A photograph of a modern-looking wall sconce attached to a mirror to reflect light out into the room it's in.

Lighting Lies

I was thumbing through the latest issue of This Old House last night and stopped cold at a beautiful advertisement for a lighting company.  “Good Lighting is Everything,” it said.  That may be a stretch, but I’ll take it.  And then I got just a bit angry (with apologies to my wife for the outburst) when I looked at the photo.

It was a lie.  And it’s the same lie that most- if not all- sellers of light fixtures use.

Why?  Because what they showed was not great lighting.  In fact, it would be pretty bad lighting.  The fixtures looked very nice (I liked the look), but the photograph was taken with full daylight in the room and the bulbs dimmed to almost nothing.  The result is an attractive photo that looks absolutely nothing like the room at night or in the early morning when we are most likely to use the lights.

Photograph of a white kitchen lit by a lot of natural sunlight. The cabinets of the island are greyish-blue and there are three hanging lights over the island.

At night, the room would look totally different.  The glass shades would do nothing to soften the light on your face or diffuse the glare.  The attractive antique-style bulbs would drain energy, create heat, and mis-color your skin.

I ripped the page out of the magazine intending to show it, but I’ll keep that one on my desk for now.  I went online and looked for others.

I had no trouble finding more examples.  What I did not see was lighting photographed at night.

Photograph of white easy chairs being used as dining chairs for a light brown dining room table. Two dark, wrought-iron chandeliers hang over the table.

I used to think this was because lighting did not photograph well at night.  But the truth is that BAD lighting does not photograph well at night.  GOOD lighting can photograph just fine without daylight:

A photograph of a study with lighting along the edge of the ceiling and in all the shelves which are lined with expensive-looking books

There’s one big problem with the photograph above (with a shout out to Mike Heiniger photography and Prairie Woodworks for the incredible cabinetry).  The photo above does not sell decorative light fixtures well.  Because there aren’t any.

Here’s a photo that is better suited for selling:

Photograph of a white loveseat at the foot of a bed. The walls, loveseat, and bedspread are white with a dark bedframe and four posters.

The above photograph is from a website selling lighting and yet it’s broad daylight and nothing is turned on.

A photograph of a dark dining table with benches in front of three bright windows.

The photo above is gorgeous and makes me want to buy everything in it.  The light fixture- the advertised item here- is turned on, barely.  At night it will provide TERRIBLE light if used bright enough to light the table.  So they don’t photograph at night.

A photograph of a dark-colored dining table and chairs in a white room.

Only one of the photographs above is mine, and you can tell which one.  The one that shows lighting and light.

Decorative lighting is no longer lighting: it’s just decoration.

Light Can Help You