Display lighting requires more than just pointing a beam of light at an object or wall that you want to highlight. In fact, if done correctly, it is quite an art and can be used to balance the light from other fixtures and thereby decrease the amount of contrast present in the surroundings.
Display lighting can be used to highlight pictures, collectibles and also for displaying plants and flowers. It can also be cleverly applied to dark corners or hallways to dispel the gloom and doom present in these areas.
When it comes to highlighting pictures on the wall – this might seem like a simple task of just attaching a picture light, but often getting the display lighting just right for a picture can prove to be a very difficult task.
The fundamental thing to consider is not just the picture and beam of the picture light but the actual wall you are going to mount your pictures on. Preferably, the wall you are going to display pictures on should not have windows (nor should there be any windows on the wall adjacent) because the glare from the natural light outside is going to distort your appreciation of the portrait.
The major problem with displaying portraits and pictures is that the glass covering (which some have) can reflect light and interfere with your viewing of the picture. This is also true of paintings created using glossy oil paint. The best way to overcome this is to position your light source in such a way as will reduce reflective glare. If you still get reflection from the glass, an alternative is to tilt the picture very slightly towards the floor.
Display lighting, if selected and mounted correctly can do wonders to show your pictures at their best. The most common lighting to use here is low voltage spotlights, fluorescent tubing or tungsten-filament strip lighting. But again, remember that having the strip lighting too close to a watercolor painting may cause heat damage.
The other problem to be wary of when using display lighting for pictures is to avoid excess lighting as this can cause fading. Whilst dark paintings will require more light than lighter colored paintings, watercolors are quite sensitive and need careful monitoring when display lighting is used. The same goes for oil paintings, although they are sturdier than watercolors.
The best way to illuminate a picture is to use a special fitting that has tungsten strip lighting and that mounts onto the wall just above the picture or actually onto the frame itself. This is an effective way of angling the tungsten strip light to a position in which you get minimal glare.
If you want to display the whole portrait and not just the top or bottom part of it, you will need a light that is 2/3 (or greater) than the width of the picture. And of course, the further away the light source is from the picture the larger the width of the light beam.
Where you have a large group of pictures on one wall, wall-washing may be a better way of highlighting them all.
This is best achieved by using small uplighters, or a row of recessed downlights or using a hidden fluorescent strip (hidden inside a coving unit or something similar).
Spotlights are another popular alternative and their advantage is that they can be used much further away from the picture (so the risk of heat damage is minimized). Ceiling-mounted spotlights or track mounted are both effective, although the latter is more flexible.
Although spotlights are popular to illuminate pictures with, they do not show off the picture to its best angle artistically.