Managing Shadows - Indoor Vs. Outdoor Lighting 

There are big differences between indoor and outdoor lighting. However, the principles followed and techniques used are the same, based on our lighting objective.

One may think that “lighting is lighting,” and any light is better than no light at all. To some extent, that’s true. Take emergency situations, for instance   if you need light, any light is good light.

In exterior lighting, shadows can be a good thing when accenting plants onto a wall or side of a building. This effect adds texture and depth to a design. In an interior application, these types of shadows would not be desirable. Think about a kitchen counter: If our overhead light source is behind us when we stand against the counter, our bodies cast a shadow on to our work surface. But, if the light source is in front of us, we would eliminate any shadows. Kitchen tasks will be much easier.

Another example of good exterior shadows would be downlighting a tree. The goal of downlighting is to emulate what the sun does during the day. Recreating this look at  night can add stunning beauty to an area. The lights mounted up in the tree will cast light through the lower branches, creating small shadows on the ground. These are good shadows   when the wind blows, these shadows dance on the ground.

If we had downlighting at a bathroom vanity, the sink would be well lit, but the light source above our head would cast shadows on our face. When applying makeup, shadows are not good. What’s preferred is a light source slightly above our face casting light away from the mirror. This arrangement ensures our faces are evenly lit; when looking at the mirror, we would find there aren't any shadows.

As you can see, there are vast differences between indoor and outdoor lighting. The methods are similar, but the effects can be quite significant to a lighting design and the overall lighting objective.