What is Ambient Lighting?

by Christine

Ambient lighting is one of the three main lighting types and it’s vital to remember that every room requires a mix of these in order to create an effective lighting landscape.

At LampTwist, we know that choosing beautiful and compatible lighting for your home is not as simple as it may initially appear!

There are three main types of lighting

  • Ambient lighting
  • Task lighting
  • Accent lighting

Some rooms require all three types to layer the lighting out perfectly, while others only need one or two types of lighting. Sometimes the decision can be flexible depending on your own needs or tastes.

Today, we are going to be focusing mainly on ambient lighting.


We look at the other two as well to give you a better idea of how each type works with one another and how they best are used together.

Before you go about setting up or rearranging the lights in your home, take some time to learn how each lighting type works.

Ambient Lighting

Ambient lighting is also commonly known as general lighting.

Ambient, or general lighting, dominates the lighting landscape of each room. The key lights you use to light up the room can usually be included within this lighting category.

Ambient light also sets the tone for the room. The level of ambient lighting will dictate whether a room is bright, homey, darker or more relaxed.

Ambient lights most commonly hang from the ceiling. Lights such as chandeliers, track lights, pot lights, among others, help create a room’s ambient lighting.

Table and floor lamps can also contribute to a room’s ambient lighting. This is especially true if using one will light up much of the room. However, there are also times when these lights are considered task lights.

When you walk into a room, consider what is the first light switch you look for?

Chances are that this light switch is connected to the main ambient light. Ambient lights are almost always activated before the task and accent lights as the primary means for lighting a room,

On the other hand, there are times when you are confined to a small room with little space and do not require the entire room to be well lit. It is at these times, as well as others, where task and accent lights are most commonly used.


Task Lighting

Task lighting is for more specific purposes than ambient lighting. Instead of lighting the whole room, it has a specific task to accomplish.

For example, if you require light for your desk and don’t want to use the main lights, you likely have a desk lamp at the ready. As the desk lamp is designed to light up the desk and nothing else, it is considered a task light.

The main purpose of task lighting is to reduce the strain on your eyes for things such as reading, writing or studying. Because of this, task lighting should be quite bright but not too glary for the eyes - the lighting needs to find a balance.

The strength of the task light depends on what you are doing. If you’re planning to read or write in a book, the light will need to be bright so that you can easily make out the words on each page.

Similarly, if you are working in the kitchen, you will need powerful lighting to make sure you can see everything you are doing.

Your age and eyesight are also a factor with task lighting. An older person requires a better, more focused light for general reading than someone who is younger with better eyesight.

However, they also need a light that doesn’t produce much if any glare as older people can be affected by this as well.

Task lights use halogen or LED bulbs. These bulbs are best because they produce a bright, focused light. These days, most people go with LED bulbs because they produce more lumens with less wattage, meaning they are more energy-efficient than halogen bulbs.

Lastly, task lights often make use of a dimmer. The dimmer allows you to adjust the brightness of your task light based on the needs of the person using it. Some people prefer slightly more light than others and with a dimmer, everyone is happy!

Accent Lighting

Lastly, we have accent lighting.

Accent lighting is more for show and to add a finishing touch than for a particular practical task or general lighting. One example of this could be a spotlight inside a glass showcase.

Accent light also works well for dimly lit cellar spaces. The purpose of the accent light is to illuminate the inside of the cabinet and remove any residual shadows that are created by the ambient lighting.

Accent lighting adds drama and style to the room. It takes care of any potential shadows and lights up areas such as the tops of shelves or corners that aren’t fully illuminated by the room’s ambient lighting.

The most common forms of accent lighting are track lights and spotlights. Track lights are often similar to spotlights: the major difference is they can be moved along a pole to target a different spot.

Another use of accent lighting could be to bring attention to a picture frame. Anything that adds some pizazz and is mainly for decorative purposes counts as accent lighting.

Accent lights typically use LED bulbs as well. The reason for this is that the LED bulbs give off very little UV rays and heat. Using a hot bulb over a piece of artwork, for example, could be dangerous - LEDs remove this threat.

Ambient Lighting, Remarks

Now you know the differences between ambient, task and accent lights - as you can see, lighting up your home isn’t as simple as you might have thought!

Consider the different purposes for each type of light when designing the lighting set up for your house.

When you fully understand how best to use each lighting type, it should be easy to work out what you need and where - good luck!