Thursday, January 22, 2009

Displaying a flag is patriotic; bad aim is not

How not to light a flag is shown in these pictures.

I took this photo while standing approximately at a right angle to the direction of the light fixture. The image is distorted because I'm using about an 18mm focal length lens. This wide field shows how over-sized the beam is for the flag being lit. The area has adequate downward lighting from fully shielded low pressure sodium lights, making this institution very Palomar Observatory friendly, until the installation of this light.

I took the second picture while standing in front of the flag pole. The flag, presumably, the
target of the floodlight, is behind and above me. The shadow of me and my camera and tripod are visible in the front center, giving an idea of how wide the beam is. I did not use a flash for this exposure.

In the fight against light pollution, flags are not a big problem. The amount of upward light illuminating our nation's symbol is small compared to unaimed light from other sources. But with any lighting task, it is the failure to light only the target that is the problem. Here, a sliver of the light blasting the sky serves the intended purpose. The rest is bad aim, light pollution, glare, wasted energy, and an obstacle for Palomar Observatory.

The right to light a flag at night should be protected within any lighting ordinance, but there should be a reasonable attempt to light just the flag. Also, as with any uplighting application, there are two components to emphasizing the uplit object. The goal is to achieve contrast, not necessarily illumination. By darkening the background, creating a palette for contrast, you can use less light on the target. Any sense of contrast, which makes upward illumination effective, is lost in the above example.

Another consideration is that any time we automate our lighting, it can promote complacency. Automatic security lighting can make homeowners complacent, thinking the light has them protected. In the case of flags, we replace what could a flag raising or lowering ceremony with the autopilot of a timer (This comment applies only to able-bodied persons and businesses).

Above: Two examples of patriotism on autopilot, though in fairness, the owners of the flag on the right replaced it not long after I stopped and took the photo.)

I suggest that any business conducting a flag ceremony between 7-8 am and 4-5 pm, will get more attention than if they brightly lit a flag all night.

1 comment:

Scott Kardel said...

Excellent post. I am sorry that I missed it earlier.