Direct and indirect light: the what, when and how, plus how to get the most out of each

By: Secom
21 de November, 2022
Reading time: 5 min

Indirect light, direct light or something in between are all options when designing particular light effects. When used independently, the results of each are very different, and when used in combination the stakes are really raised! 

In this article we will talk about...

  • Technical aspects of direct and indirect light, and variations
  • How and where to use each type of light
  • The benefits of each type of lighting
  • Recommended luminaires from SECOM

Direct and indirect light are different because of how the luminous flux is directed. The choice of one or the other is not determined by required light level, and there is no relationship with the type of luminaire or the colour temperature.

Technical aspects of direct and indirect light, and variations

Direct light describes when the luminous flux is aimed directly at an object or space. We could draw a straight line between the light source and the lit area. Examples include luminaires used in reading lamps or spotlights. Direct light is also typical in kitchens and bathrooms. This type of lighting has the following features:

  • Very bright
  • Provides high light output
  • 80% of the light hits the lit surface
  • Creates hard shadows
  • Greater chance of glare
  • Functional.

It is also referred to as spot lighting.

Luz directa
By contrast, indirect light creates softer atmospheres with less powerful lighting. Think cosy settings and decorative effects. There is less glare than in the case of direct light, and the shadows are less intense. The reason? The luminous flux is directed towards an object or zone which is not the target of the light. From there, it gets bounced throughout the rest of the room or space. Indirect light, as with direct light, is an option both indoors and out.

  • It is not as bright as direct light
  • The lighting output is average
  • Only around 50% of the light reaches the target area
  • It creates soft shadows
  • There is a low or non-existent change of glare
  • It is primarily decorative

In addition to these two types of lighting, there is also:

  • Semi-direct light. A diffuser or translucent glass mitigates glare.
  • Semi-indirect light. Provides light directly using a diffuser while indirectly lighting the roof or walls.
  • Diffuse or mixed light. Half of the light is directed diffusely at the target. The other half is also diffuse and is directed at the roof or walls.

These effects can be achieved with artificial devices such as LED luminaires or with natural light. That is, architectural techniques and interior design can exploit sunlight, moulding it to reflect directly or indirectly throughout a space to achieve a variety of aesthetic or functional effects.

Luz indirecta

How and where to use each type of light

The two types of lighting can generally be used in combination. However, in some zones or spaces one type may be more typical than the other. It all depends on the overall purpose of the lighting in each case.

Direct light

Used mainly in:

  • Kitchens
  • Bathrooms
  • Living rooms

These spaces need to be bright. Light is a functional resource that allows us to see objects as they truly are, and direct light is the go-to choice in bathrooms and kitchens because they need a lot of light. Generally, a closed beam is directed at specific surfaces.

In living rooms, however, it is usually used in combination depending on the desired atmosphere. Direct light is mainly used because many people are used to reading or doing activities that require a powerful light.

How to use this type of lighting. Solutions include:

  • Wall lamps
  • Spotlights or spotlight rails
  • Ceiling lights

Indirect light

Primarily used in:

  • Bedrooms
  • Reception areas
  • Halls
  • Living rooms

The use of diffuse light in these areas creates a welcoming atmosphere. There is no need for powerful light for reading or precision activities. Living rooms usually have mixed lighting based around the overall goal: some areas may have direct spotlights while others have indirect atmospheric lighting.

How to use this type of lighting. Solutions include:

  • LED strips
  • Wall lamps with diffusers
  • Wall-directed spotlights

The benefits of each type of lighting

Each option has certain advantages and sometimes it is useful to combine them. Here are some of the main benefits:

Direct light

  • Increases workplace performance
  • Improves visibility
  • Prevents visual fatigue
  • Reduces stress when performing activities requiring precision and concentration

Uso de luz indirecta

Indirect light

  • Generates a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere
  • Suitable for areas that support rest and visual comfort
  • Prevents glare and hard shadows
  • An efficient decorative feature indoors and out. For example, in gardens, pools and on building facades.

Advances in LED technology mean there are countless ways to use these two types of lighting and their variations.

Recommended luminaires from SECOM

SECOM stocks a range of options in terms of indirect LED light and direct light.


  • Surface and suspended: wall lamps, suspended luminaires, LED strips
  • Downlights
  • Recessed lights
  • Linear luminaires
  • LED screens


  • Recessed lights
  • Surface lights
  • LED floodlights
  • Flexible LED strips
  • LED beacons

To really get the most out of indirect light and direct light, it is important to analyse the desired lighting effect. A good lighting plan relies on knowing the objective of the light in the area. This makes it possible to create functional or cosy spaces, whichever the case may be. Lighting quality is always a priority, and at SECOM we have a range of options that bring together cutting-edge technology and great performance.

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