The intensity of illumination

I remember growing up as a kid in Brazil when my mother used to take me to the public markets where the variety of tropical fruits, vegetables, food and juices were huge. And believe me, the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about those days, is the smell of all those elements together.

The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of the other senses. Those with full olfactory function may be able to think of smells that evoke particular memories, like mine above.

The second sense that was activated was purely visual: early morning in a plaza with natural daylight being filtered by flamboyant trees, creating an impressive contrast with patterns between light and shadow on the floor.

So, this made me think, is it possible to have a similar link or connection with lighting experiences?

Well, my answer is yes, and I’ll describe some of my lighting memories based on personal life experiences – living in different places, countries and continents.


Exploring a world heritage rainforest in the northeast of Australia is already something quite unique, but for lighting lovers this is a must. With “dinosaur” species of trees varying from 50 to 80 meters high and one of the most diverse type of fauna and flora in the world, I’d highly recommend this trip to appreciate nature and more importantly, the lighting effects. This spectacle is only complete when the sun reaches its peek, by midday.

Rainforest Light Seeping Through Lighting Memories

Due to having extreme dense vegetation, hanging gardens and tall trees all around, believe me or not, at floor level it feels almost dark – even with the sun blasting full power above the forest and the thermal sensation that’s considerably lower than outside the bush.

The main visual-lighting attraction point is no doubt the natural movement among the intense green, the herbaceous layers and the strong sunshine from above. It’s highly filtered by the multi-layered foliage with the most diverse thickness, hue of greens, transparency and opacity. As a result of all those elements working together, it feels like a natural lighting installation that has been working on its own for centuries.

The secondary attraction – that’s no less interesting – is the diverse spectrum of shadows and patterns created on the floor by all the elements mentioned above. The lighting penetrating the forest through the leaves working in combination with the mist, sound and a particular smell is…magical.

Rainforest Floor Density Powerful Lighting

For some visitors this unquenchable vegetative force can be oppressive. Even scientists that were among our group, who had come to do research on the rainforest, have been known to develop such a phobia against it that no power on earth would induce them to visit it for a second time. They’ve the feeling of being trapped, almost smothered by its rampant vitality.

The oppressive feeling of being hemmed in that we experienced in the rainforest came not from any lack of space, but mainly from being cut off from the light and enveloped in a vegetative realm of intense, mute, unconscious growth.

In my opinion, the best word to describe the feeling of being there, feeling the power of the nature was pure “nirvana”.


During our work lunch break one day, I was talking with my colleagues Harshita and Danish, when the firefly subject came to the table, and it immediately reminded me of a remarkable thing that happened many years ago back home in Brazil.

The experience felt surreal. An eccentric abstraction or even a lighting designer’s dream perhaps, but I can assure you that it happened in the countryside of southeast Brazil, next to a big lake around 6 to 7pm.

Fireflies Forest Floor Illumination Lighting Memories

I was camping with a group of friends and it was time for dinner, and when I exited my tent I could see a “carpet” of thousands and thousands of fireflies – lying in front of me in the middle of trees, grass and rocks providing an amazing view from where I was. It was a contemplative moment that transcends the perception of light; it gave me the sensation of infinity.

Years later at an art exhibition in Abu Dhabi, I could see and feel the same sort of contemplation and perception of light from an art installation by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Her art piece had some elements that reflect what I saw that night due to an intimate space for contemplation. Elements such as the reflections, surrealism, sense of infinity, repetition and rhythm of lights were the key factors to make this installation a masterpiece. (If you’re interested in Yayoi Kusama, see my colleague Kael’s blog post about the Infinity Mirror’s exhibition in London last year.)

I’m confident that somehow both “installations” are connected at a higher level due to having a ludic and playful approach.

By chance, when I was looking for inspirational pictures of fireflies I found an article about firefly festivals that happen in Japan throughout the months of June and July. This website link is from 2013, but I believe still valid if you want to check it out.


Arriving in Scandinavia during winter is something really hard, especially for “the boy from Brazil”. Days are short, wet and people are introspective. The temperature is below zero, parks are empty, trees are sad and one of the first things I noticed as soon as I set foot outside the airport was the very, very long shadows.

People Long Shadows

In fact, I was super intrigued, being born and raised in the tropics I’d never experienced such a phenomenon in my life – for example, at noon, in a place located on the Equator my shadow would never have such a pattern on the floor.

The long shadows occur due to earth’s revolution, rotation and tilt. In the extreme north part of the world when the sun is up, it feels like it moves around the horizon instead of up and down, and also when you’re at the Pole, the sun doesn’t rise and set every day. It rises at one equinox and sets at the other, giving six months of day and six months of night. When living under these conditions, you can well imagine that sunlight (or the lack thereof) is a pretty big deal! Actually, that will be a very good subject to be explored on my next blog post…how the lack of natural light influences people’s lives?

Mentioning natural light, from spring to summertime, fortunately I also saw the other side of the Scandinavian people (happy, approachable, cheerful and in a good mood), and most importantly, I experienced the so-called “blue light”. In Brazil we don’t have such a transition between day and night as it happens very quickly in a matter of one hour maximum, but in Sweden it takes a while to get dark. During the “blue hours”, I could fully understand how important light is for the people in Scandinavia, as it is part of their culture – just like football, music and dance for us Brazilians. During the blue hours, the light has a unique and dramatic hue effect that cannot be found anywhere else.


Mastered by the painters Caravaggio and Leonardo da Vinci, the chiaroscuro technique is the dramatic contrast between the light and darkness.

All the colours that Da Vinci and Caravaggio painted masterfully with wouldn’t have been the same if they’d lived in Dubai. The contrast and intensity among natural colours here (in Dubai) looks different in comparison to European countries. The hues and tonality have a different intensity, most probably due to geographical location and sun incidence that consequently would affect their work.

Looking at the desert and the mashrabiya (a traditional element of Arabic architecture) pictures, you can see that the contrast rate between the dark and light would be much higher in comparison to what would’ve been done during the 17th century.

Whilst on this topic, this style of painting is quite mesmerising, as described by Amruta in her blog post about the “Beyond Caravaggio” exhibition at the National Gallery, London.

Mashrabiya Architecture Illumination

Roman Ruins Architecture Shadows Contrast

When I stare at the daytime picture from Mediterranean Europe, it reminds me of a natural organic flow among hue, chromaticity, shadows and contrast. On the other hand, the desert picture screams the high intensity contrast between dark and light – it almost feels that this chiaroscuro style is on anabolic steroids.

Desert Fortress Contrast Light Dark

Blog post by Rodrigo Roveratti