Direct vs Indirect Lighting – When to Use Each and Why


The strategic use of direct and indirect lighting makes a difference in the overall appearance of a room, or even the outdoors. When it comes to direct illumination versus indirect illumination, you need to decide when to use each type and how they’re best used. Once these have been identified, you will be able to use your lighting to the room’s advantage and create the right atmosphere.

Direct vs Indirect Lighting: What Are the Differences?

To understand the differences between these two types of lighting styles in your lighting design, you need to be aware of what the differences are between the two and how to use each type to the room’s benefit. There may be objects in the room that you want to highlight, like a particular vase or piece of art in your collection. 

There may be characteristics that you want to downplay or change, visually. You may want a basement room with limited light to appear larger. This may involve increasing the amount of illumination it receives to make it appear larger than it really is. 

All of this involves the strategic placement of lights and knowing when to use each attribute.

Indirect Lighting

Stylish lamp lighting in modern living room

Indirect lighting involves lamps or fixtures hanging from a ceiling, but the illumination is thrown upwards instead of down. Approximately 90% of light emitted from these fixtures shines upward then is reflected downward to the space.

The advantages of indirect lighting are as follows:

  • Helps to accentuate various objects and areas in your home, providing more control
  • Great for decorative purposes
  • Will light surrounding areas
  • Provides bright illumination 
  • Provides a stark contrast

Direct Lighting

Modern kitchen and dining room with direct lighting from ceiling

Direct lighting involves fixtures attached to the ceiling with light directed downward. Some light may be directed at the walls, but most illuminates the space without reflection. Its significance can’t be overlooked in a room. The advantages of using this style of lighting are:

  • Provides illumination to areas that require adequate light to function, like a reading nook or work area
  • Maximizes the brightness in a room by using fewer fixtures
  • Provides for sharp shadow with a clear view

Both types of lighting styles are used in a home with an intended purpose. Understanding their differences is important in making the best choice when it comes to accentuating your space.

When Should You Use Indirect Lighting?

Indirect lighting is used to create ambiance in an area and to affect the atmosphere. It is also used to add light for a wider area. Indirect lighting provides an even distribution for illumination and provides an indirect lighting source. It provides for an even, harmonic light without developing a sharp contrast between shadow and light.

If you want to balance bright and harsh light in a room, you will need to incorporate indirect lighting.

Indirect lighting is used in spaces where a soft, relaxing mood is to be created. It is best used for bathrooms or bedrooms for that warm, soft, and inviting effect. It balances out the stark lines of direct lighting solutions by providing more lumen to the space. It assists in making the space appear to be lighter, warmer, and more welcoming.

For certain areas, indirect light is instrumental in maintaining concentration and focus throughout the day.

You can create indirect lighting using several methods. You can use LED strips placed with pre-designed wall moldings. For a bathroom or kitchen, they can be used on a cabinet top. For other rooms, it provides a reflected light as it will bounce off walls.

This light source improves visual communication, orientation, and comfort levels in a room.

When Should You Use Direct Lighting?

If you want to generate a focused lighting on a certain spot, then direct lighting is the most logical choice. It can also be used to illuminate a certain spot in a work area. It can be done using a direct light fixture, which will avoid eye strain and so you can see what you are doing. Direct light needs to provide the optimal level of illumination to be effective.

The purpose of using direct lighting is in creating a strong flow of brightness to a space when you are doing productive or detailed tasks that require a great deal of attention. Direct light ensures you remain efficient and ensures good performance.

Direct lighting is important in areas like kitchens, dining rooms, studies, office spaces, or sometimes the bathroom. You will require direct lighting above your kitchen workspace since you are doing detailed work. Under cabinet lighting is perfect in illuminating cooking or prep areas. Tiltable, waterproof spotlights are useful in the bathroom when you are brushing your teeth or applying makeup.

Rail track lights are useful in drawing attention to objects in the room. They also contain high color rendering capabilities. A direct light serves a dual purpose as it is functional and can be decorative.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to direct light and indirect light, the styles are very different in terms of number of fixtures and performance. When used properly, they provide a stylish look to the space and generate a certain atmosphere. For lighting in specific areas, you want to use direct lighting for accentuation. To generate a warm, inviting atmosphere, indirect lighting is sure to set the mood. 

While it may be tempting to use only directional light fixtures to generate a warm flow of light, it ends up providing a sharp contract between shadows and light in a room. Using only indirect light, on the other hand, will illuminate the ceiling and walls effectively. However, you will lose direct lighting needed to complete certain tasks.

To make a room functional, a combination of lighting needs to be incorporated. It should be comfortable, and at the same time, ergonomic. A combination of the two make a room come alive, is comfortable, and interesting.