How to design lighting for interiors

Lighting can really make a difference to the way a room is presented. If you looked at the way a room is presented on one of the property shows on television, you will see that the best ones are almost always lit when the prospective buyers enter the house. Or if you glanced at an estate agents sales brochure or website, the properties that are advertised always use lighting to their advantage. I’ve known a few couples to be slightly disappointed when they visit properties because they’ve seen for themselves that the property they thought looked light in the sales brochure or website did not really materialise in its actual state. And one individual even decided not to sell, after seeing how his own property could look like with a bit of clever interior lighting in the estate agents’ sales brochure!

Getting interior lighting right requires consideration, but it is not beyond the lay person, unless you have really specific requirements for what you want to achieve. Otherwise it is a simple matter of considering these few easy steps.

Consider the focal points of the room first. The focal points of the room are the ones you want people to notice. They can be structural or decorative. A structural focal point is one that is part of the building itself. Perhaps it is the low beams you want to emphasise. Perhaps it is the fireplace. Or it could be a specific historical feature that has been carefully preserved. These are all structural focal points. A decorative focal point is a piece of furniture or art, an internal decoration, that draws interest. It could be a nice Ming vase, or a framed picture. Whether the focal points are structural or decorative, bring them out from the other areas of the room.

How can you bring them out? The point to remember is that the local lighting to these areas has to be higher than the general lighting. You have to get more light focussed on the areas. Direct lighting may be suitable in some cases, especially if the reflected object or surface is dark or non-reflective. But if there is the likelihood of glare, then consider diffusing the light around these features, or using small focal lights to emphasise them.

After the features of the room have been considered, the next thing you want to do is consider the specific functions for the activities in the room. Perhaps you have a writing desk in a corner. You’ll need to put some focussed local light there, but be sure to consider the impact it has on other areas of the room. If you have a wall-mounted television, decrease the amount of lighting around the area to minimise glare.

After focal points and functional uses have been considered, the last thing to consider is the lighting for general ambient purposes. How much light do you need for general usage of the room? It goes without saying that the general ambient lighting should not exceed the specific local lighting in the other areas, otherwise you end up with a room that is extra bright, or one where the specific lighting has no significant impact.

The fixtures you use for various lighting purposes vary. For focal points, a very general rule might be to used diffused lighting to minimise glare. For purposes such as writing, or perhaps small focal points, use direct focussed light but be mindful of reflective glare. The needs for ambient lighting can vary according to the time of day and the seasons as well, so it may be worth considering fixtures with dimmer switches so the surrounding lighting is within control and more manageable and adaptable to the needs.

Using the correct interior lighting doesn’t require a lot of mental agony. Just consider the layout of the room, what you want to emphasise and what your needs for the room are. Then plan the lighting with these in mind. And your interiors will look a million dollars, without costing that much!

The importance of good outdoor lighting

Outdoor lighting is used for a variety of purposes in modern society. It enables people to see essential detail so they can be active at night. Good lighting can enhance the safety and security of persons or property, emphasise features of architectural or historical significance, or call attention to commercial premises by means of area lighting or signs. Unfortunately, poor lighting practice is extensive. Much bad lighting can be blamed on the fact that the user is unaware of the issues of visibility and its usefulness. Careless and excessive use of artificial light in our outdoor environments causes extensive damage to the aesthetics of the night-time environment, while at the same time it often compromises safety and usefulness, the very reason for its installation. Bad lighting hurts everyone. The loss of the dark star-filled sky is of tragic consequence for the environment and for the human soul, akin to the loss of our forested landscapes and other natural treasures. On the other hand, quality lighting brings substantial benefits. Lack of glare and excessive contrast brings improved visibility, especially for the ageing eye. Elimination of wasted light saves money, energy and resources, which in turn reduces air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions caused by energy production and resource extraction. Quality lighting improves the appearance of our communities, returning a sense of balance to the night and giving a more attractive appearance to our cities, towns and villages. So good lighting can make a significant contribution to the outdoor environment whereas poor lighting can damage it.

