Post 643 –by Gautam Shah  (Lecture series: Space Perception’ -Article-1 of 15)


The Illumination in a space is fairly consistent due the fairly steady source and predictability of the change. As one moves around a spatial field, things are perceived from different positions and in different contextual conditions. Other important factor that leads to changed perception is the increasing maturity of cognition. With the duration and proximity we learn lot more about the spatial field.

There are many ways the eyes move. “Our eyes converge as well as diverge” according to the intensity of light and size of the field to be scanned. The fovea region in the retina of the eyes helps in perception movement. In even seemingly non-moving eyes, small jiggling movements, called micro-saccades to occur. The broadest movements occur with gestural movement of eyes and heads and shifting during postures.

A spatial field has many depths.

Some fields, closer to the position of perception are illuminated with sources under our own control. Here the illumination conditions can be changed at will, or the position of perception shifted around. In both of these cases, the cause-effect has some certainty.

Bistro Dining Tables Restaurant Local Inn Table

Night time illumination -controlled phenomena > MaxPixel image (

Fields that are faraway from the position of perception are illuminated with sources under no-one’s control. Here the illumination conditions cannot be altered at will. Shifting the position of perception perhaps changes the contextual conditions, but the illumination component of the scene remains nearly static.


Casa del Larario di Achille > Wikipedia image by Mentnafunangann

 ● In very vast natural scapes the contrasts (changes) due to illumination are not highly noticed except in variable cloud cover, or during sunlight refraction at morning-evening periods.A brilliant sunrise, sunset or cloud formation in illuminated distant sky, show very little effect on the perception foreground of landscape’.


Pester Plateau Serbia > Wikipedia image by Zcvetkovic

● The effects of illumination are more pronounced and under control in restrictive space fields such as the built-forms, interior spaces and neighbourhood extents. Here the changes in contextual conditions accompany the changes in the foreground or components of the scene, so both seem controlled and restrained.


Restrictive Space Fields > Pixabay Image > (


A spatial field is illuminated by natural light as Direct sun light, Sky Component (SC), Reflected Component (RC) of natural light, artificial illumination, and in many urban areas from surroundings’ lights like a street and vehicles. In addition to these sources, we use fluorescence to aid perception.

Fluorescence and phosphorescence are form of luminescence, or the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation.


Emulated illumination sources > Pexels image by Alexander Dummer (

The illuminants’ contexts are: strength and direction of source, background and foreground brightness, reflectance from surroundings, colour of light, multiplicity of sources. Other conditions include variability of space, objects and presence of dynamic (moving-vibrating) elements.

Built Space forms are occupied by objects, people and environmental effects but these rarely occur distinctly alone, in any rational form or within a nominal framing reference. The illuminants complicate the scene even if these elements manifest in for a fraction of a moment or remain unvaried for a very long period.

Single source illuminants are very definitive but complications arise due to the reflectance from many surfaces, directions, strength (brightness) and colour. Such complications are compounded with increasing number of original illuminants. Single illuminant defines a space and its objects in familiar sense, but fail as soon as the position of perception changes. Single illuminant is an irritant if any part of space has flickering movement (eg. Fan, moving curtains). Single illuminants are ideal for ‘object modelling’ as the shapes emerge without any compromises.


Monotone surface colour and texture allows certain ambiguities of perception (

Perception ambiguities and compromises occur when an object or a group of overlapping objects, are lit by nearly same tonal colour value as the background. Indistinct figure-ground contrast, dissolve the edges. We tend to relate larger elements as the ground, over which smaller entities exist.

The objects are seen composition of surfaces that reflect incident light. Besides the variations caused by the angular exposition of surfaces, the surface quality or textures are detected by naked eye (at 0.07 mm). Smaller scale variations affect the gloss of the surface and mirroring effect of the surface. Very large surfaces have possibly no edges or breaks, and so are perceived through local variations of illumination.


Ambiguities of Perception due to illumination and form > (


Spatial forms are recognized with illumination references such as the proportionate extent of foreground-background, framing, strength of silhouettes, partial occlusion of elements, shading with the differing contrast and direction of the shadows, and diffusion by way of reflection, and refractions.

Illuminated forms become difficult to recognize when an object curves around out of sight. Such occluding contours dissolve the edge of an object, and present poor silhouette formation. The absence of a well-defined contour renders the surface shapes (such as convex/concave) ambiguous.

The process of perception is a two-way affair. Position of a person and relative source of illumination are very important consideration for Space Planning. A person trying to project own-self must be aware of the perceiver’s distance, angles of connection, social dependency and postural condition. A strong back illumination, makes it difficult to perceive a chair-person’s features and gestures.

Position of a person relative to the source of illumination also holds true in conference rooms, executive cabins, reception areas, lecture rooms, press conference rooms, etc. Natural or artificial illumination -as singular source and that too from the backside must be avoided, and if inevitable, reinforce it with lighting from other directions. One of the simplest ways is to envision how the situation manifests from every single position.

The daytime happenings, change considerably at supper time, as the ‘backbite window’ illumination is replaced with artificial lighting. Nominally the situation should stand corrected (if not reversed), but attitudes formed during daytime persist at other times. Shops in business districts are low illuminated because the staff is occupying the space for longer time and so is accustomed to low level (or even to save power), but customer entering from bright outside finds the darkness discouraging.

Side illumination eliminates many of the anomalies of perception and recognition but not all. To create good diffusion, the source for side illumination needs some depth from the occupying position. In small rooms this is rather difficult and requires careful design.


Sound and Light shows use bottom up light for scene building, making them scary and giving unreal feel > Gwalior Fort India, > Wikipedia image by Ashish Thapar

We are more used to illumination from top. But very strong such sources create under the chin shadows. This can be corrected by illumination from other directions, or from floor and table top reflections. Light colour floors and table tops, needs to be excluded from TV camera shooting angles. This is done by positioning the participants on a raised platform, and cameras at a slightly lower level then the table tops.


This is Article-1 (of 15) in Lecture series: ‘Space Perception’




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