Lighting Basics for the Uninitiated

a guest post by Lisa J. Reed, Lighting Designer

Sometimes I forget that when I refer to a light bulb by its correct name,

I have been immersed in the architectural lighting world and its jargon for well over 20 years now. What other industry uses such intellectually overwhelming terminology as Luminaire Dirt Depreciation? But I digress. Sometimes I forget that when I refer to a light bulb by its correct name, "lamp", that many of my clients picture this.

 

But I’m referring to this:

The “bulb” is technically just the glass part of the lamp…er…light bulb. So I want to illustrate some of the other fancy lighting terminology for you. In the picture below, we see several important lighting elements.

The “bulb” is technically just the glass part of the lamp…er…light bulb. So I want to illustrate some of the other fancy lighting terminology for you. In the picture below, we see several important lighting elements.

ambient lighting is provided by the recessed lights that are mounted in the red ceiling. Ambient lighting is the general lighting in the space. It is the baseline that is just needed for walking around.
 
ambient

1. Ambient Light

In this example, ambient lighting is provided by the recessed lights that are mounted in the red ceiling. Ambient lighting is the general lighting in the space. It is the baseline that is just needed for walking around. Pro tip: Some spaces will have adequate ambient light without adding dedicated fixtures. Task and accent lights contribute to ambient light in the space.

 
task

2. Task Light

In this example, task lighting is provided by the fabric pendants. Task lighting is lighting for the task. In this restaurant example, it is the lighting necessary for seeing your food and your dinner companions’ faces. Save energy by using task lighting to increase brightness on the task while keeping ambient lighting low.

 
track lighting

3. Accent Light

In this example, accent lighting is provided by the track lights. Here it is the light aimed at the art on the wall. Pro tip: Use accent lights to highlight the interesting parts of the space. Without accent lighting, there may be plenty of light for seeing, but the space can be boring.

 
sun

4. Daylighting

Daylighting is light that comes from the sun. I bet you knew that one, didn’t you? Daylighting enters the space from any kind of window or skylight.

 
 
surface

5. Interior Surfaces

Wait, interior surfaces aren’t a light source, are they? Well, yes and no. The reflectance of an interior surface makes such a HUGE difference in the impact of lighting on a space and on one’s ability to see. You can perceive it in this photo. The yellow wall on the left hand side of the picture is brighter and reflects much more light back into the room than the dark orange or green wall on the right hand side of the photo. The color, reflectance, and contrast of interior surfaces are critically important. Pro tip: Sometimes a can of white paint can be a significant lighting energy saver!

 

There. You are enlightened. At least you know what a lamp is now. What else about lighting terminology confuses you?

 

Lisa J Reed photo - Lighting Blog

Lisa J. Reed has been attracted to lighting (like a moth to a flame) for 20+ years. She is the Founding Principal at Envision Lighting Design, LLC in St. Louis, where she designs, teaches, and writes about architectural lighting. Connect with Lisa J. Reed on Google+.

 

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