This positive contribution is not limited to the hours of darkness, as the reduction in crime effects are now known to extend to the daytime. In August 2002 the British Home Office published two research studies on crime prevention: ‘Effects of improved street lighting on crime: A systematic review’, and HORS 251 ‘Crime prevention effects of closed circuit television: A systematic review’. In international experiments one of the main points to emerge from the street lighting study is that where street lighting had been improved there had been an overall reduction in recorded crime of 20 per cent. In the British studies there was a 30 per cent decrease in crime. The lighting improvements increase community pride and confidence and strengthen informal social control, and that this explains the impact, rather than increased surveillance or deterrent effects. Furthermore, improvements in street lighting offer a cost-effective crime reduction measure.

The Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) study summarised the findings of previous studies from both Britain and the USA and concluded that where CCTV had been installed there had been an overall reduction in recorded crime of 4 per cent across all the experimental areas. It was found that CCTV had no effect on violent crimes but had a significant desirable effect on vehicle crimes. Both studies together demonstrate that improved lighting is between five and seven times more effective at reducing crime than the installation of CCTV.

In addition to facilitating the safer movement of pedestrians and vehicles during the hours of darkness and enhancing commerce and recreation facilities, lighting has a key role in preventing crime and reducing the fear of crime. Crime prevention practitioners have always advocated improvements to outdoor lighting as part of their strategies; for example in Scotland powers to install street lights, including on private buildings, were enshrined in the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1896, which remained statute for almost a century. More recently, and after a lengthy debate, the UK Government in 2002 finally acknowledged the key role of lighting in reducing crime, with the publication of Home Office Research Paper 251, ‘Effects of improved street lighting on crime: A systematic review’.

Over the past 100 years advances in technology and decreases in costs have greatly increased the ability of lighting practitioners to deliver more light and society to afford it. However, a downside has been a proliferation of inappropriate lighting installations, which create sky glow and light pollution, and waste precious resources by the inefficient use of energy.

Recognition of these issues has resulted in the formulation of light plans, an essential tool to achieve visual unification of the disparate night-time components of urban centres, to resolve conflicts between the lighting needs of different users, to aid the use of light as a commercial tool and to minimise light pollution.

Crime prevention practitioners have always included improvements to outdoor (particularly street) lighting in their toolbox and have repeatedly advocated its use. However, over the last 15 years, the view that improved street lighting does not reduce crime has emerged. This view has been attributed to the Home Office, with the result that many have taken it to be an official position. If left unchallenged, this view would have the effect of excluding or limiting the role of improved street lighting in the local crime and disorder prevention strategies that are required under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. It was thus thought timely to consider afresh the effect of street lighting on crime. The Head of the Home Office Crime Prevention Agency, Chief Constable Richard Childs, thus asked Professor Ken Pease to review the most up-to-date research evidence and this was done in July –August 1998. That review effectively overturned the conventional assumption that improvements to street lighting do not make a considerable impact on both crime and the fear of crime.

Types of lighting sources

Light occurs in nature, and sunlight, moonlight, and starlight are the most important sources of light to life. But because of their need for additional light, humans have learned to create light as well. Understanding the fundamental difference between natural and man-made light is the beginning of understanding standing light sources.

Natural light sources occur within nature and are beyond the control of people. These include sunlight, moonlight, starlight, various plant and animal sources, radioluminescence, and, of course, fire.

Man-made light sources can be controlled by people, more or less when and in the amount wanted. These include wood flame, oil flame, gas flame, electric lamps, photochemical reactions, and various reactions, such as explosives.

Due to their obvious advantages in terms of availability, safety, cleanliness, and remote energy generation, electric lamps have displaced almost all other man-made sources for lighting of the built environment. However, because man-made sources consume natural resources, natural light sources should be used to the greatest extent possible. Exploiting natural light sources remains one of the biggest challenges to architects and designers.

In practical terms, light sources can be discussed in terms of the qualities of the light they produce. These qualities are critical to the result and must be understood stood when choosing the source for a lighting plan.

