re photographing people in your box, you will want to occasionally have one person passing an item across boxes or making a connection with another person across boxes.  Ron gives us a great example in this self-portrait by toasting with himself in the top two squares.  But think about it – if you don’t know exactly where to hold your hand or your item, then it would be tricky to line those two beer bottles up just right.

Retired man in a composite box photo
Photo Credit: Ron Nabity

Here’s the trick!  You can mark where the item will pass from box to box by placing a piece of adhesive measuring tape to each outside edge around your box.  Use a tack or piece of blue painter’s tape to mark where your item leaves the box and then re-enters on the other side.  This measuring technique works for the top and bottom of your box, also!  Marking your measurements when aligning your shots will reduce how much time you spend in post-processing, and we’d all like to spend less time processing!

sticky tape measure used in building a photo box

More Resources

Are you looking for some more in the box photography inspiration?  Check out the Inside the Box Facebook Group!  The amazing photographers who make up this group have all leaped into the box photography phenomenon.  There are plenty of tutorials there for using your freshly built box, too.  And you can also score some fantastic free overlays to use when you’re ready to make your composite in Photoshop.

Wrapping It All Up

Now you know what in the box photography is all about and you have a plan to build your box!  So what’s keeping you from getting started!?  Go ahead and give it a try!  Your family and friends will be dazzled and your kids and grandkids will love goofing around in the box showing off their unique personalities!  If you take clients, this is an extra bonus you can offer that will have those clients lining up!

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