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How Zones of Vision Can Better Inform Our Lighting Designs

It took me awhile to realize that zones of vision could directly guide us when we design lighting for human wellbeing.

Our peripheral field of view, dominated by rod cells, is our more light-sensitive zone; therefore, it is also highly susceptible to glare.

Our near field, by far the largest area of vision in our consciousness, also hates glare. But this zone can be very comfortable when it is filled with soft light.

Our macular/foveal vision, the part of our vision you are using to read these words, needs good strong light to increase our perception of the tiny differences between the letters i, t and f.

And down below, where we walk, our peripheral vision needs subtle, glare-free light for safety.

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Once I began exploring zones of vision, a whole new level of lighting language clicked into place.

Interior Lighting Often Sits in the ‘Glare Zone’

Let’s start with the glare zone. Think of a sunny summer day; many of us prefer the shade of a tree or a hat to being pelted by direct sunshine. Our bodies were made to protect us from this kind of glare; our eyes are sunken back into our heads perhaps in part to give us built-in sunshades. 

In other words, we don’t like it. Yet this is where most lighting in our homes and workplaces lives: directly overhead in our glare zone.

There is a sweet spot of vision directly in front of us, though. This near field is where we watch sunsets, where we put our windows, where we see the faces of our loved ones, where we admire art, even where we watch movies.

Outside, this comfort zone is filled with soft light reflected off trees or mountains or refracted through the atmosphere to appear as a bright blue sky. Our bodies are built to take this light in and use it for more than just vision: it also impacts our mood and circadian clock.

In other words, we love it. Yet this is where our homes and workplaces are often the darkest.

When we’re outside on a sunny day, we do not carry flashlights. It would be foolish to take a desk lamp outside. Indoors, walls and ceilings block out much of the beneficial daylight and we supplement it with electric light. Our work zone, where our near field of vision intersects our hands, can benefit from strong directed light while our eyes want to be protected from glare. 

In other words, we need light directed here. Too often, our homes are filled with fixtures that direct light into our eyes or nowhere at all.

Our Peripheral Vision is Often Neglected in Lighting Design

The final zone this new approach to light should focus on is also in our peripheral vision yet down below our eyes. During the day, this zone is filled with light, and we don’t need anything dedicated to it.

At night, however, we can protect our sleep and our eyes when we selectively place lights that softly illuminate the path. To protect from glare, pointing lights away from our eyes makes sense. 

In other words, we need light for our feet that is not above our heads. Yet most homes have no light down low and even path lights may put as much light into our eyes as where we need it.

Zones of Vision Tell Us Where, and How, to Deliver Lighting Naturally

Our glare zones are filled with bright overhead lights and recessed downlights pointing in exactly the wrong place. Our comfort zones are dark, our walls and ceilings lacking after sunset.

Our work zone may have light, but it usually comes from the glare zone and threatens our sleep and wellness. And down below our knees, where shielded light in select locations would help us navigate with ease, we experience darkness or light coupled with overhead glare.

The light we love outside — that our eyes are built to consume — is the same light we need inside. 

David Warfel is Chief Evangelist of Light at design firm Light Can Help You (lightcanhelpyou.com).

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