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Professional Picture Lighting Constitutes A Science And An Art Unique Unto Itself

Apr 27, 2008
Lighting a picture safely and effectively is just as much a work of art as a painting itself. It requires a professional understanding of the many nuances that characterizes specific artistic genres. Choosing the correct method and intensity of lighting appropriate to the work constitutes the line of demarcation between amateur art lighting designers and professional picture lighting consultants. This is of critical importance to the serious art collector. Because the value of art continues to increase annually, the importance of protecting works of art has become an equivalent priority to their proper viewing. Picture lighting differs significantly from the illumination of more durable subject matter such as bronze sculptures, crystal, and woodwork. Watercolors and oils, as well as textiles, historical documents, and ancient, painted artifacts will degrade, if not completely disintegrate altogether, if they are exposed to ultraviolet light and infrared heat. The intensity of lighting itself plays a factor in the safe lighting of pictures, documents, and museum pieces. Lumens per annum, a term referring to the cumulative intensity of light over long periods of exposure, can have deleterious effects on colors and canvases. For this reason, museums such as the Smithsonian institute configure their low voltage lighting systems with occupancy sensors that turn off the lights when special works are not being viewed. This specialized method of regulating both the exposure to light and its intensity are used to preserve documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

Often, the sophisticated lighting systems go beyond the demands of the home collector. Generally speaking, highly popular, self-installing, over the picture lights are not recommended. In spite of their ability to evenly distribute illumination over the surface of a painting, the type of lighting they produce will severely damage or destroy the painting over time. This is because over the picture lights utilize incandescent or halogen lamps that generate infrared heat. This raises the surface temperature of the piece and causes the oil to crack. Since moisture content is a critical factor to the integrity of oil paint, constant heating and cooling of oil will result in moisture loss and disintegration of the oil's constituency. One way to combat this is to minimize the wattage of picture lighting lamps and to extend the arm away from the surface of the painting to reduce radiant, forward heat. Some artwork lights even come designed this way, having long arms that extend the light out from the canvas and more evenly distribute it from top to bottom without creating a hot spot near the source.

An much more effective method of picture lighting uses recessed low voltage halogen accent lights mounted in the ceiling above the painting. The housing traps the majority of the heat, allowing only the beam spread to reach the canvas. Sophisticated fixtures such as the MR16 light source use dichroic reflectors that send the heat out of the back of the lamp. This creates a completely heatless form of home picture lighting and is well worth the additional equipment costs when one considers the preservative value it brings in return. Additionally, these lamps are designed with small aperture trims that minimize glare and eliminate distracting "white spots" that over the picture lighting is notorious for creating. Our professional consultants precisely adjust these lights to dispel frame shadows that often result from angle of incidence. This is a problem that many people who attempt picture lighting on their own often have difficulty solving. It requires professional science to correctly aim angles to avoid casting a shadow when beam spread contacts the surface of a traditional frame. Likewise, glare is caused by glass, varnish, or other reflective surfaces from that originates from often-indeterminable sources above eye level. Lighting designers know how to pinpoint these problem areas and make the necessary adjustments to resolve the issue.

For those interested in the most superb technology and least obtrusive form of picture lighting, the Art Projector is by far the best method of illuminating art. Art projectors install in the ceiling, assuming a position above eye level and normally remaining unnoticed by visitors to the room. An Art Projector lights a picture by casting a finely tuned spread of light over the surface of the painting. The beam itself remains invisible until it reaches the subject, where it shapes itself to meet the exact contour of the artwork and creates a "lighted from within" effect. Most professional art galleries prefer to use Art Projectors for picture lighting because of their near invisible presence and the special lighting effects they create that no other technology is able to duplicate.
About the Author
Illuminations Lighting and Design multi-specializes in all forms of art lighting and maintains an outstanding reputation among residential, corporate and professional galleries throughout Houston and Greater Texas. Visit http://www.illuminationslighting.com/picture_lighting.htm and http://www.illuminationslighting.com
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