Five Tips for Perfect Museum Lighting
Five Tips for Perfect Museum Lighting
Lighting plays an important role in museum design, having the power to enhance a visitor’s experience and enjoyment. Effective museum lighting will ensure that exhibits and signs are clearly illuminated and visitors can navigate the space, and creates an ambience that enhances the overall visit.
With so many variables to consider, it can be hard to know where to start when designing the optimum museum lighting scheme. Here are our top five tips to get you on the right track.
What Are you Exhibiting?
A good place to start is by considering the type of exhibits you’re displaying. Many museums contain a range of exhibits, from paintings to pottery, costumes to clay figures. Others focus on a particular medium, such as sculpture. A museum with varied exhibits could have many different display formats, from display cabinets to mannequins to floor-standing sculptures or items on plinths, requiring a range of different lighting techniques.
A museum that only displays hung artwork needs as much consideration but may not require as diverse a range of lighting types. Art museum lights may be different to lighting for a natural history museum, for example.
What’s the Layout of Your Space?
Museums are often large, open spaces, or may even be housed in historically important or significant buildings. Displays may be grouped by timeline or geographic location, with pathways through the museum to create a narrative flow. Lighting can help support that storytelling by treating the lighting in the same way. Lighting can be dim and atmospheric, or bright and clear, depending on the pieces on display and the story being told.
If the museum itself is historic, it can also be interesting to draw attention to specific architectural features - such as a dramatic entrance lobby, a painting ceiling or intricate stonework.
Providing different levels of light - for focus, for general illumination and for atmosphere - will give visitors the richest and most engaging experience.
What Type of Fittings do You Need?
Lighting a museum which contains a wide range of exhibits requires a number of different types of fixtures. For example, artwork hung on the wall can be illuminated using museum picture lights. However, lighting small exhibits in a glass cabinet needs a different approach.
Lighting from above won’t provide effective illumination for a visitor to appreciate the intricate details of a small artefact. Instead, installing small lights within the cabinet avoids issues of glare from the glass or the light being blocked by visitors. This could be in the form of small lights mounted onto track, or onto an upright pole. It’s even possible to control the beam angle, to light a piece precisely with a narrow, focused beam of light.
Museum track light can be used for a variety of purposes, from providing a general wash of light to help the visitor find their way around, to track lights that illuminate a specific painting.
Museum lights for paintings can be adjusted to perfectly frame the piece, allowing the smallest details to be seen.
How Adaptable Do you Need the Space to be?
Whilst many museums focus on a certain subject or era, many will feature temporary exhibitions which means that lighting needs are constantly changing. Museums can also refresh their displays, bringing pieces out of storage based on public interest or adding recently-discovered finds.
This means that museum lighting must be adaptable and able to change without significant investment or installation. Track lighting offers a versatile option, as it’s easy to move track heads (the fixtures that attach to track) to place light exactly where needed. Choosing track heads with an adjustable beam angle can also help adapt the light, from a focused beam to a more general wash, depending on requirements.
Spaces may also need to be adaptable to special events taking place, such as late-night openings, talks, or launches. Choosing dimmable lighting will help to customise the space depending on the time of day, available natural light, and the desired ambience.
Don’t Forget the Quality of Light
LEDs are recommended for museum light, as they provide high quality light, are highly energy efficient and have a long lifespan (around 20 years) which minimises maintenance requirements. LEDs also give a broader range of options and therefore give more control over the lighting design.
Colour temperature is an important variable which will help determine how the space feels. A warm colour temperature of around 3000K creates a more relaxed ambience, and as it’s closer to fire or candlelight it may be better suited to certain types of display. A cool white colour temperature of around 5000K is closer to daylight and aids focus and concentration, so could be useful in areas used for talks, or used for visiting school children.
LED lighting also allows a choice of CRI (colour rendering index) which indicates how well colours are represented under the light - the higher the number, the better. An excellent CRI, ideally 95, should be selected for museum spaces where it’s important that colours are rendered at their most accurate and vibrant.
Finally, many museum exhibits can be sensitive to light. Unlike halogens or metal halides, LEDs are full spectrum lights, which won’t cause any damage. Because LEDs also generate very little heat, this doesn’t cause an issue in a temperature-controlled environment, such as in a display cabinet.
Getting museum lighting just right is an art in itself, but its well worth taking the time to deliver the best experience for your visitors.
Book a free consultation with our art gallery lighting specialist.
Banno Lighting is located in Brooklyn, NYC. We are a small family owned business who specialize in Art Gallery Lighting.
172 Suydam St Unit 4 R Brooklyn, New York, 11221