The source and nature of exhibition picture lighting depends on the type of pictures being displayed and the nature and location of the event. Some exhibitions are very eclectic, representing the highest levels of formality and fine tastes. Other exhibits are more focused on bringing the work of local talent to the attention of the general public in the form of a general display, an art sale, or a supportive element to a large indoor event.
Regardless, and most importantly, exhibition picture lighting must address certain key elements of the artwork itself. It must render color at an extraordinary level of detail, and it must support perspective within the scene regardless of the angle of incident or the distance the viewer stands from the work.
The interplay between light and shadow found in almost every picture must be enhanced, not diminished, by the lighting used in the exhibit.
While it is a fact that photography and painting have perspective and shade in common, beyond this, they diverge into vastly different arenas that carry their own unique sets of requirements for truly effective and supportive art illumination.
Photography as art has gained enormous popularity. As cameras and photography lighting became more advanced in the 1960’s, photography emerged as a respective medium of art.
It is also a very unique form of art, because it challenges our perceptions of reality by blurring the boundaries between the objective and the subjective.
This is because photography allows for a scene in real-time to be captured as is, but subtly altered by the perceptions and emotions of the photographer.
Photography is often exhibited in black and white, where perception within the mind of the observer and the concrete elements of the surrounding world intersect where light and shadow converge.
Black and white forces us to question our sense of absolutes by moving us past our comfort zone of duality into multitudinous shades of gray.
Accent lighting used to illuminate photography exhibitions must support this artistic intention to be truly effective. Picture lighting in a black and white photography exhibit must be precisely adjusted to differentiate the boundaries within the scene without diminishing the subtle variations in gray scale.
Many photography galleries showcase collections using halogen low voltage lights that come in “expo” mounting kits. These fixtures usually consist of a mounting bracket that attaches to the wall, an adjustable arm, and a halogen bulb that directs light onto the picture from an optimal angle of incident.
Halogen is a very bright source of exhibition picture light, and it is ideal for rendering both colors and any black and white scene where stark contrasts define artistic tone.
Without special lenses and filters, though, halogen bulbs are rather limited in their ability to properly support special affects photography.
Halogen-sourced light is often too bright such for many exhibits where affect is emphasized above content.
A good example is found in pictures taken at night using infrared cameras that add surreal shades of red to the backdrop of a looming, sometimes ominous landscape.
More advanced artwork lighting is required for these stills, and we will look at some options for this in a moment.
Expo picture lights can also be used for painting exhibitions, provided they are either UV filtered to protect the paint and canvas, or if they are used for only a short period of time in a very temporary setting.
Many civic centers, public schools, community colleges, and libraries will exhibit pictures painted in watercolor by local children, and these organizations can find a number of affordable expo lighting kits to accommodate a temporary, “gallery” type setup.
A less expensive alternative for exhibition picture lighting at general community events is the use of battery-powered, LED over-the-picture-lights. LED technology is extremely sophisticated in two respects. It’s power saving design uses only 20% the electricity as halogen light and therefore provides much longer lamp and battery life. It also produces no ultraviolet radiation and is therefore safe to use over oils and acrylics.
Battery operated cordless lights are also ideal for exhibitions where local artists move from location to location to sell their work. They can be removed, transported, and reinstalled quickly; and they come in a variety of finishes that make local talent stand out exquisitely.
Museum Openings and Formal Events
More formal exhibitions, however, demand a higher level of picture lighting than retail expo lights and visually obtrusive over-the-picture lights provide. Eclectic galleries, museums, and formal galas strive to create a sense of altered reality that demands the artwork have it’s own special, “space” to fulfill its ultimate purpose to the viewer.
Curators and event planners must either work very hard to hide equipment, or they must use equipment that operates from beyond the periphery of vision.
Art projectors usually provide the best exhibition picture lighting under these circumstances. They use the same halogen bulbs as expo lights, but pass the lights through a series of filters that strip the beam of ultraviolet and infrared light. This makes them safe to use for lighting even the most antiquated originals and masterpieces.
These “safer” wavelengths of halogen light make for superb color rendering of oils and acrylics from any genre. Projectors with dimmer controls also work well for photography lighting in exhibitions of black and white where complex overlays of shadow are captured by the photographer to emphasize perspective and depth—something we often see in desert landscape pictures.
Phantom projectors offer the ultimate concealment tool for apparently sourceless light. Because they mount in the ceiling, they do not appear visible from horizontal viewing angles.
This leaves only user-friendly adjustment and installation options as the last point of consideration in choosing the best picture lighting source for a sophisticated exhibit. Some artwork, as we have already noted, relies heavily on special effects to communicate its theme. Some abstract works are also painted on odd-sized canvases and require more than the standard beam spread produced by typical projectors that are often cumbersome and difficult to adjust.
Phantom Lighting is a manufacturer of high end lighting projectors and linear strip display lighting fixtures. Phantom operates throughout North, Central, and South America through a network of agent representatives. Visit http://www.phantomlighting.com/exhibition_picture_lighting.htm and http://www.phantomlighting.com/