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Thread: Display Lighting

  1. #1
    William Whitaker's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2002
    North Carolina, for now...

    Display Lighting

    I'm really not sure how to categorize this post. This seems as good as any, so I'll let it fly.

    I am in the process of installing a darkroom, probably my last. The house is built with multiple rooms flanking a central hallway which leads from the front door through the center of the house to the back door. The hallway is 7 feet wide by 10 feet high. I wish to use it as a long gallery space. Besides making for a nice entryway to my home, it would provide me some "feedback space". I feel that hanging new prints on the wall and allowing some time to reflect on them will be an essential part of my own artistic growth process.

    Beyond some refresh work to the walls, I need to install display lighting. I want to place track lighting down the center of the hallway ceiling so I can hit both left and right walls. What I need is some guidance for this application. The local lighting salesroom had little-to-no advice when I stopped by last week to ask. Their suggestion was to go look at some installations downtown and copy what they have done.

    You can probably imagine my reaction to that. I'm happy to use other people's work as inspiration, but I'll make my own design and chose my own hardware, thank you.

    Still they're the only lighting house in town, and I'd rather stay local, if possible. I really do not want to deal with the big box stores because I have not been impressed with the help (or lack of help) that I've received there in the past.

    I'm sure some of you have experience working with track lighting and I'd like to pick your brains.

    I would surely prefer LED for energy savings and heat output. That technology seems to be developing overnight. How are lights rated and what would be a typical rating for a gallery application? What color temperature is appropriate for black & white? I saw a bulb rated at 4K and it looked good to me. More neutral than a 3K next to it, but not as blue as higher Kelvin bulbs. Does a higher color temperature rating imply that there is also greater UV output? Is concern about UV important for my application?

    Are any of the LEDs dim-mable. If not, how can light outputs be balanced? I would prefer to remain line voltage, if that matters.

    The local store sells Satco which seems to be nice. Any comments?

    My experience with track lighting dates back to Lightolier some 35 or more years ago, so ancient history.

    As always, thanks in advance!

  2. #2
    bob carnie's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Toronto, Ontario,

    Re: Display Lighting

    Hi Will

    one little thing, for lighting is that in the darkroom you should have a balance between tungsten and daylight. One little thing of late is that I need to refit all my daylight flourescents as I am using alt processes that do not like the strong light.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Jun 2001
    Northwest of Chicago

    Re: Display Lighting

    The bulbs are more important than the fixtures. Look for bulbs with a CRI over 90. I like SORAA bulbs that have a CRI rating of 95 and are dimmable (with the proper electronic dimmer).
    These are just some of the bulbs they make I personally like 3000 bulbs, while 2700 is closer to traditional incandescent. 4K and higher are too cool for my taste.

    I can recommend WAC track lights. We used them in our home and they are well made and look nice. We bought ours from

  4. #4
    Peter De Smidt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2001
    Fond du Lac, WI, USA

    Re: Display Lighting

    The standard are Solux bulbs at about 4k.

    I would get one Solux. Use a cheap fixture. Now use it to compare to the other options. Is the difference worth it for your work?
    "Why can't we all just get along?" President Dale, Mars Attacks

  5. #5

    Join Date
    May 2004
    Montara, California

    Re: Display Lighting

    I went through this a few years ago, thinking I would pick the "correct" color quality and color temperature and all of that. It ended up being a bit of a labyrinth with no clear answers and no perfect solutions.

    First, go LED. They seem quite good nowadays and are dimmable. The color index rating is quite high, at least out here in California (they passed some sort of law a few years ago that said if you want to offer a rebate on your light bulbs you have to meet certain color quality standards). Little heat, no UV, I believe as well. I bought the PAR30's because they put out a nice directional light and use inexpensive fixtures. No mercury hiding in the bulb. Low energy use. I think I'm running my whole workshop with about thirty PAR30s for the energy use of three or four tungsten bulbs.

