Blog: Aquarium Lighting Schemes

The aesthetics of aquarium lighting is one of the key areas overlooked by many when creating an aquarium that stands out and creates an impact within the space. Lighting is an integral part of any aquarium design creating mood and ambiance as well as reflecting colour and movement.

An aquarium lighting scheme is the collection of different light sources organised and controlled to create mood, drama and energy through brightness, positioning, and colour. It is an important aspect of your aquarium design to consider as your aquarium will eventually become a lighting solution within the interior space that it occupies.

As well as the aesthetics aspect, lighting is a key and vital component of your system if you intend to keep live plants and coral. The discussion about lighting for plants and coral is a lengthy and detailed subject that I won’t go into in too much detail in this article. There’s loads of info on the of lighting for corals and plants and what types are best etc ( would be good place to start.). In short plants and corals both require significant levels of lighting with specific qualities and wavelengths for the production of vital nutrients created in their cells and tissues. Most aquarium lights especially the latest generation of LED light systems are designed to meet these needs. However always seek advice from an expert or professional before parting with your cash when considering lighting schemes designed for more than decorative purposes.

Caption: Stony coral of the genus Acropora requires high light intensities that substitutes sunlight from tropical climates. 

So focusing primarily on aesthetics, the light for your aquarium does not have to be a simple white fluorescent bulb. The standard static white light above the aquarium did have its merits 20 years ago, but with the sophistication of current lighting technologies has led to a decline its popularity. However that been said, the use of fluorescent tubes in aquaria is still common practice within the hobby with the immediate benefit of it being a low cost technology.

Within the last 5 years the use of LED lighting inn aquaria has increased significantly so much so that in some regions around the world LED lights are now becoming the standard and preferred technology for aquarium illumination. We use LED lights on all our projects as we have found LED’s produce a much better quality of light compared to traditional fluorescent tubing. Fluorescent tubes have the disadvantages of change over time, diffuse intensity and limited controllablility. The intensity and focal spread from LED’s creates a superior lighting effect creating shimmers on the aquarium floor as the light cuts through the water ripples at the surface. Light shimmer adds a sense of depth to a design and is a great way of recreating the natural beauty of real sunlight in water. LED lights offer a lot more variation with controllability as they can be dimmed and switched off individually, with some units now covering the full RGB spectrum.

Caption: State of the art LED unit by Echotech Marine

Within interior design lighting is used as a tool to illuminate features and create points of interest.  Aquarium lighting should be used to create focal points on key areas within the aquascape as well as illuminating the whole display, adding drama and depth to the design. Layered lighting schemes are techniques used by many lighting designers, which uses a range of lighting options within a space to create a variety of moods and ambience’s for different times of day and social situations. The principles of lighting design can also be applied within the aquarium as an alternative to the single static light source often employed by many aquarists.

Caption: An example of an interior with different lighting solutions highlight different design features within the space. 

The four key things that we need to consider when creating an aquarium lighting scheme are:

Aquarium lighting schemes can be made up by a multiple of light sources occupying different positions within and around the aquarium. This could range from submersible spot lights, illuminated aquarium backgrounds and flooring, as well as strip lights and spot lights built into the surrounding cabinetry. These additional options offer great alternatives and additions to the satellite lighting that normally hangs above the aquarium.

Using timers and remote controlled sockets are a great way to create different lighting effects at different times of the day, or to create the right atmosphere at the right time.You can even take this a step further and integrate the control of your aquarium with your home audio visual system.

The colour of your lighting more often than not predetermines the colour of the aquarium and more importantly the mood and ambience created by the aquarium. Colour can have a significant impact on your thoughts and emotions. The colour of your lighting also impacts on how we see our fish especially when using lighting coloured in the far blue or far red ends of the spectrum.

Intensity refers to the level of irradiation or brightness created from a single light source. Intensity is an important feature when considering: Timing – when the aquarium is brightly lit, Positioning – where the aquarium is brightly lit, and Colour – What hue or combination of hues will dominate the display. With the right type of lighting you vary its intensity by decreasing or increasing the focal spread of a lighting source creating different effects within the aquarium.

It’s important to consider the affects that different lighting solutions can have on how your aquarium looks and balances within the space. Like every other aspect of aquarium design give it some thought, be creative and personalise your lighting scheme to match your lifestyle as well as the needs of the aquarium inhabitants.