Spotlight on Lighting

Lighting a gallery wallAre you losing sales because your booth lighting isn’t working for you? Lighting expert David Steinitz of F.I.R.E. Ltd talks about how to make your work stand out at a show.


ABI: How important is lighting to presenting an artist’s work in  a show booth?

DS: It’s very important. Artists spend all that time, effort and money making their products look good and lighting is the thing that’s going to show it off. You don’t want to be at the mercy of the horrible lighting of a convention center. As you walk down the aisle, you will see that people will stop and look at a well-lit booth because the merchandise jumps out at them.

ABI: What is the biggest mistake people make when using their lights?

DS: They are using fluorescent lights. They think they are being energy-efficient. They are, on average, being charged for a 20-amp circuit, about $125 for three or four days – it’s expensive. That limits you to 2,000 watts of light. So in order to stretch the light out, and keep the heat down, they use fluorescents.

Most people remember flood lights (indoor and outdoor), and those lights are nothing more than heat generators. It makes for a very uncomfortable booth, so they want to do something different. They go totally to the other end of the spectrum, and they screw these fluorescents in. When I observe show setups, I see that many fluorescent lights arrive at the show broken. They have to be disposed of properly because they contain mercury and phosphorus, which are hazardous waste. You cannot just throw them in the trash can, because they must be kept away from landfills.


Halogen lighting in jewelry case


ABI: Fluorescent lighting really affects colors too, doesn’t it?

DS: It’s a very matte, very unflattering quality of light. The only people who have any luck with it are the jewelry people because they need the white light for their jewelry. There are better ways of doing it, but that was the old way. To that end, the 800 pound Gorilla in the lighting world is Phillips. Phillips made a public announcement in November 2011 that they weren’t going to spend any more money on developing CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps). So they’re done with it and that’s because they know that LEDs are the next generation.

ABI: What about halogen lighting?

DS: I use halogen in my own booth. What artists don’t realize is that there is an inexpensive way of doing it. The low voltage is the best way, because a 50 watt bulb at low voltage, at 12 volts, is actually producing 125 watts worth of light, without all the heat and all the issues. It’s a nice little package, so it doesn’t invade the booth. They produce virtually no heat, so it’s easy to stack them up. For a one-hundred watt flood light, I can have two 50-watt MR16’s and I’m actually producing two and a half times more light than the one flood light was producing.

New LEDs are hitting the market, and the beauty of them is that they have no ultraviolet and no infrared. They can’t damage or fade artwork. Soraa  is making them, but they are backed up trying to get them off the ground, and they will be officially announcing the product soon. We should have them at F.I.R.E. Ltd by June or July.



ABI: What about placement of lights, such as spotlights?

DS: You can’t do that with fluorescent or flood lights, because their spots are indiscernible. At the very least, a track running across the front of the booth can be used to direct the light back to a freestanding kiosk in the middle and at the beginning of your wall displays, because ideally you want to be 2 or 2 1/2 feet out from any vertical artwork in order to make these fixtures work. The other benefit of low voltage lighting is there are real spots, real narrow floods, and all different beam spreads. If you are a creative person and you choose the equipment well, you can actually dress it like a gallery in a small space and give it panache.

Keep in mind that you don’t light your space. You light the objects in your space. People are like moths – they look at the next bright area. By keeping the booth dark around the art, it leads the eye naturally to that point, and they are drawn to it.

ABI: Would you recommend experimenting with your lighting before you go to the show?

DS: Absolutely. It happens all the time that artists take their booth down, and say, “That piece of track lighting didn’t work.” Then they forget. By the next show, they are setting up and remember, “Oh, that’s right. I meant to get new lighting.” I would recommend using a space in your house and setting your booth up. Spend a couple of days looking at it. Even use cardboard cutouts where you would show merchandise. You don’t want to get to a show and discover, with a day left before opening, that your lighting doesn’t work. Then you have to change everything, and are thinking, “What do I do now?”

ABI: Do you work with artists who want a consultation and custom lighting package?

DS: Yes, FIRE Ltd. does that all the time. We are happy to work with artists, who can contact us by visiting our website at


Gallery lighting photo courtesy of 2910 on the Square.

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