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Tips for Lighting Framed Artwork and Photography

February 10, 2015 9:35 am

Light affects framed artwork and photography in different ways so it’s important that you get the lighting right when you display finished pieces. All of the time spent painting the piece or capturing the perfect shot becomes worth it when your final creation receives the proper illumination.

Fixture options

There are several lighting fixture options for photographs and artwork. The fixture selected needs to work with the type of artwork, the frame, and the rest of the interior design.

  • Picture light – Attaches to frame or hang directly over piece
  • Mantel light – Sits on mantel or shelf to light piece from below
  • Spotlight – Mounts on ceiling or set on shelf or mantle to light piece from desired angle
  • Track lighting – Tracks hold several lights to illuminate whole wall or accent pieces of art
  • Recessed light – Flush with ceiling, subtle, limited movement

Right light for each style

No single type of lighting works for every style of artwork or photography. The different paint mediums used and the finish on the photograph determine what light works best for each piece.

  • Acrylic paintings – These are typically not glossy so glare isn’t a problem and any type of light source is usually acceptable.
  • Oil paintings – Oil paintings are challenging to light properly because of the spectral highlights within the paint. Intense light distorts the appearance of the painting so broad based lighting is better.
  • Photographs – The type of finish on a photograph determines the best lighting options. Matte photographs are similar to acrylic paintings in that any light source works, but glossy and semi-glossy finishes benefit from broad base light.
  • Behind glass – Any artwork or photography behind glass has problems with glare and reflection. Solve this by using non-reflective glass and properly placing and angling light sources.

Frame considerations

The frame on a painting or photograph gives it a polished look and plays a key role in determining how to mount the lighting for the piece.

  • Sturdy frame – A sturdier frame can usually support the weight of an attached picture light designed for the frame’s dimensions.
  • Small frame – If the frame is too small to support the weight of an attached picture light, use a spotlight, track light, or mantel light.
  • Unframed – Artwork or photographs without a frame require lighting from an external source similar to that of work with a small frame.

Lightbulb types

To achieve the right illumination for a photograph or painting, there are different types of lightbulbs used in fixtures, each with their pros and cons.

  • Incandescent – Incandescent lights work well for artwork because they flatter greens and blues while bringing out reds and yellows. Their warm light might not be appropriate for all styles of artwork or photography.
  • Halogen – Halogen lights are ideal for most types of art because they produce a pure, white light. However, they can become quite hot and require mounting at a distance from the piece.

While there are also fluorescent light bulbs, they’re not good for lighting artwork because they distort colors and emit ultraviolet rays that fade artwork.

Adjusting light sources

The position and intensity of the lighting source in relation to a painting or photograph requires adjustment to achieve the desired effect and prevent damage.

  • Prevent heat damage – Heat is especially damaging to oil paintings so place lights far enough away to prevent excessive heat and avoid halogens when possible.
  • Minimize glare – Adjusting the angle of the light helps minimize glare on the piece. A standard 30-degree angle works well but adding an additional 5 degrees for larger frames prevents shadows. Reducing the angle by 5 degrees can enhance the piece’s texture.
  • Brightness – The intensity of the light should generally be three times brighter than the lighting in the rest of a room.

To achieve the best lighting for your finished piece, plan ahead to ensure that you select the right type of frame, glass, and finish that suits where you want to hang it. By following the right illumination techniques, the true beauty of a photograph or painting becomes the focal point of any space. Bring out the best in all your creations with quality digital printing and professional custom framing and mounting from Baboo Digital.