Lighting Techniques: The Short List

Lighting designers and engineers take advantage of a number of techniques and tricks to make illumination design work...


Lighting designers and engineers take advantage of a number of techniques and tricks to make illumination design work:

  • Backlighting: The diffusing of light through translucent materials such as fabric, stained glass or acrylic panels.


  • Beam play: Shapes of light on walls or floors. Light beams and shadows can be used to enliven a bland space like a corridor.


  • Downlighting: The directing of light at 180 degrees from a fixture aperture. The method is used for uniform lighting in overhead task-lighting applications, for example.


  • Grazing: Illumination from a low angle of incidence, causing the texture of a vertical surface to pop into view.


  • Highlighting: A technique that creates an amount of brightness on a featured object that is about five times that on the background. Low-voltage lamps are used and are very efficient for this technique.


  • Shadow play: The reverse of beam play: the pattern of light is the background, while the shape of the shadow carries the visual message. Wide and soft-edged beams are used here.


  • Silhouetting: A technique that sandwiches an object between the viewer and a sheet of light. The object will be outlined by the light whose brightness acts as a negative space. Its high contrast focuses attention on the outlined shape of the featured object.


  • Sparkle: Where the light source is the object of interest instead of a surface or an object.


  • Structural lighting: A method of mounting fixtures on structural members like stairs, cornices and box booms.


  • Uplighting: This technique is used when what is up is interesting and should be emphasized.


  • Wallwashing: A technique to wash a wall with a sheet of brightness.

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