    All good. But what about the color temperature, especially when mixed with indirect daylight? Here's where the paralysis by analysis can set in.

    There is no good answer other than just try them out. Your daylight will be constantly changing (literally) and will be dramatically different depending on the weather. The color of the walls will have a big effect in an enclosed space like a hallway. And people will react differently to them and will react differently depending on if they are coming in from the outside or going out from the inside.

    It goes on and on, and then if you are exhibiting elsewhere or selling prints what control do you really have on the new space?

    Many people will try nevertheless to control all the variables or at least minimize them. But there are bigger variables at work. Take the wall paint. The temptation is to paint the walls some neutral off white color to avoid color casts. But that's also boring. Some of the most amazing exhibits I've seen have gone in a radically different direction--an astonishing display of an Ansel photo on a rich chocolate brown wall at the Akron Art Museum in the 1980s. A powerful Turner painting at the deYoung against a rich dark blue wall.

    So my advice boils down to this: Use LEDs with a 95 or higher CRI. Then from there just go with what looks good to you, as unscientific as that might sound. (But not really--consider--all those complex variables (including the unknown ones and the ones little understood) are processed all the time by your vision/brain. It's very good at it. Reasoning it through with so many complex variables seems a poor substitute.

    Anyway, that has been my experience.


  6. #6
    Jon Shiu's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Elk, California

    Re: Display Lighting

    We're using some inexpensive Ikea tracklights with MR16 LED bulbs from Amazon and they look great. Have tried different temperature bulbs and actually they all look good with the prints.

    my black and white photos of the Mendocino Coast:

  7. #7
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Re: Display Lighting

    Quote Originally Posted by Darin Boville View Post
    I bought the PAR30's because they put out a nice directional light...
    More details please. What PAR30 LED light did you find that you like? I've been looking for years for a decent PAR30 LED without success.

    Bruce Watson

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Aug 2013

    Re: Display Lighting

    We have these down the hall in our shop, mounted on tracks and shining down on photos on the wall, as well as everywhere else, too:

    They look very nice, but some people might find them too cool--they are virtually equal to daylight. In the rooms with sunlight one hardly knows they're on. One problem with this particular bulb is that it is very bright, and dimmers would be necessary, I think. In the workshop I have nine of them and keep them turned down about halfway all the time. We've been in this location for four months now, and I am happier with these than any lights in any other shop I've worked in. The only picture on our site shot under them is the person at the desk, marked "reception area" in the slide show on this page:

    Richard W mentions "proper" dimmers. Some of our rooms flicker a bit, but I think we just have normal dimmers.
    Thanks, but I'd rather just watch:
    Large format:
    Mostly 35mm:
    You want digital, color, etc?:

  9. #9
    jp's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009

    Re: Display Lighting

    For my gallery setup, I put the tracks about 2-3' from the wall along the ceiling. Don't try to get it all from one track. If the angle is poor, you'll be making a shadow on your photo as you approach it. It could also create reflections from the light in the upper parts of big frames.

    I used whatever the house brand of track was from Lowes. It was junk. Probably about 20% of it didn't work reliably. But I had to finish it in a hurry and couldn't swap it all out once I got into it. It's fine now, but it was false economy.

    For lights, I agree the higher CRI led ones are good. Just put them in and don't worry about the wattage as long as it's sufficient. is what I used for 3000k bulbs. I bought 10 4-packs. They are good. I've seen other local art businesses use them too.

    I did one area gray paint and one area white paint. I liked the gray painted walls better for showing photos if you have the choice. It makes whites stand out and gray tones in photos look like they belong.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Seattle, WA

    Re: Display Lighting

    Just got LED's CRI 90+ to replace the old fried's Ecosmart 50W equivalent and "daylight" temp (5000K) = PAR 20. Just checked it and it runs all kinds of circles in brightness, and these are dimmable. But, you find the same in different temps like 4000K (also dimmable) and you can order them on amazonia and delivered to your doorstep. Mine came via H. Depot.


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