There are several factors at play when it comes to enhancing the viewing experience of art on a wall. Sometimes the location dictates circumstances which are unavoidable, and often it isn’t possible to run wiring or install fixtures so you can light a piece of art in the most ideal manner. But these are some guidelines that you might consider.
Lit with two MR-16 bulbs in recessed can light fixtures.
First is to try and find a location where the ambient light, especially daylight, can be controlled. Direct sunlight should be avoided as its intensity and UV properties are detrimental to the work. Light from fluorescent or compact florescent sources should also be avoided as they also contain high amounts of UV light, and are usually very poor in color rendering. The art will look best if the light in the room can be controlled and perhaps even dimmed, allowing the light on the piece of art to effectively illuminate and highlight it. This isn’t always possible and we have many pieces in brightly lit rooms that still look great. For our pieces mounted to TruLife acrylic we do use a UV absorbing adhesive in that process and the TruLife acrylic also has a UV absorbing coating on the front which provides excellent protection from UV light if it can’t be avoided.
There are three considerations when choosing and placing the lights for the piece. They are direction and distance, beam angle, and color quality. Generally the light should point down at the piece on about a 30° down angle, assuming the viewer will typically be standing at eye level. If the light is further from the piece requiring more angle, the more chance there is for a reflection of the light itself to show. Angles up to 45° often work as well, but it depends on the height of the piece.
Distance is often determined by ceiling height, although if you have a very tall ceilings it might be more effective to suspend the lights from the ceiling to a more appropriate distance. There are several fixtures that use small halogen style lamps that are very stylish and unobtrusive. The light should be about 3-5 feet from the art if possible. If placed further it may require very narrow beam angles and if it is too far away will require speciality fixtures that can focus the light on even more narrow angles.
Guideline of spot light placement.
When placing the lights, typically a piece of art will look the best if the light is concentrated on the art and a little spills onto the wall around the art. This means using a spot of the appropriate beam angle. Unless the piece is square this will usually require more than one light so you can arrange to cover the piece. You can use a beam angle calculator to help determine what degree of spot to use so the light covers the piece but doesn’t spill far beyond it from the distance you plan on placing the lights.
Finally, the color rendering quality of the lamp itself is important. Most LED bulbs available in hardware stores are great for lighting a room, but have weak areas in the spectrum which would make corresponding colors in the art dull and lifeless. High quality LED bulbs will have a CRI (Color Rendering Index) of 95 or greater. They also have a color temperature rating usually from around 2700°k, ranging up to around 4500°k. I have found that the color temperature rating of these bulbs tends to be cooler than for traditional quartz-halogen bulbs, for example I previously used a very high quality bulb from Solux rated at 3500°k for color evaluation of my prints, and side by side the 3000°k LED bulbs seems the same. The 4000°k LED bulbs have always seemed too cool to me, and I feel the art looks better using the 3000°k LEDs. That being said, the color temperature of the lamps lighting the art should also be evaluated compared to those lighting the environment in general. If you have daylight LED’s to light the room which are extremely cool, then these lights might appear overly warm. If the light in the home is more typical using a warmer bulb that mimics lighting from traditional incandescent bulbs then 3000°k bulb will look great.
Two suspended MR-16 fixtures
In the gallery, we use a par20 LED from a company called Lumicrest. These lights fit a standard screw in light socket and work best in standard par20 or par30 fixtures. We have found that using the oversize par30 fixtures allow the bulb to be recessed enough the bulb itself doesn’t show, but they are large and might not be appealing in a home. The lights themselves can be purchased with various beam angles. One advantage of these lights is the lens that creates the beam angle can be changed for a very reasonable price, so if the 25 degree is too narrow, you can change it to the 35 degree lens. All of the lights in the Park City gallery are these par20 Lumicrest. We use a track lighting, which is a good solution for a long print, and try to space 2 or 3 fixtures perpendicular along the length of the piece. The CRI index of this bulb is very high (95+), and we have found the color rendering to work well on all the photographs we have displayed in the gallery. As I discussed earlier we use the 3000k bulbs for the gallery, the 4000k degree bulb just seems a little too cool, we like the warmth of the 3000k bulb.
However, the size of the fixtures for a par20 light is a little large and often a track light using MR-16 bulbs is more appealing. Lumicrest also makes a MR-16 GR10 bulb which is a small halogen reflector style bulb, and can fit any standard GR10 fixture. These bulb are 120v bulbs and there are hundreds of styles of track lighting and individual fixtures they can be used in.
MR-16 bulbs lend themselves to very discreet fixtures, including adjustable recessed fixtures, track light fixtures, or even ceiling suspend fixtures (ideal for tall ceilings). There are also single fixtures that can accommodate multiple lamps.
I have also had great success with SORAA Vivid MR-16 LED bulbs. (they make many bulbs, I’ve only used the Vivid for it’s high CRI rating). These are the lights I use in my printing room where I judge the final color of each image before printing. These bulbs are designated MR-16 GU5.3, the GU5.3 is the base type, and means the lamp has two pins out the back and are inserted into the receptacle of the light fixture. Unlike the GU10 bulbs, these bulbs are 12v bulbs. There are many tracks designed for 12 volts, as well as many fixtures that include a transformer to convert 120v to 12v.
Lumicrest has a nice calculator that can help with the distance from the wall as well as the beam angle of the light. If you enter all of the information except distance from the wall, it will calculate a recommended distance for you that will assist in getting to around the 30 degree angle recommended. You can then change beam angle to see how much coverage you need. Typically our pieces are around 30” to 40” wide, and 60” to 90” long. Two to three lights, depending on the length of the piece, mounted on a track light these very nicely, but you could also use a single fixture that contains two lights. If the piece is square, it might require a larger beam angle which spreads the light to the point that it might not be bright enough, so it might take two lights as well. Most of the lights in the gallery are fitted with the 25° lens.
We also recommend a dimmer switch. Make sure you use a dimmer that is recommended for LED lights, as standard dimmers sometimes will not work, or at best won’t dim the light very far. When the surrounding room is dark, dimming the light on the art can create a beautiful mood, as certain elements in the piece will highlight and stand out.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through the contact page at earthlightgalleries.com.