Guide to Lighting Pictures

HOW TO LIGHT PICTURES

By Sue Matthews

Although most people will have seen paintings lit in art galleries and stately homes, they never think of lighting their own pictures at home. There is little point in having a picture or painting that you cannot see and by adding suitable lighting you can bring out the detail, colour and beauty of your artwork.

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The first consideration is to decide what pictures and where to position them. Choose pictures and art work that complement your room – vibrant coloured art work adds excitement whilst more neutral watercolours and paintings are more calming. One large painting can make a real statement but a group of pictures or collection of framed family photos is more homely. Consider the furniture and other objects in the room when deciding where to position your pictures as you will need to maintain a sense of balance within the room. It helps if you can get someone to hold your pictures in several places so you can decide what looks best. Most people hang pictures too high – as a general rule aim for the centre/focus of the picture to be at eye level. Yes, I know this will vary depending on your height, but if you aim for about 60-65” from floor level this should be about right.

The next thing to consider is how much light (including natural daylight) you already have in the room. Artwork needs to be protected from light damage and by far the most damage comes from daylight, but you will also need to protect your artwork from damage that can be caused from artificial light. Try to position your picture out of direct sunlight and limit the amount of time you light it artificially  Fluorescent bulbs have an excess of UV light which fades colour quicker so this type of picture lighting is probably best avoided if you have a valuable painting. Watercolours need a lower level of illumination whilst modern acrylic artwork will need lots of bright light. The light level can often be adjusted by changing the wattage of the bulbs used. If your picture or painting is behind glass you could be bothered by glare. Experiment a bit and try lighting from different angles to reduce the glare. If it is still a problem, you could consider replacing the glass with a non-reflective glass – check carefully before you do this though as it could make your picture look slightly fuzzy.

When lighting pictures you should aim for an even spread of light across the whole surface. This can best be achieved by using a purpose made picture light positioned directly above your picture to offer illumination without obstruction. If you are fitting out a room for the first time or revamping and old room consider routing the electric cable through the wall as hanging wires and conduits are not too attractive. If you are unable to use a purpose made picture light then experiment with using other methods of lighting. You could consider an uplighter floor light that can be angled to direct the light onto your picture from below or alternatively use wall spotlighting or ceiling spotlighting where the individual spots can be adjusted to angle the light. Floor lamps and table lamps that have directional light are also useful.

Purpose made picture lights should be positioned centrally above the picture and most have adjustable heads that can be swivelled to direct the light correctly onto the picture below. Do not choose a picture light that extends beyond the borders of the picture. For landscape format pictures have a picture light that it ½ to 1/3 the size of the picture, not including the frame and for portrait format pictures select a picture light that is about ½ the width of the picture not including the frame. If your picture has a really wide frame you may need to choose a slightly different size to ensure the balance is maintained.

There are basically 3 types of picture lights to choose from -

Incandescent – these use standard or conventional bulbs that are usually candle bulbs or the smaller pygmy bulbs (normally found in cooker sand fridges). These picture lights give a warmish yellow light.

Halogen – halogen is a brighter, sharper and whiter light and provides one of the best light sources for viewing pictures. Halogen bulbs do get quite hot, so bear this in mind and position them to avoid damaging your picture.

LED – LED picture lights give a clear whitish light that is ideal for viewing artwork and paintings. LED lights are cool to touch, do not give off heat and being very low energy they have minimal running costs.

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