Most natural light comes from the sun, including moonlight. Its origin makes it completely clean, and it consumes no natural resources. But man-made sources generally require consumption of resources, such as fossil fuels, to convert stored energy into light energy. Electric lighting is superior to flame sources because the combustion of wood, gas, and oil produces pollution within the space being illuminated. Moreover, electricity can be generated from natural, nondepletable sources of energy, including the energy generated by wind, hydro, geothermal, and solar sources.

How an electric lamp operates determines virtually everything about the light created by it. The common incandescent lamp generates light through the principle of incandescence, in which a metal is heated until it glows. Most other lamps, however, generate light by means of a complex chemical system in which electric energy is turned into light energy where heat is a side effect. These processes are usually much more efficient than incandescence-at the cost of complexity and other limitations.

For instance, a fluorescent lamp generates erates light by a discharge of energy into a gas, which in turn emits ultraviolet radiation, which is finally converted to visible light by minerals that “fluoresce” This process generates light about 400 percent more efficiently than incandescence cence and is the reason fluorescent lamps are promoted as environmentally friendly.

The spectrum of light is seen in a rainbow or from a prism, and it includes all of the visible colors. We tend to organize color into three primaries (red, green, and blue) and three secondaries (yellow, cyan, and magenta). When primaries of light are combined, the human eye sees white light.

Historically, using a filter to remove colors from white light generated colored ored light. Blue light, for instance, is white light with green, and red removed. Filtered light is still common in theatrical and architectural lighting.

However, most nonincandescent light sources tend to create specific colors of light. Modern fluorescent lamps, for example, create prime colors of light (red, green, and blue) that appear to the human eye as white light. Other lamps, such as low-pressure sodium lamps, create monochromatic yellow light.

While most lamps are intended to appear as white as possible, in some cases lamps are designed to create specific colors, such as green or blue.

However, the intent of most light sources is to produce white light, of whose appearance there are two measures:

1. Color temperature, which describes whether the light appears warm (reddish), dish), neutral, or cool (bluish). The term temperature relates to the light emitted from a metal object heated to the point of incandescence. For instance, the color temperature of an incandescent lamp is about 2700K, appearing like a metal object heated to 2700° Kelvin (2427° Celsius or 4400° Fahrenheit).

2. Color rendering index (CRI), which describes the quality of the light on a scale of 0 (horrible) to 100 (perfect). All white light sources can be evaluated by color temperature and CRI. Color temperature is the more obvious measure; two light sources of the same color temperature but different CRI appear much more alike than do two light sources of similar CRI but different color temperature.

Natural light is generally defined as having a CRI of 100 (perfect). Color temperature, perature, however, varies a great deal due to weather, season, air pollution, and viewing angle. For instance, the combination of sun and blue skylight on a summer day at noon is about 5500K, but if the sun is shielded, the color of the blue skylight is over 10,000K. The rising and setting sunlight in clear weather can be as low as 1800K (very reddish). Cloudy day skylight is around 6500K.

When choosing electric light sources, it is generally best to select the best case scenario of source color temperature and CRI. Note that even if daylight enters the space, it is usually not a good idea to try to match daylight with electric light, as daylight varies considerably.

Lighting Books and Reviews

Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook: Film Lighting Equipment, Practice, and Electrical Distribution

Comprehensive. Detailed. Practical. Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook, Fourth Edition, is a friendly, hands-on manual covering the day-to-day practices, equipment, and tricks of the trade essential to anyone doing motion picture lighting, including the lamp operator, rigging crew, gaffer, best boy, or director of photography. This handbook offers a wealth of practical technical information, useful techniques, as well as aesthetic discussions.

“Harry Box’s Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook (Focal Press) is a gold mine of information about safety, lighting and studio procedures.” – Ron Dexter, ASC

Harry C. Box has worked in television and motion picture production since 1989. Over the years he has done substantial work as a lighting technician, gaffer, camera operator, director of photography, and as an educator. His recent credits include network and cable television series, such as Heroes (NBC), Brothers and Sisters (ABC), and Everybody Hates Chris (CW). He has worked on major motion pictures, independent feature films, telefilms, documentaries, music videos, commercials, and industrials.

