Introduction to Lighting 

By on

When looking at the design of a lighting scheme it is useful to have an understanding on the nature of light itself and some of the basic theory associated with this. This article provides an overview of these concepts.

Nature of Light

SpectrumTransitions of electrons from differing shells emit packets of energy (photons). The energy of the photon eV and frequency of emitted radiation v, is related by planks constant h:

myElectrical Equation

The wavelength being:

myElectrical Equation

where c is the speed of light.

The eye responds to different wavelength with different efficiencies.   Efficiency is highest at wavelengths from 490x10-9 to 510x10-9 m and drops of to either side.  Wavelengths below 400x10-9 and above 700x10-9 m cannot be perceived.

3580_VisualPerformanceRelative performance of various lighting levels depends on the task sizes(S, minutes) and contrast (C).

Contrast is the difference in brightness of the object and it's immediate background:


  • LT is the luminance of the task, cd m-2
  • LB is the luminance of the background, cd m-2

General increases in contrast improve visual performance. However, beyond a certain limit, vision suffers by becoming visually uncomfortable (discomfort glare) or difficult to see (disability glare).

Theory Introduction

Units and Definitions

  • luminous intensity I, candela (cd) - defined as the luminous intensity in the perpendicular direction, of a surface of 1/600000 m2 of a full radiator at the temperature of freezing platinum under a pressure of 101.325 kN m-2
  • luminous flux Φ, lumen (lm) - light power emitted per second within a unit solid angle by a uniform point source of (lm = cd sr1).
  • Illuminance E, lux - luminous flux reaching a surface perpendicularly per unit area (lux = lm m2)
  • luminance L, cd m2 - a measure of light actually emitted per unit projected area of surface, the plane of projection being perpendicular to the direction of view
  • luminous efficacy - the efficiency of a lamp is expressed as the ratio of lumens to lamp watts, lm W-1


8272_IlluminationIlluminance consists of two components, the direct Illuminance at a point on a surface and  the average Illuminance in a room due to direct flux and reflected flux.

Considering a point source, at point A, we have the inverse square law:

myElectrical Equation

At point B the surface is tilted away from the normal by angle q giving:

myElectrical Equation and letting: myElectrical Equation 

we have the cos3 law:  myElectrical Equation

Small Light Source

4064_FluxIntensityThe solid angle ω , is given by: 

myElectrical Equation

The luminous intensity I, is:

 myElectrical Equation

The Illuminance of the source is:

myElectrical Equation

The area S, is the projected are as seen from the direction specified.

Large Light Source

Example: A disk source

6138_Disk_SourceThe incremental strip of radius r, width Δr, obeys the inverse square law and all parts are equidistant from P. The strip has an

myElectrical Equation

If the surface has an Illuminance L (cd m2), the

intensity at P due to the strip is:

 myElectrical Equation

and the Illuminance is:

 myElectrical Equation


myElectrical Equation

myElectrical Equation 


myElectrical Equation  and as myElectrical Equation

myElectrical Equation due to the

incremental strip.

The total Illuminance ET, is:

myElectrical Equation

For a source of significant size, to find the Illuminance a small element is considered which obeys the inverse square law and the expression then integrated over the whole surface.

Diagrams & Representation

Luminous intensity I, relates to a specific direction and is specified in three dimensions. For certain Luminaires (e.g. fluorescent), the luminous intensity is different across each lamp axis. The figure illustrates this and shows typical transverse polar and Cartesian representations of intensity.



Mixing of Colour  


myElectrical Equation 

For additive mixing where (R), (G), (B) represent reference stimuli, r, g, b the amounts, a colour C, is expressed as:

myElectrical Equation


myElectrical Equation

Specifications of Colour

BS 5252:1976 Framework

00 - neutral
02 - red-purple
04 - red
06- -warm orange
08 - cool orange
10 - yellow
12 - green yellow
14 - green
16 - blue-green
18 - blue
20 - purple-blue
22 - violet
24 - purple
A - grey
B - near grey
C - distinct hue
D - nearly clear
E - clear, vivid colour

hue -describes the actual colour

greyness - represents the clarity

weight -refers to lightness

Example: Colour 12B29 
- dark yellow green

CEI Colour Rendering Index

CR CEI (Ra)         Characteristics Typical Application
1A Ra ≥ 90 excellent colour quality accurate colour matching required
1B 80 ≤ Ra < 90 very good colour quality accurate colour judgements and/or colour rendering
2 60 ≤ Ra < 80 good colour quality moderate colour rendering
3 40 ≤ Ra < 60 emphasises yellow and to a lesser extent green, subdues red and to a lesser extent blue colour rendering not important, marked distortion unacceptable
4 20 ≤ Ra < 40 poor colour quality colour rendering/matching unimportant

CR - colour rendering group, CEI - maximum index is 100

NCS Natural Colour System

0841_ElementOne attempt at a colour system which mimics human colour vision is the NCS Natural Colour System.  The NCS colour system is able to categorise all surface colours, which each one be identified by a unambiguous notations.

The system uses six basic colours, white (W), black (S), yellow (Y), red (R), blue (B), and green (G).  These elementary colours for the building blocks of what humans can see.  NCS descriptions then specify how closely the desired colour resembles the elementary colours.

example: 2030-Y90R
-  2030 is the nuance ( 20% blackness , 30% chromatic-ness)
-  Y90R  is the resemblance to two elementary colours (yellow with 90% redness)

Munsell Colour System

The Munsell colour-order system is a way of specifying colours using three  attributes: hue, value and chroma. Each attribute is given a symbol, H,V, and C and the colour written in as H V/C.

hue - attribute of a colour by which we distinguish red from green, blue from yellow

value - indicates the lightness of a colour

chroma - degree of departure of a colour from the neutral colour of the same value

example: 5R 6/14
- vivid red having a hue of 5R, - value of 6 and  chroma of 14

Steven McFadyen's avatar Steven McFadyen

Steven has over twenty five years experience working on some of the largest construction projects. He has a deep technical understanding of electrical engineering and is keen to share this knowledge. About the author

myElectrical Engineering

comments powered by Disqus

Have some knowledge to share

If you have some expert knowledge or experience, why not consider sharing this with our community.  

By writing an electrical note, you will be educating our users and at the same time promoting your expertise within the engineering community.

To get started and understand our policy, you can read our How to Write an Electrical Note