The Best 5 Ways to Light Artwork & Pictures on a Wall

Wall hung artwork and pictures offer a perfect opportunity to create some wonderful interest to your space and can even be the very feature of the entire room. However, the method of lighting them must suit the wider context of the whole interior as well as the actual art on your wall.

Quickly benefit from a lighting designer’s practical recommendations on the best 5 methods and follow our easy to follow guide on how to illuminate your pictures and wall hung artworks just we would to our clients. 

Check out our Ultimate Guide on How to Light Artworks for our in depth guide on lighting artwork and pictures within a home. 

Table of Contents

Consider the Artwork & Picture Lighting as Accent or Feature Lighting

To determine the best method of lighting your artwork, each artwork or picture on the wall must fit within the wider setting of the whole room. Unless you are actually creating a gallery these decisions have to fit within the space that you live in and have the flexibility to suit the changing needs of a home environment. Just how interesting and how much attention you want to bring to the artwork helps you determine how to light them both in the day and at night.

Accent Lighting is an important layer of light and lighting pictures on walls adds another important dimension of light to the room by highlighting them, bringing them to the users attention and creating contrasted interest for the eye.

Feature Lighting will draw more attention and for wall hung artwork it will need to be one of the brightest lit parts of any space. 

Not every picture has to be lit, so decide upon the ones that should be because of their own merit and how their illumination will benefit the room.

Find the Best Method to Light Your Artwork: Consider the Opportunities

If you are planning to light your pictures as part of a refurbishment then you may have all the best methods to light artwork available to you, otherwise you need to weigh up how much intervention you are willing to carry out. 

Consider what will the current lighting circuits allow, is there power available to install new lighting? If that is in question then you need to consider how to light your pictures by other means – even with battery power?

So here are our top 5 best methods for lighting artwork and pictures on a wall:

1. Recessed Downlights

For a residential setting the directional recessed downlight is the best method to light artwork. It is the most discrete of solutions as the majority of the downlight is hidden within the ceiling. A disadvantage is at best the angle onto the picture will be approx 60 degrees which will create a little more shadowing on textured artwork.

The professional quality downlighter minimises glare by positioning the lens behind a black baffle so the light escapes through a short dark cylindrical shaft before entering the room. This reduces the opportunity for the eye to actually see the lens which is the brightest part.

Professional quality downlighters offer a variety of beam widths, styles of lens, extra glare protection from honeycomb louvres, choices of colour temperature, choices of output strength, choices of finish color.

Best Way to light Artwork on a Wall
5 Best Methods of Lighting Artwork on Walls

How to Calculate the Position of a Downlight to Light a Picture

** draw section of 28/58 degrees going back to ceiling**

2. Artwork & Picture Lighting

Please note: this is a surface mounted solution that needs power brought to it within the wall. 

A wall light is installed above the picture and will be designed to throw it’s light downwards across the surface of the picture with the minimal amount of glare to the viewers eyes. LED picture lights are the best option for many reasons, particularly as the light created is more easily directed than other light sources due to LED being inherently more directional. This makes them a great choice for a more exact illumination of individual wall art compared to more general downlighting and spotlighting. A picture light plays its role as a decorative light too, offering the opportunity to pair with other finishes and styles already in the room they are in.

How Should a Picture Light Be Above a Picture

3. Spotlighting

An advantage of using LED spotlights is the flexibility to choose the perfect angle to light your artwork. The disadvantage is they are a visible source of light and not as discrete as a downlight or as aesthetically beneficial as a style conscious artwork and picture wall light.

Galleries use spotlighting on tracks for maximum adjustability and flexibility to easily move the light fitting to light new artwork. If you think you may have a changing collection of art then track mounted spotlighting would be the ideal solution for you.  

Best Artwork Spot Lighting
Giggling Squid Restaurant (UK) Wall Artwork lit by Spotlights & Ambient Lighting

How to Position a Spotlight to Light Artwork and Pictures

4. Wall Washing

The goal is the achieve as even and as wide a spread of light as possible across the whole wall. This can be attempted by any directional light source as you can simply aim the light at the wall but there is more to it than that to do it well!

How to Wash Light Across a Wall to Light Artwork and Pictures

5. Table & Floor Lighting as Picture Lighting

If you want a quick and easy solution to help light your wall art then carefully positioned movable light sources can assist, particularly if you cannot bring power to new inbuilt light sources.

Table and floor lights are very useful to pair with picture lights and downlighting. Light sources that predominantly light from the top of the picture or ceiling will have weaker lighting towards the bottom of a picture, particularly if it’s a long or large piece. The ambient lighting from these movable light sources are an easily forgotten tool that will help supplement the additional light that is required to more evenly wash light over the whole picture.

Wall artwork lit by Floor Light as Ceiling lighting was too difficult

How to Light a Picture Without Installing New Lighting

You still need to plan this supplementary source of lighting:

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.