Focus on Lighting: The Importance of Color

Lighting is often the forgotten design element. Though its effects are powerful, the medium itself is rather intangible. Because lighting can drastically affect atmosphere, and since it generally flies in under most people’s conscious radar, good lighting is an economical and easy way to change and transform the atmosphere of a facility.

Understanding color is crucial to any lighting project. Color is often overlooked because people feel that white light is sufficient- it is what they are used to and comfortable with. But white light is actually a combination of colors. Everyone knows the primary colors of pigment are red, blue and yellow, and when mixed together become black. But the primary colors of light are different, they are red, blue, and green (just like the three colors that make up your television) and the secondary colors of light are cyan (blue and green), magenta (red and blue), and believe it or not yellow (red and green). When red, blue and green light are mixed together, they create white light.

If you light with the same color as the object you are lighting is painted it helps make the object pop out. But in the same way, if you light something from the opposite side of the spectrum it may make the object look unflattering. For example, if a building is yellow and you light it with yellow light it will appear more vibrant. But if you light it with blue light (which is the color opposite from yellow on the lighting spectrum) it will make the building appear dull and lifeless. Of course, keep in mind the mantra “everything in moderation.”

Lighting is a subjective art and understanding color is a good way to start identifying how lighting can affect and improve any project.