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How to: light for CCTV and facial recognition

June 2019, by Gemma Snelling, Marketing Manager

Bad lighting = poor CCTV. 

Recent studies1 from the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) show that there are between 4 and 5.9 million CCTV cameras in the UK; which means we’re spending an estimated £2.2 billion per year on surveillance cameras and technology! And it appears that investment is paying off - CCTV surveillance is useful in approximately 65% of crimes with available footage, making it vital for lighting designers to provide the right light to create clear and distinctive images.


HD, ultra HD and 4K, are just a few of the latest developments in CCTV, but even with these technological advancements, it still relies on a lot of light to be effective - so when it does go wrong it is more often than not the result of poor or badly designed lighting.

Our top tip - if tasked with a security lighting scheme where close-up, high-quality imagery is required to enable an individual to be recognised and identified2, is to swap your lighting designers cap and start thinking more like a photographer.

We asked our lighting applications team to list their top 5 recommendations for designing for CCTV and facial recognition:

1. Use the right amount of light 

We understand that in an energy-conscious age, we are all trying to reduce the amount of energy (and thus light) we use, but, if you want to be able to clearly identify a criminal on your CCTV, a different mindset must apply. You are going to need to use lots of light.

Lighting for CCTV should be based on the inverse square rule:  if you double the distance to the subject being lit, you will need FOUR times the original light. Additional lighting can be used to create an evenly lit scene in the camera’s field of view, as this will ensure captured images are not too dark or washed out. However, this is also true in reverse. It is usually recommended that there be no more than a 3:1 contrast ratio of minimum or maximum illumination within an artificially lit scene.

Content banner image Inverse Square Law with CCTV 2340x800px

2. Avoid common pitfalls

There are a number of traps a lighting designer can fall into, here are just a few:


Occurs when a camera is faced with anything bright in the background, including the sun and street lighting; causing loss of distinguishable features in images. To eliminate this risk, you need to think carefully about the position of cameras.

Content banner image Silhouetting with CCTV 2340x800px

Positioning lights should be behind CCTV cameras, not pointing at them.

Flicker and motion blur

There are many different types of CCTV so make sure you’re aware of the challenges associated with each, such as motion blur.  Some cameras may say that they operate in low light conditions, but only produce monochrome footage and if you want to capture a car or a person moving, it’s unlikely you’ll get a clear view of their face or the car’s license plate. 

Working to the right standards

The police state that over 80% of the video evidence that they collect fails to meet the required standard. To identify a person for evidence (that will stand up in court), the Home Office requires that for traditional PAL-based CCTV systems, a person of average height needs to fill the full height of the screen and show their face. With picture quality and detail sufficient enough to identify the individual without reasonable doubt. The lighting therefore needs to be good enough that an operator can identify two faces from a standard chart of 12 racial groups in 30 seconds.

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3. Aim for a CRI of 80 or more

High-pressure (or low-pressure) sodium lighting is terrible for CCTV with nearly all colour information lost, so if the area in question has this - consider upgrading to LED which is far more effective at producing true lifelike colours. The colour rendering index (CRI) should be over 80. Many CCTV manufacturers will recommend cool colour temperatures as high as 5000K, but this is contrary to public preference – we would not recommend any higher than 4000K - but the right balance must be found for the area and technology in place.

Content banner image CRI 80 and CCTV 2340x800px

4. Emergency lighting is not enough for CCTV

When an emergency arises, we rely on emergency lighting to kick in. This isn’t enough for CCTV to continue effectively; as BS 5266-1: 2016 states light levels will drop to 0.5 lx, which is much too low for CCTV. You will need a secondary light source or use a camera with integral lights to ensure continuous footage during a mains failure.

5. Think like a photographer

Our best piece of advice. When it comes to CCTV, vertical illumination is king for creating facial recognition. However, areas where CCTV has been introduced will have been designed to meet horizontal illumination targets, which casts shadows on people, leaving the faces of subjects wearing hats and hoods totally dark. To counter this you need to think like a photographer, we recommend mounting additional luminaires at face height - 1.6m.

More light = more reliable data

Move away from your traditional view on light levels – you need to measure at the subject’s face. Not on horizontal surfaces. Aiming to achieve 30lx from the floor level measured vertically. In practice, this can be tricky, but 20 to 30lx should be achievable. Go a step further and use at least two points of light source to create some facial modelling.

There you have our top five recommendations. Now you are armed with all our knowledge, why not take a look at our most popular ranges for CCTV lighting >


Ren - a bollard, which isn’t a typical solution for lighting for CCTV we appreciate, but Ren offers enhanced vertical illumination - perfect for facial recognition

Sabre - performance floodlight for uniformly lit large open areas, specify with intelligent control options such as a PIR sensor which will detect motion/presence

Kirium Wall & Sephora Wall - CCTV friendly, low flicker premium drivers with integral 3 hours maintained emergency - perfect for building and perimeter lighting - for mounting at 3-6M

Kova - finally for underpass applications or areas prone to vandalism, consider Kova - our IK10+ rated anti-vandal luminaire


  1. Security News Desk, BSIA CCTV statistics report  (2013)
  2. Figure 1. Mark Stibich, Ultraviolet Light in Human Health, Diseases and Environment  (2017)
  3. Figure 2 (pg26) and Figure 3 (pg9). Home Office, CCTV Operational Requirements Manual  (2009)
  4. Ray Malony, How to light for CCTV: 10 best practice tips  (2018)