Picture Lighting: Beyond the Basics

Tech Lighting Wall Monorail

Track lighting, monorail lighting, ceiling and wall mounted spotlights and recessed lighting are all good options for picture lighting. STAS Powered Picture Rail hangs artwork and powers picture lights.

The Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas
The Hung Liu: The Long Way Home exhibit
Photo by Michael Barera

Track Lighting or Monorail Lighting

Track lighting and monorail systems are great if you want to light more than one picture. They have a clean, minimalist look and are excellent for picture lighting.

A lot of museums and art galleries use track or monorail. They are up and out of the way, so the focus is on the art, not the lighting.

You can add and remove track heads and move them to put light where you want it.

The Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas
The Hung Liu: The Long Way Home exhibit
Photo by Michael Barera

Above is the lighting at Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas. Below is a closeup of the track on the ceiling.

The Grace Museum in Abilene, Texas
Track Lighting
Photo by Michael Barera

Lights can be placed anywhere on the tracks to aim at whatever is currently displayed.

Serbian Academy of Science & Art Gallery
Photo by Sadko, Wikipedia

Track heads are adjustable and available with different beam spreads. The gallery above has spotlights aiming at this display.

Exhibition at the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art – MAP Cusco in Peru
Photo by RG72, Tyumen, Russia

This museum uses track lighting that is extended down from the ceiling to get a better angle in this small space.

Whitechapel Gallery in London
Barjeel Art Foundation Exhibition
Photo by A. Karim K H

You can change your lighting any time you change what you display. This gallery washes the wall with three flood track lights.

Monorail for Track Lighting

Monorail is a more modern look, but is just as flexible as track lighting.

Tech Lighting Wall Monorail

Wall monorail is mounted directly to the wall above the lighting similar to other picture lighting. Lights can be added, removed and adjusted.

Picture Light Systems

Recessed Lighting for Picture Lighting

Recessed is the most unobtrusive lighting and is available with more control than you might think.

Recessed spot lighting can be used to light a single piece of artwork. Recessed flood lighting can light a gallery wall. Both provide indirect lighting for the rest of the room.

WAC Lighting Volta LED 2” Architectural Recessed
Zero to 45 degree lockable hot aiming

Recessed spotlights can be used to pick out specific art pieces.

WAC Lighting Volta LED 2” Architectural Recessed
With bi-directional spread lens for even wall illumination horizontally and vertically

Recessed wall washers can illuminate a wall with artwork.

Sharjah Art Museum in United Arab Emirates
Barjeel Art Foundation Exhibition
Photo by A. Karim K H

This museum uses five lights for this single very long piece. Two more lights cross over the sculpture.

Recessed Lighting

JE Art Show
Track light heads on track monopoints
Photo by Emily Suran

Ceiling or Wall Surface Mounted Spotlights

Surface mounted spotlights are available as single lights or as fixed monorail.

They can be mounted on the wall above artwork, if they are flexible enough to twist and aim at the picture, similar to a standard picture light.

Classic vintage design fixed rail with adjustable heads installed on the ceiling
Kichler Hatteras Bay™ 4 Light Halogen Fixed Rail Light

Spotlights can be mounted on the ceiling to spotlight each piece or wash the wall. Kichler Hatteras Bay™ 4 Light Halogen Fixed Rail Light has 90 degree vertical rotation and 330 degree horizontal rotation. This light can be installed on the wall or ceiling to focus light in many directions.

Quoizel DH1404PN Duchess Fixed Monorail Track Light in Palladian Bronze finish with Champagne Alabaster Glass

They aren’t as adjustable as track lighting, but single and multiple spotlights that can be aimed are an attractive source of light.

Catalina Spotlight 18775-012 can sbe mounted on a wall, placed on the floor or on shelf or table

Spotlight wall lights can be used to light artwork.

Wall or Ceiling Spotlights and Spotlight Clusters
Wall or Ceiling Fixed Monorail Spotlights

Brightness and Angle

Lighting for artwork should be about three times brighter than the rest of the room’s lighting.

Lighting angled at 30 degrees is usually best to reduce glare. This is especially important if the artwork is behind glass. If the light is at the wrong angle, the reflection off the glass is more obvious than the picture behind it. The correct angle reduces reflection and glare.

If the picture is very big, you might need to shine the light at closer to a 35 degree angle, aiming more toward the picture.

Use two or more lights for large artwork
Tech Lighting 4″ Round Freejack Ports with Canopy and Burk Lights in White and Satin Nickel

If the painting has texture you want to emphasize, shine the light at closer to a 25 degree angle. This highlights the surface texture.

Three monopoints mounted to the ceiling wash this large painting. They are angled to show the painting’s texture.

How to Position Artwork Lighting

The light fixture’s angle significantly impacts the display. Lighting artwork at a 10-degree angle from above or below essentially points the illumination source down at the art, which will create significant shadows that obscure it. Going back too far, around 45 degrees, will have the opposite impact — you risk creating a glare as the light shines on the art too directly.

Instead, use a 30-degree angle to minimize glare. If you’re lighting an oil painting or art with texture, subtract 5 degrees from the angle. You’ll accentuate the texture by adding slight shadows but avoid anything extreme that will obscure the art. For larger pieces, angle the light about 35 degrees to bring it back and illuminate more of the artwork.

How to Position Artwork Lighting

Burst New Media Art Show at White Space
Fractal Artist Medge Olivares

Beam Spread

If your lighting uses MR, R or Par lamps,you can change the focus of your light by changing your bulb. These bulbs are available as Spots, Floods, and Wide Floods. Pick the degree of beam spread that works best for your application. The narrower the beam spread, the brighter and narrower the light will be and the farther the light will travel without losing brightness. The higher the beam spread, the more the light spreads out.

You can buy a spread lens that fits over a bulb that spreads light even more.

WAC Track Light with Barn Door Accessory

Barndoor and Framing Projector Accessories

Barndoor accessories give you some lighting control. They cut off some of the light to light a more square area.

Framing Projector Picture Lights

Framing Projectors use focusing lenses and metal shims to light just a picture and not the wall. The shims create a square or rectangular light area. The lenses allow you to widen or narrow the beam.

STAS Multirail Picture Rail with Picture Lights

Powered Picture Rail Picture Light Systems

STAS makes powered picture rail that hangs artwork and powers picture lights.

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