The Anatomy of a Box Photo

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Have you ever seen a Box Photo?  Box photography is a fairly new trend in creative portraiture.  It involves the construction of one large box in which a variety of photos are captured.  The best shots are singled out and placed together in Photoshop. This composite gives the appearance of one large stack of cubes.  It’s even more fun if it looks like the subjects in the box are interacting with one another.

I decided a few months ago that I needed to give this fun new trend a whirl.  My amazing husband set to work in building me a box big enough to fit at least a couple of people inside. Not only did it need to be large enough, but also sturdy enough to hold the weight of several people.

The dimensions of the box used in Box Photography.
The dimensions of the box used in Box Photography.

But First, The Mini…

His first step in the project was to create a miniature version of the big box so that he could get the measurements just so.  You see, his job involves cutting large sheets of metal and wood into precision shapes using laser beams.  Fascinating, eh?  Think  of a Cricut crafting machine , only the size of a large car instead of desktop size.  The good news here is that with this precision cutting ability, he could make my box so that it fits together like a puzzle. First, though, he makes a tiny model version before cutting the real (and expensive) wood for the final project. This is how he ensures that all the pieces fit together correctly.  As they say, measure twice, cut once.

He brought the small box home and I had so much fun with it.  It was a great opportunity for me to practice setting up and photographing items in the box.  I had a great time picking some cool action figures from my son’s collection to test it out.  Not long later, I moved on to some wooden mannequins used for drawing models.  They were even more fun because they could be posed like real people!

Mini Box Composite Photo with Wood Dummies
Mini Box Composite Photo with Wood Dummies
Mini Box Composite Photo with Kid Toys
Box composite with toys

If you would like to have a mini box of your own and some figures to practice with, check this out!  You don’t need a rock star husband like mine to hand-craft you a tiny box.  You can get one right here….

And here’s the wooden mannequins.  Of course, some of your kid’s toys work great, too!

Back to the Big Box

Even though the little box is a whole lot of fun to tinker with, I can’t fit real people into it.  I was getting excited to have the big box on hand.  But first, the problem with a box of this size and strength is that it is a BEAST to move around. It just doesn’t fit through any average-sized doorway.  This means the box needs to stay in one location. Alternately, it can be built to disassemble so that it can be moved and re-assembled on site. Well, when I ask, my husband answers. He created the perfect box for me, so it was time to get to work by setting it up in my shiny new studio space at home.

Setup of Box within a home studio
Setup of box in my home studio

Once the box was all set up, I called on my kiddo and his buddy to help me practice.  Of course tween boys are not always thrilled to be in front of the camera, but they had a great time with this!  I simply told them to have fun then stood by while they directed one another.  A simple prompt for them was to use their whole body to try to fill the box (read all about Promptography, the art of prompting instead of posing for natural photos HERE). I let them know that they should try to touch all sides of the box and just keep their limbs inside.  Don’t worry if an arm or leg or hand hangs out a bit, though, cuz’ you can use that during your editing!

A boy in the box with his hands out
Don’t worry about those hands out of the box. We’ll deal with that later!
A boy using his whole body to fill the box
“Fill the whole box with your body”

Another fun experiment we tried was to place an item in such a way that it looks like the boys were e interacting with one another between boxes.  In the example below I used a piece of paracord to string between the boxes as if the boys on the outside were holding the cord wrapped around the boys in the middle.  They LOVED this and in the future I would choose to use a bigger cord or rope so it is more obvious.  It’s fun to have one person handing something to the other person, also.  The sky is the limit here when it comes to creativity.  Enjoy every minute of the photography portion of the project, cuz’ the real work, er, I mean, FUN, comes next.

A boy in a box holding a cord for staging
Portrait-Photographer-Holland-Michigan-boys-in-box-wrapped-in-cord
Another boy in a box holding a cord for staging

Now for The Real Work!

If you’ve been reading my other posts, you’ll already know that only a portion of a Photographer’s work comes from the camera.  There is a whole other world to be discovered in editing, which I cover in The Power of Editing – Taking A Photo from Average to Astounding!  Now that you’ve gotten the photos all taken, you can send your models on home and begin processing them into one big image.  Let’s take a look at how it’s all put together….

Just kiddin… This is the Fun Part!

First, I choose which shots are the standouts, showing the most personality and character.  Next, if I haven’t already decided, now is the time to decide how many shots I will put together into the composite.  It helps at this point to decide if you’d like an overall square or a pyramid of boxes or any other configuration.

Time to talk Templates!

At this point, you can either choose to create your own template for use in Photoshop, or you can purchase one that’s already made.  Much of this decision depends on your available time and skill level.  CLICK HERE for a great shop with some really creative templates already put together for you.  Templates typically come with some basic instructions on how to use them, which is a great idea if you’re just starting out.  Once you have a basic handle on Photoshop, you can definitely make your own!

Once you’ve chosen your border and your winning photos, then simply give them a basic 1 x 1 crop and layer them in Photoshop underneath the main border layer.  In the layers section, you can toggle the border layer off and on or lower the opacity to be sure everything is lined up correctly.  Check out some stages of the process below:

Boxes cropped and roughly aligned in Photoshop

Step 1 – Crop individual boxes and roughly align them under the border layer. You can hide the border layer or make it transparent to align your boxes.

Boxes aligned with cords drawn in

Step 2 – Draw cords in the middle box (use the clone or brush tool). Don’t forget to draw the cord across the fronts of the boxes.

Box template over the front of the aligned boxes in Photoshop

Step 3 – Now you get to make your template layer 100% visible.  See how the rope is still covered and bottom right box hands are covered?  Here is where I turn on the layer mask and use the brush to paint out the areas over the hands and the ropes.

Finished box photo composite

Step 4 – And finally!  For this composite I chose to add a green border that coordinated with their clothing.

Now Let Your Creativity Flow…

You can see how much fun this process is.  Again, creativity is your best friend here.  I have a friend who has 11 children from their mid-20’s down to toddler age.  It would be nearly impossible for her to get her family all into one place at one time. Can you then imagine getting 13 people all lined up and smiling perfectly in unison?  What a fun project this would be for her family! They wouldn’t all need to be in the exact location at the exact time.  Since my box is portable, I could easily set it up on location and get the family in at their convenience.

Here’s a peek at another creative project I just completed…  My now-fifth-grade-son has been attending the Dual Language Immersion Program (Spanish/English) in our Public School district since Kindergarten.  Because the program was new when he was in K, there was only one immersion classroom in a rather large district.  He has been in the classroom with the same 27 students for 6 years now.  These kids are more like cousins than friends at this point.  Next year they leave the safety of their small language-based school to move into the large middle school.

My son asked me if we could do a box photo of his friends, so we made it happen!  The students were all allowed to bring in some props from home to use in their individual photos.  Every kid loved it! Now they have a memento to bring with them as a reminder of those first 6 years they were together.

Classroom full of fifth graders in the box
School name and faces blurred to protect the privacy of these students.
Image for this blog post to be used for Pinterest
Portrait Photographer-Holland-Michigan-PIN-this-Graphic

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