I’ve had previous editions of this book and like to pass on the old one when I upgrade. This, the 4th edition is presented extremely well, is bang up to date and is indispensable. The best thing about this book is the lack of an opinion which plagues a lot of cinematography books, this is simply the tools, how they work, why you would use them and that’s it. You apply your current project needs to this information and develop your own technique.

If you are an aspiring electrician and want to work in movies and commercials this is a must-have for your shelf. Even a seasoned pro can learn a thing or two and the attention (and clear explanation) given to electrics is superior to any trade manual on the market. I’ve been reading, Mr. Box’s articles in Film Crew Magazine for the past few years and it is even more valuable to be able to have some of this knowlege bound in a book.

As a long time theatrical technician I found the book to be very insightfull as to the practices of film lighting world. I wish a book this good was written for stage hands. It is a practical guide to the film lighting business with not just basic information but tips to make you feel like on old pro. After reading it I would feel comfortable taking a work call on a film set any time.

A great book for any film electrician, whether you’re starting out or need a handy reference for wiring anything. It gives overviews for every aspect of lighting, starting out with the types of lights and cables and going into electrical theory later on. This book has basically become a must in the IA local here. This is a thorough, detailed and comprehensive handbook, with a wealth of useful information on equipment, techniques, and practices. A great source of insight and inspiration.

Studio Photography and Lighting: Art and Techniques

This book gives clear, practical advice on how to get creative with and achieve the best from your studio lighting. It explains and demonstrates basic and advanced techniques so you can fully understand how to light a subject and compose a great photograph. Explains lighting and camera techniques and the ideas behind them. Utilizes specific examples and diagrams to illustrate everything from portraits and art-nudes to still life photography.

Christian Hough is a professional photographer. His polished commercial and fine-art nude photographs are synonymous with exquisite lighting and impeccable technique.

It’s filled with some excellent portrait photography and also a description of how to achieve that photo, along with diagrams and settings. Easy to read, lots of tips for beginner, enthusiast and professional alike.

A very useful reference book if like me, you are a photographer that rarely ventures into a studio. It is clearly laid out and written in understandable English. It has given me the confidence to use a studio and be able to explain to a Technical Support Worker at University exactly how I want the lighting set up for my shoots.

Has pride of place on my bookshelf next to my camera manuals notebooks. Also helpful in working out how images have been lit so you can try it yourself if you want to. I find it useful in helping me to understand more about lighting and getting more from my own photography. It is not a definitive all encompassing everything you will ever want to know manual, but it’s a great start and I suspect it will be my go to reference book for quite some time, well worth buying and I may get the Kindle version for my Fire Tablet.

So glad I bought this book! Other volumes I have studied, just swamped me with high-cost “options”. Just the sort of insight I needed, for my first steps into studio work and simple set-ups. If you are at the threshold, like me, this book will help demystify so much superior jargon that’s out there.

Architectural lighting considerations

Architectural lighting design is much like architecture itself. It requires a combination and understanding of both artistic and scientific aspects. How do what are supposedly two differing worlds work together? It would not be an assumption to state that the science has to support the artistic. Architectural lighting is about using the knowledge of the scientific to bring out the aesthetic.

Look at it this way. As far as lighting is concerned, the end effect is apparent. Someone may say “I want this section to look bright while the background is lit with red sparkles.” What is not so clear, and this is where a lighting engineer can bring in knowledge, experience and expertise, is how this effect is going to be achieved. The lighting engineer can bring in years of training and know-how, and for the beginner, having the lighting engineer to learn from can take years off the learning curve and process is accelerated.

A creative spirit is sought from a lighting designer. But it is not all about creativity. The qualified professional knows how light works, understands its properties as well as its effects on humans. He knows the aesthetic impact of light on humans.

Too much light? It causes glare and causes discomfort. Too little light also causes discomfort, but in a different way. If you have to squint to narrow your focus because the lights are too bright, your body language is immediately defensive. If the lighting is insufficient and too dark, you have to psychologically extend yourself in order to make more sense of it. An object with higher level of light stands out from its background, of course, but how do you manage the level of overall light?

