How to Light a Picture

Paintings are a wonderful addition to any room and offer a ‘window to another dimension.’ Hanging artwork within an interior is as important as the furniture, wall coverings and soft furnishings in defining the personality of a space. Pictures are also a great opportunity to create focal points and to add accents into a scheme with the use of thoughtful lighting.

Here we will explore the best techniques to illuminate pictures in your next project with winning results.

Picture Lit from 2 Ceiling Recessed Downlights

The key hazard to the lighting of pictures is to illuminate the work evenly. A balanced light is always the goal but in practice, this can prove tricky.

Ultimate Guide on How to Light Artwork & Pictures in Your Home is recommended for more in depth advice and buying guides.

Tips to Light a Picture or Artwork

Even Illumination

Commonly a picture light sits above the frame and angles the light back towards the surface. The greater the distance the light source sits from the picture surface (the longer the arm of the fitting) the more diffused and wider the spread of light. Effectively this lowers the bright ‘hot spot’ on the top half of the painting.

Adapt the Strength of Light

Its best to remember that the application of the picture’s lighting should differ dependent upon whether it is day or evening. In daylight, the highlight of a picture requires more illumination (lumens) than at night when the perceived contrast is greater. Be especially mindful of this in areas of relaxation eg. lounges, restaurants – as an over lit surface will destroy the balance of the lighting scheme in a room. (See dimming below)

Compensate for Dark Pictures

Always remember that a dark surface will soak up more light than a bright one and this rule applies to a picture/painting as to all other objects in a room. Hence a darker oil painting will need more light on it than a delicate watercolour. It is best to know what you are lighting before you specify the fixtures!

Allow for Side Illumination

Remember a picture light will spread it’s illumination out sideways, so remember that the actual light itself doesn’t have to be the same width as the painting.

How to Light a Picture – Best Methods

Framing Projector

The optimum way to light a painting, as seen in museums and galleries, is to position the source some distance from the surface to achieve a well-diffused spread of light. Best practice uses a framing projector that requires a good sized recess in the ceiling to house the source. This will allow you to perfectly light any shaped artwork.


Use directional downlights to wash the wall – which will include the pictures that are on it. At Orange Lighting we often specify the use a pair of downlights – some 500mm apart and positioned roughly 500mm from the hanging wall.

Track System

Alternatively, you can mount a track system using adjustable well-baffled The use of a baffle design ensures that the source is deep within the fitting which avoids the instance of glare.

Wall mounted Picture Lights

These are the most commonly used method as it is relatively cost effective and easy to plan into a scheme. All too often there is no prior knowledge of the size of the artwork – so a first fix of the power source can be tricky to get right! I position the cabling at 1.8m high from finished floor level with the caveat that it’s likely to require remedial work to position correctly.

Frame Mounted Picture Lights

Picture lights that are either mounted on the rear of the frame or have a shallow enough backplate to secure to the wall behind the picture and allow it to hang freely.
LED versions will not have room for a power supply to be integral to the luminaire – so remember that a driver will need to be remotely positioned and the wiring configured appropriately. Simply locating a lighting cable emerging out of the wall where you wish the light to located, may not be feasible – planning needs to be done first! Deploying a recessed wall box hidden behind the painting will allow the driver to be located behind the frame but remember to check that the chosen driver fits!

Best Lighting Specifications for Artwork

Colour Temperature

When faced with a choice of colour temperatures I opt for 3000K as a neutral warm white. In terms of LED illumination, it is still warm but without the yellowish hue of 2700K. Again, it is good to be guided by the painting itself. I know one expert that professes that early paintings should be candle-lit in the method in they were intended.

CRI – Colour Rendering Quality

Thankfully high colour rendered LEDs are becoming increasingly available at budget-friendly prices. This is especially important in artworks that feature reds. A CRI of 95+ will add to the vibrancy of all colours in a painting a virtual restoration


Obviously dimming a light source gives you flexibility to suitably light the surface of the painting for day and night use. However, not all picture lights are dimmable so check the specification. The typical LED sourced picture light will not have a dimmable driver on board, but if you use a frame mount version that requires a driver to be added, at Orange Lighting, we will select the appropriate dimmable driver to suit. As long as the circuit the picture light is connected to allows dimming, the LED light source can be adapted suitably by the user.


The enemy of all lighting designers. Often the best choice of light for a painting will not be the most practical for the user. Light sources that shine light back onto the surface from a distance will make the source more visible than one that is tighter to the target surface. If users walk past the picture or are seated under the picture, the ideal lighting needs to be close to its subject. Additionally, glass on pictures will usually reflect everything and add to glare unless it has purpose made non-reflective glass


Picture lights fall into two style camps – modern and traditional. The trouble with traditionally styled picture lights is their source of light is pretty crude – just Edison ‘screw-in’ lamps on the whole. A linear LED array provides a more even light but invariably it is to be found in a clean-lined fitting. Where you are forced to opt for a modern fitting choose a bronze finish.

In fact, a picture light can be the star of the show and really add to the interior but the simpler the better; whatever the style of frame and nature of the painting.

Of course, the team at Orange Lighting are on hand to offer all the help and guidance you need for designing with this key element of an interior.

Andrew Orange, the owner of Orange Lighting qualified and worked as an interior designer in 1993 before specialising in lighting working on high profile projects based in London. Since starting Orange Lighting Ltd in 2003 he has been sharing his knowledge and unique teaching style mostly to his designer clients, offering practical real life advice born from running a busy consultancy and lighting supply business. Launching in 2020, his blog has evolved into Quick & Easy Lighting, curating some 25 years design experience into making the lighting choice and design process achievable and easy to understand for all.