Kitchen Lighting System

So I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about lighting in my kitchen. I don’t have a usable window, and I only have one overhead light. I keep putting bigger and bigger bulbs in it, but it’s still rarely enough light. Everything come out dark and very slightly blurry because of the long shutter times.

Clearly, I needed more light. I’ve looked at some of the commercial systems, but they’re all bulky and/or expensive, and I didn’t want to spend several hundred dollars on lights.

I started with generic reflector work lights, with big CFL bulbs in them. That was okay, but I had to juggle them and the camera, and since they didn’t come with diffusers, I always had these terrible bits of glare. I thought about various solutions – scuffed up lexan and white fabric were at the top of the list. Then I took a good look at the roll of Press N Seal wrap in the kitchen, and gave it a try. And it works great! If you wanted more diffusion, you could put on two layer. So, here’s the first part – I have two of these:

Kitchen Lighting System

The lights were about $10 each, and the bulbs were about another $5.

Next, I needed a stand. I tried some prototypes with boxes, but they were all too big and bulky and fragile. I wanted something that collapsed down when I wasn’t using it, so I went with the universal Cheap And Easy Building Material – PVC pipe.

Start with 10 ft of 1/2 PVC pipe. Cut two long and two short pieces – the actual lengths will depend on the size of your countertop and the size of your lights. For the corners, I found 3-way joints, with smooth sockets on 2 sides and a threaded socket on the third. Then I found 4 more couplers that had male threads on one side and a smooth socket on the other:

Kitchen Lighting System

Glue together, using only the unthreaded sockets, into a rectangle:

Kitchen Lighting System

Now cut 4 legs, preferably all the same length. Glue into the female side of the remaining couplers – these will be the legs. You can also cap the bottom end if you were sloppy about getting the legs all the same length.

Kitchen Lighting System

Now, screw the legs into the top:

Kitchen Lighting System

And attach the lights. I spaced mine so the light would sit flat on top, but you can clip them any way that works for you:

Kitchen Lighting System

How well did it work? I went from having to shoot at 1/25 to 1/30 of a second to 1/100th. Here’s the before and after shots:

Kitchen Lighting SystemKitchen Lighting System

Not bad for $30 in lights and less then $20 in PVC!


  1. You rock! You need to spread the word about this, and next time I am over I am really going to eyeball this too! Love the lighting!

  2. Stephanie S.
    5:19 pm on April 22nd, 2010

    Wow! It really makes a difference! Nice job on the stand and the plastic wrap on the lights.

    Now, just put some chocolate over those pretzels, and I’ll be right over…

  3. Dylan Smith
    12:04 pm on April 26th, 2010

    That’s really nice.

    You may find it makes a good copy stand too, for digitising photographs of which you don’t have the negatives (assuming you don’t already have a scanner).