When it comes to architectural lighting design, the points of emphasis revolve around three areas of focus. These three areas are fundamental aspects that we will commonly encounter in the illumination of buildings and spaces. The aesthetic appeal of a building, how the building looks, is one of these. The second is what we might call the ergonomics, this is an aesthetic measurement of the lighting and its impact is experienced by the building/space. The third aspect is that of energy efficiency. If a lighting for a building scores well in all these three aspects then it is likely that its overall feel is good. Quite often the decisions a lighting engineer has to make are how to obtain a balance between all three even if there was one area he could really go all out on. There is no point excelling in two areas if the third average, because the aesthetic quality, the feel of things just wouldn’t be right.

The lighting designer often works in conjunction with the architect to arrive at a common consensus about the effect of the lighting. When it comes to aesthetic appeal, the architect’s vision for the project comes into play, and it is important for the architect to fully describe what he aims to get from the project. What parts of the building or installation does he want to emphasise? Which parts does he want to make more subtle? More importantly, what is the aesthetic, or the emotion, that the architect wants to project? The lighting designer has to fully take in the architect’s ideas and vision, and then work out the means to achieve these. The architect provides the “What” and the lighting designer provides the “How”.

The ergonomics of the design must also be considered. If it is going to be a brightly-lit space, will there be too much light for users during different periods of the day? And what about the changing of the seasons? Considerations for human users as well as the impact of the lighting on the surroundings must be factored.

To give a recent example, a company decided to revamp the entrance grounds, where all visitors and staff pass through. This involved the construction of a bronze company logo, which at night was highlighted by spot lights from various angles and backlit by semi-indirect lighting. The aesthetic the company sought to promote was that of pioneering leadership in its field, and the lighting brought this out fully. Visitors passing by in the night could see the logo well-distinguished from its surroundings. The only problem was that as winter approached and it got dark towards the end of office hours, those working on the ground floor were often blinded by some of the spotlights. If you were waiting in the lobby to see a member of staff, some of the lights, as well as the reflections off the structure, depending on where you sat, you might have well been sitting on a sofa with a red dot between your eyes.

Another company had the same intention, with their company logo of a torch on the grounds. At the top where one would expect to see the flames, there were four strong spotlights that streaked out to the sky to mimic the same effect. At the time of construction, at the start of summer, the project opened with the usual fanfare that accompanies such openings. But by late autumn no one was applauding, especially those who worked on the upper floors and fell in the direct line of the spotlights. Eventually it was decided that the lights would only come on after office hours, but in doing so, the aesthetic quality that the company sought to convey, that of being a shining light among its surroundings, was lost.

Ergonomics and aesthetics must be balanced and quite often ergonomics triumphs.

The third factor is that of energy efficiency. Even if the ergonomics and aesthetic aspects are satisfied, what is the cost of maintaining such lighting? It is no good having a well-lit installation if it is going to drain the company budget and be a source of future grumblings and spawn areas of contention. The running costs of the lighting are not only the costs that lighting designers have to deal with; they may have to find ways to source materials that accomplish the same effect but which do not cost as much to acquire or do not have high running costs.

The lighting designer has to find a way of meeting all the above three areas in a “best fit” situation – it is not point excelling in two and dwindling in the other. A project that is ergonomic, projects the desired effect but costs too much to run is no good. One that falls within budget, and projects the sought impression, but makes the surroundings or the nearby users uncomfortable is similarly an undesirable outcome.

Designers also have other considerations too. For more complex works, they have to project manage the work itself as well as the acquisition of building materials. They also have to evaluate the materials for cost and regulations, while also ensuring the outcomes adhere to building and energy codes. In addition, growing environmental focus has meant that they are increasingly under pressure to work sustainably – to source sustainable materials and deliver carbon-neutral works.

If it were a musical world, we would say lighting designers are the conductors and the orchestral managers at the same time. Not only do they have to conduct the various forces at the disposal to obtain a desired emotional effect, they have to recruit the musicians at the same time. If musicians are unavailable, they have to recruit others in their place, or find a way to get the same musical result without them altogether. And they have to make sure the budget for musicians is met. So if – at the start of this paragraph – you thought, “What an overstatement”, it really is not!

But one thing is for sure. In having to meet all these demands, it takes skill.