The weight of a wine glass has the power to change our perception about the quality of the wine in the glass. A fine wine in a thick-rimmed kitchen glass will likely taste like vinegar, but place a bottle of the local supermarket's cheap-and-cheerful box wine into a large and stylish wine glass, and you'll soon be telling your friends it's the best glass of wine you've had in a very long time. The same is true for light and art.
Artists who understand the power of light can embrace the natural selling powers found in our human perception of quality. Place an average piece of art in a perfectly lit gallery, and it will fly off the wall into the home of an avid art collector who is on the scout for fresh new talent. Showcase a master's brilliant work in an unflattering environment, and the trend reviewers will comment on the disappointment that comes with assuming a popular artist will always produce great work.
Art and light are one and the same, and should be considered together at all times. This ensures the light carries the art, and produces the desired synergy effect between what we see, and what we believe to be good.
Lighting Art in Temporary Selling Situations.
For most artists, selling art requires visiting art fairs and displaying key pieces in the art studio. These locations have an air of romance and artistic flair, which can enhance the viewer's experience of the art to promote sales.
When setting up a temporary art display, it's important to consider how the natural light behaves in your location, and to assess how it will change throughout the day. Art is best lit from above, so if you are outdoors try to place your piece in a spot that has open access to the sky on a nice day. If you are indoors, face your art towards a large window, or in an open space with plenty of natural light.
Tilt your artwork slightly upwards. This allows the light to bounce off your piece without reflecting directly into the viewer's eyes, and without allowing any areas of the artwork to fall into shadow.
Recognizing the Optimal Lighting Conditions for Art.
Lighting art has three issues - color shifts, reflections, and texture. The way we view art is a combination of what the art actually looks like, and how light interacts with the artwork. Each of these issues should be resolved independently, and together.
1. Color Shifts
Natural light is always the first prize when lighting art. If natural light is not available you can replace the light bulbs with daylight bulbs, which should have a color temperature that falls between 5000K and 6500K. This mimics natural light, and avoids the yellow color shift that happens under tungsten lights, or the blue cast that occurs under LED lights. Daylight bulbs can be purchased in most homeware stores.
Light will always reflect out of an artwork at the same angle it arrives onto the artwork, so it's essential to avoid lighting art straight-on. The optimal angle for lighting art is 45 degrees off the surface of the artwork, which causes the light to bounce off the other side of the artwork at 45 degrees, and removes reflections
Texture is produced when side-lighting causes little shadows to appear on the surface of the artwork. If light flows horizontally across an artwork, the shadows become stronger, and the texture is more visible. As the angle of the light changes to become perpendicular to the frame, the shadows soften, and eventually disappear entirely when the piece is lit at a 90 degree angle.
The optimal lighting setup for any piece of art is to display the artwork in natural lighting conditions, with an angled light that enhances the texture without too much contrast, and produces no reflections when the piece is viewed straight on.
Aim for a large top light, and offset this with 45 degree side lights to highlight the texture and remove the reflections.
How to Light Art for Promotional Photographs
Photographing art is all about balance. The goal is to create perfectly even lighting, with no reflections, and no tonal shifts from one side of the piece to the other. It's also important to avoid perspective shifts which will need adjusting in Photoshop. Follow the below recipe for the perfect artwork photography.
· Choose an overcast day with soft cloud cover, and take your setup outside.
· Place your artwork on an easel at a 90 degree angle to the ground. Your easel should be as upright as possible, without tilting forwards or backwards.
· Stand and face your artwork head on, then position yourself and your easel so that the sun is directly behind you.
· Rotate your easel 45 degrees to either side.
· Stand in front of your artwork again and assess the light. If the light is even, you're ready to take your photo. If the light is stronger on one side, have an assistant hold a white reflector at 45 degrees to the artwork on the darker side. Adjust the distance between the artwork and your reflector until the light is perfectly even.
· Place your tripod so that the camera is parallel to the ground, and point it at the exact middle and center of your artwork.
· Take your photo.
Use Light to Enhance Your Viewer's Experience.
When the ambient light compliments the subject in an artwork it enhances the viewer's experience. Artworks depicting soft scenes with a warm aesthetic do well in smaller rooms with cozy lighting. Modern artworks with dramatic color blocking or high-impact subject matter require an open, cleanly-lit space, so as not to detract from the strength of the subject.
Use your environment to add value to your art, and light the space accordingly.
Top Tips for Lighting Art
The trick to lighting artwork in a permanent setting is to pay attention to the size of the light source, the distance between the light source and the artwork, and the angle at which the light hits the frame. There are four primary ways we can light art at home, or in an art gallery.
1. Lamps and Floor Lamps
Plug-in lighting has the luxury of portability, which means you can reposition your lights until they are just right. Choose tall floor lamps, or place your shorter lamps on a raised surface so that the artwork is lit from above as much as possible. If you are using a lamp to light your art from the side, place the lamp on the opposite side of your window to create even lighting, or use a second lamp on the other side of the artwork to balance the light.
Lamps should have daylight bulbs, and soft shades to diffuse the light into large pools. Try to avoid using small lamps, or lamps that sit below the artwork's midline horizon.
2. Built-In Lighting
Look for large built-in lights that have diffusing properties, and create an even source of light. Always place your artwork below built-in lights, with the light shining into the center of the artwork. This creates even lighting, and enhances the natural textures in your art without creating unwanted reflections.
Most built-in lights have a fixed position, and many hang from the ceiling, so it's important to position your artwork around your built-in lights to avoid any unwanted reflections.
3. Ceiling Spots
The beauty of ceiling spots is their ability to mimic an overcast day. Ceiling lights can be turned and repositioned to suit your art.
Rather than pointing your ceiling spots directly at your artwork, try to angle them at 45 degrees to enhance texture, color and tone. The best way to use ceiling spots is to position them so that the light is reflected off the ceiling, or against a wall. This causes the entire ceiling or wall to become a large, soft, diffused light source, with a subtle atmosphere that's very similar to favorable outdoor light.
4. Freestanding Lights
Freestanding lights, such as candles or decorative fairy lights, often have very small beams of light. Small light sources can become problematic if they light little slithers of art, but leave large sections of the piece in shadow.
Keep your freestanding lights further away from your art, so that they are far enough away to add mood to the room's overall ambiance, without causing the art to become disjointed or distracted by the light.
Natural, Even Light is Key to Lighting Art
Whether you're displaying your art for sale at a temporary art fair, looking to showcase your own art collection at home, or photographing your art to send to a gallery for review, it's important to consider the relationship between your art and the light surrounding it.
When you get your lighting right, your viewers perceive your art as high quality, which helps your art to sell itself.
Natalie Dent is a former professional photographer turned full-time copywriter. She has worked with big brands and small companies to bring the value of storytelling into the customer experience. Natalie is passionate about the relationship between words and images, and how they relate to brands. She holds a degree in visual communication, and a diploma in freelance journalism and travel writing. Her courses in photographic storytelling have been adapted for cruise ship enrichment programs all over the world.