How can I simulate natural light patterns?
April 28, 2008 3:50 AM   Subscribe

How can I create lighting in my room that simulates the patterns made when the sunlight shines through a tree?

I live in an attic apartment with long sloping walls. When the sun shines through a tree in front of my house at certain times of the day it projects a lovely pattern of leaves and tree branches along my ceiling. I'd love to simulate this pattern with a lamp. I am not an electrician -- anything that I create would have to be a combination of DIY and ready-made.
posted by bchaplin to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Curtains or a lampshade with semi-opaque foliage patterns?
posted by Rykey at 3:59 AM on April 28, 2008

If you want an exact replica of what you see, it's gonna be tricky. It's a distant light source with an intricate and delicate object creating a shadow. To replicate it you'd have to have a lot of space- a stenciled tree in front of a lamp wont work.

If you just want to have cool shadows on the wall, and it doesn't have to be a tree, then the options open up a bit. I've got a nice lampshade I bought in Nepal that is rice paper with little black silhouettes of animals. When the light's on, the walls are covered in shadows of those animals. A larger scale thing in front of a lamp could be fun, but it would require a bit of work on your part.
posted by twirlypen at 4:05 AM on April 28, 2008

What if you got some fake foliage and put lighting behind it? Michael's has a huge selection of fake plants, vines, etc.
posted by ian1977 at 4:30 AM on April 28, 2008

You need a deep-green gel and an x-acto knife. In theater, when they want to make a lighting effect happen, they slide sheets of colored materia ("gels") in front of the lights. If you print out a detailed leaf pattern, you can trace it onto the gel, cut out the space between the leaves with the x-acto knife, and secure the gel in front of a strong light. Voila!
posted by prefpara at 4:46 AM on April 28, 2008

How about if you got one of those constellation lamp thingys, removed the casing, rigged some piece of plastic that could act as a new casing, and cut out leaf holes onto it?
posted by ian1977 at 4:56 AM on April 28, 2008

I have this contraption at home and I think it's pretty cool - it isn't exactly the same as natural light, but the glow is comparable...

Anyway, it's also a nice way to wake up (no annoying sudden alarms, but the light gradually turning on from being very dim to totally bright).

Check it out.
posted by mateuslee at 5:16 AM on April 28, 2008

Perhaps a softbox type light (essentially something that throws out soft diffuse light over a large area. Perhaps a lamp with some sort of frame around which you can drape thin musliny material) with a few stencils over it to replicate the dappled effect of sun through the trees. Still, its going to be very hard to get something that's even close to the effect.
posted by oxford blue at 5:27 AM on April 28, 2008

I think prefpara is on the right track, but that solution won't quite give you what you're looking for. Since gel is translucent, it doesn't block enough light to give you any shadows or a definable pattern, and while you could find a green color that relates to the color of the leaves, it won't relate to the color of the sunlight. It would basically look like an occasionally green beam of light. If you're super commited to the idea, you could use a gobo and projector. The cheapest, littlest one I know of is here. The reason some of your other options won't give you quite what you want is what twirlypen was getting at- you'd need a big source of light hitting a full sized plant at a decent distance to project the shadow whereas when you use something with a lens and reflector, you can shrink the whole thing down and have control over the focus (a hard or soft image).
If you did have a little more space though (say 3') and a fairly concentrated light source (like a PAR lamp on a stand), you might try putting a cookie in front of it for a softer pattern (in film lighting you use a grip arm to attach this to the light's stand, but I'm sure you could frankenstein something similar in a pinch).
And while I wouldn't advise putting anything over an existing lighting fixture that would cause it to retain more heat, if you alter a nightlight or something like twirlypen suggested, you might find blackwrap or blacktack (the same stuff with adhesive on the back) helpful- they're black, light blocking, and heat resistant.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 5:31 AM on April 28, 2008

Also- fluorescent lamps or standard frosted A-lamps are going to give off a light that's too diffuse to make good shadows. Go for something with a reflector like a halogen that has one built into the fixture or a lamp that has one built into the bulb like an MR-16 or a PAR.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 5:36 AM on April 28, 2008

Is motion important? I think one of the attractions of the genuine article would be the subtle movements of the branches in the wind.
posted by alexei at 6:01 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Lumen Tree Light Projector is very pretty and might give you the flickering effect of a "real" shadow.
posted by jrichards at 6:30 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

1. Ficus Tree
2. Spot Light
3. Fan
posted by grateful at 6:57 AM on April 28, 2008

Response by poster: These are great ideas - thank you! I love the idea of a stencil that I can make myself and a light behind it; I think if I play around with various configurations and light sources I can achieve what I'm looking for. The light does not have to be green, as I'm just trying to recreate the effect I get when the sun shines through a tree and displays the patterns in relief. In real life the wind moving the tree branches and the shifting sun cause subtle movements which I like, but for this project I'll probably leave it stationary to avoid driving myself crazy when I want to read or use the computer.

jrichards, that Lumen Tree Light Projector is beautiful. Not sure if oil lamps and my cats are a good mix, but I will keep it in mind and it makes a great design concept.

I think this will be a fun project!
posted by bchaplin at 9:01 AM on April 28, 2008

Jamie Zawinski's solution: the tent of doom.
posted by zippy at 9:04 AM on April 28, 2008

Response by poster: And Thin Lizzy, thanks for the links and specific info!
posted by bchaplin at 9:04 AM on April 28, 2008

It sounds like you want a Reveal light.
posted by Melinika at 9:17 AM on April 28, 2008

Response by poster: Melinika, that is the second reference to works by Adam Frank (see jrichards link above). Very nice stuff. The look of the Reveal Light is EXACTLY what I want to simulate, but oh well, at $380 a little out of my reach. It's nice to know someone else had this idea and that site is very inspirational!
posted by bchaplin at 9:29 AM on April 28, 2008

I saw it (the Reveal Light) a while ago on Not Martha and it was also on Apartment Therapy... I thought it was lovely and bookmarked it. The price is a bit much for me as well so I was reading this thread to see if anyone had ideas how to duplicate the look for less!
posted by Melinika at 9:39 AM on April 28, 2008

I bet you could rig up something like this "Light in the Forest Lamp" at a much more reasonable cost.
posted by tangerine at 12:32 AM on April 29, 2008

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