View Full Version : Lighting Sensibility
05-28-2010, 04:25 PM
Most of our forum threads are confined to the technical. The subtle design part of our profession is seldom discussed. The recent Palm Tree thread where the designer wanted to ensure that all sides of a tree were lit, suggested to me that we may not all be on the same page in terms of 'lighting sensibility'.
Sensibility is defined as "the ability to appreciate and respond to complex emotional or aesthetic influences".
Lighting Sensibility is our ability to create a lighting design that responds to the complex emotional and aesthetic needs of our clients. If we strive to better understand these needs, then we can do a better job of meeting them.
As a beginning to the discussion, I'd say that one need is for the client to experience a nighttime ambiance in the midst of the illuminated landscape. Many installers simply light up objects without regard to the emotional or aesthetic impact of that lighting.
We've all seen what a human face looks like when a flashlight is placed under the chin (monstrous). Doesn't it also make sense that lighting trees from certain unnatural angles may also elicit negative emotional responses? These may be subtle responses, even beyond conscious recognition - they may be felt as a sense of unease or distraction.
On the other hand, if a tree is illuminated in a way familiar to the viewer, a way more natural, more night-like, then the likelihood of a positive response increases.
Enough said on that, for more on this topic you might enjoy reading my article on the Suspension of Disbelief (http://www.cast-lighting.com/learning/articles/3_article_Landscape-Lighting-Lesson).
I have to agree with you 100% in regards to the forum topics. From my experiences the hardest part of learning this particular trade has been the design ingredient. Through five years of experimenting with different light sources and learning the technical side of things I still find that it takes me a long time to come up with a design that I am happy with. I have networked and discussed certain projects with my mentors here but everybody has a different way of painting so to speak. Over the years I have taken all that information and soaked it up like a sponge and I will always be looking for more advice from my peers. Through my passion this is what has evolved for me.
I often find myself walking the walk as I call it, observing and picking all the unique and interesting details of things such as the landscape and architectual features on every property I visit. Once I have established the many different items to light I look at every single one and once again look for something unique about it. Once I have found that important spot on every one I will start painting by illuminating that spot. I try to use different techniques such as grazing or backlighting and creating different light levels (etc.etc.) to that spot and make it as interesting as I can. Once I have done something like that for every one of those uniquie spots I will fill in the gaps with different levels of light.
I have learned that it really takes some time and obviously some passion to complete this walk. This is how I have evolved and not too sure if other people do this but its working for me and to boot I can honestly say that I love every minute of it.
Now mind you I am probably the slowest in doing this as it is not uncommon for me to take two to three hours going through a large job and doing the walk and making notes. I love what I am doing and I am not really interested in pumping out quantity because to me the quality is what makes me and my clients happy.
Just a view from an apprentice like myself.
05-28-2010, 08:27 PM
Steve, really cool article. Especially the lighting in a movie studio. Is that why soap operas look so incredibly fake. I also laugh at the scenes in the hospital dramas where everything is so dark and there is uplighting on the doctors. Wonder what the patient swallowed that eminates light from their chest like that:rolleyes: I have wired operating rooms and you can be rest assured that when all the lights are on, the patient is practically being x-rayed right on the table. The light sensibility though, is it a personal thing? Kind of artistic interpretation? Some will have a tree with a single uplight, some will have it with 10 lights. Some like Picasso, some like Ansel Adams. There is no right or wrong, there is no code, there is only artistic interpretation (or whatever the client likes).
05-29-2010, 11:02 AM
I am reminded of the tire scene in the pixar movie "cars" when lighting mcqueen asks for blackwall tires. the italian car tells him, "no, no, you don't know want you want."
Although I go through and ask questions of every potential client , how they live, what their safety, security, and aesthetic desires are, I find myself discovering a sad truth. many folks like and want things I hate. They like tons of pathlights, not for lighting a path, but to create a runway effect. They like the soffit downlights to be on at the same time as the uplights on the home, creating a spaceship glare like effect. They want 200 watt halogen floods installed on the home by an electrician because they like the way the neighbors house looks. they want rope light under deck stairs and under rails. and these are million dollar homes.
I spend more time educating folks and trying to turn them around on what I say are obvious right and wrongs or the basics of light in this business, but I really do try to create the effect they want while avoiding what I consider to be things that would hurt my reputation as a quality lighting pro.
while we may all paint with light in this business, there is picasso and there is ansel adams. everyone is entitled to thier opinion, but many want something but "don't know what they want"
while an oak tree may look great with one perfectly places bullet uplit, it becomes a matter of opinion if it would have been better to moonlight that bullet from up above. or should you use 3 from the ground. or climb the tree and do one from below and two up above going up or out. all of these can be right. or wrong. depending not only the client, but among pro's.
The Lighting Geek
06-02-2010, 12:48 AM
I look at my visit with my client as a journey and I am the tour guide. I have to carefully tear apart everything they think they know about lighting, then paint a portrait with them of what their landscape could turn into. We discuss what is important to them, what isn't working in the landscape. Clients generally think from a daytime perspective, and if we lighting designers have done our trade enough, we see the finished night time view during the day. I know how much ambient light will result from what I am doing before I do it, because my art form has little to do with what fixtures, lamps, LEDs, or transformers look like. I believe many of us over use the term 'paint with light' without really understanding the real meaning of it. What I do doing is allow you to see the components that matter at night, with a soft connective light levels that brings everything together. It should look so real it doesn't look lit. IMHO.
06-02-2010, 02:50 AM
Anyone who has done this for a fair amount of time has had both ends of the spectrum for customers - some who put their project completely in you hands, and others who almost dictate to you fixture by fixture what they are going to get. Most fall somewhere in the middle, asking for your advice and expertise, giving their input, but ultimately trusting you to deliver their nightime space. How many times can you remember discussing an effect the client wanted, you said I know how to do that and here's how, they doubted you, and you had to insist they trust you? I've had that happen a few times, and it has panned out every time. Like Dave says, most folks don't know what they do or don't want until they see it. Bill Locklin told a great story in a Nightscaping University class about one of his first lighting jobs. It involved a lions head staue on a wall that he went to great lenghts to place a bright narrowly focused spot on. He was very proud of himself for taking the initiative to light this even thought the client had never mentioned wanting it done. Well, it turns out the homeowner hated that statue, but hadn't gotten around to taking it down. The lesson was about communicating with the client and learning what they wanted, not just what you thought they would want. We all see elements on a job that we think would look cool lit a certain way, but our perception of cool isn't always the same as the clients. The flipside to that goes back to the client not knowing what they want. Light it how you want and they usually will accept it as they way it is supposed to be. Look at all of the mediocre and bad lighting out there. Our elevated awareness of what light can do for the whole scene is what sets most of us apart from the hacks. Getting the clients to appreciate (see: pay for!!) that ability is a whole other thread.
It is really nice to have all of your methods for designing being shared. I cannot begin to tell you how important it is for apprentices like myself who want to learn from the best in the world.
06-02-2010, 02:37 PM
Great wisdom from great designers - all unsung heroes of our craft.
I'd like to write an article summarizing these comments - aimed at homeowners with the intent to elevate their appreciation. I could publish it in the CAST Lighting blog as part of our "Masters of Landscape Lighting (http://www.cast-lighting.com/blog/2009/10/masters-of-landscape-lighting-michael-gotowala-preferred-properties/)" series.
If any of you would like me to include direct quotes, I can include your name and link to your website. If so, send me your name, company name, and web link as a private message.
Of course the discussion can continue - I'll write the article this weekend.
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