By Michael Woznicki | Project Engineer | Lumecon

Getting the most out of powerful photometric software and creating accurate and appealing lighting layout

For almost all LED lighting professionals, photometric software is an essential design and simulation tool for creating lighting layouts and sharing those plans with clients and professional partners. Whether it involves replacing existing fixtures or designing a lighting layout for a new project, photometric software can and should be a central part of the process. The right software can measure average light levels, help ensure uniformity and consistency (a smooth, even wash of light without excessive bright and dark spots), create layouts that minimize glare and reduce the amount of light trespass that spills over into adjacent spaces or properties.

Lighting a space correctly means accounting for a range of considerations, including safety, aesthetics, functionality, cost-efficiency (the best possible product for the lowest possible cost) and compliance with relevant codes and recommended best practices.

Powerful functionality
Lighting software enables users to calculate the amount of light that will be delivered in virtually any environment, based on preset parameters. It accounts for the impact of objects and obstructions, and renders precise displays that factor in the way the light moves based on the unique contours of the room or the environment. It can perform calculations to determine energy usage and glare metrics, and it includes utilities for estimating fixture spacingand even ensuring code compliance.

Software like this is not just valuable as a design tool, but as an effective sales tool, as well. Certain lighting programs can create realistic, fully rendered imagery that clearly depicts how the space will appear given the current lighting setup. This animation style presents realistic imagery with full depth and shading, translating technical specifications into intuitive and immediately understandable visuals.

Costly oversights and untapped potential
As powerful as high-end photometric software is, however, the software does not do the work for you. Experience, insight, and a higher level understanding of photometryboth its potential and its limitationsare prerequisites for getting the most out of this software.

What follows are three of the most common omissions, oversights and overlooked details that can translate to missed opportunitiesas well as some tips, techniques, considerations and strategies that that can help LED professionals get the most out of their photometric software and ensure that their lighting layouts are both accurate and appealing:

Going Vertical
One of the most overlooked elements of lighting layouts is considering the amount and impact of vertical foot candles: the amount of light moving sideways and illuminating vertical surfaces. This issue is particularly common in outdoor environments like parking lots, where a great deal of attention is devoted to ensuring that the lighting schematic includes sufficient horizontal foot candles, the amount of light that is cast downward and lands on the horizontal plain of the ground or surface of the parking lot. If there is insufficient vertical illumination, people moving through the space are less visible, which is not only an inconvenience, but can be a real hazard in an environment like a parking lot. Lighting professionals should make it a priority to establish calculation grids and set up a constellation of points to measure vertical foot candle readings and ensure that their lighting layouts avoid this common shortfall.

Material differences
Do not neglect the importance of texture in your lighting layouts. From the variances between organic materials like grass and manmade materials like concrete, to the different reflectance values between white concrete and black asphalt, texture plays a nuanced but critical role in shaping how light moves through and illuminates a space. The way different materials reflect and scatter light in different and sometimes unpredictable ways is something that even the most sophisticated photometric software may not be able to fully account for, and its one of the places where the expertise of the lighting professional plays such an important role. Even the specific makeup of some materials can impact the texture and reflectance value of a surface. Concrete with larger amounts of stone and gravel will reflect light very differently than a more uniform concrete surface, for example.

All barkno light
Far too many lighting professionals fail to fully account for the influence of vegetationspecifically tree canopiesin their lighting design and layouts. For example, a center island in a parking lot might look great with some new landscaping. But in a few years, those five-foot-tall sugar maples will look very different, with dramatically increased height and canopy coverage that could obstruct or obscure existing light fixtures and reduce the amount of light that is cast into the lot. Growth and potential future obstruction from trees can create a serious impediment. Lighting professionals should be sure to do their homework, even going so far as to consider what type of landscaping and trees are going in there. Understand not only how fast they grow, but how wide their canopy might getand what the implications of that could be for the lighting dynamics in your space. A slender or slow-growing tree, for example, might not present much of an issue. But a fast-growing tree with a thick canopy can become extremely problematic in a relatively short amount of time.

The larger point here is that lighting design is not a static or exclusively formula-driven exercise. Its as much art as it is science, and failing to consider how things might change and evolve over time will result in subpar designseven when working with the most powerful photometric software available. Lighting professionals cannot lose sight of the fact that lighting is for people. Designed environments exist in a dynamic context, part of the world around them and profoundly influenced by the way they are used and the people and objects that move through them. Professionals who can integrate that dynamism into their work can use great software to create lighting layouts that are consistently both comprehensive and compelling.

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