All experts agree watts per gallon is a pretty poor, even as a guideline.

Here are the different kinds of lighting.

Metal Halide (Awesome and expensive)

LED (Newer technology. Expensive now but getting cheaper)

Power Compact (thin fluorescent bulbs)

T5 HO Fluorescent (High Output)

A good lighting guide can be found here:

The first two options, Metal Halide and LED can light a tank from a distance like a spot light, and will create a shimmering effect- you’ll see shadows of the ripples of the surface.  You can see this effect at night by turning your aquarium lights off and shining a regular ass flash light on the tank from above.

The last two options, are both fluorescent tubes and will saturate your tank with light, leaving no shadows anywhere.  Not really a subtle effect, but it depends on what you’re going for.

I use Power Compacts on my tanks because I’m cheap, but if I could do it again I’d go t5 HO Fluorescent.  Every time I’m floored by a tank’s lighting in the LFS it always turns out to be lit by t5’s.

Another thing to note is what color you want your  lights to be.

Color Temperature:
20 000K Bluish-  Think 3 blue bulbs and 2 white bulbs
12 000 K Whitish-  Think 2 blue bulbs and 3 white bulbs
10 000K Whitish with a little hint of blue.  I prefer this for reef tanks.
8000K  Never seen this, but apparently the ideal light color for planted tanks.
5000K to 6500K Cool White.  I like this color of light, but has no dazzling effect for coral.   Plants still look good in this.
3100K to 3400K Warm White (In my eyes this is actually Yellow and gives the whole tank a jaundice look.  Get incandescents or halogens if you want a warm white, though it won’t feed your plants/corals)

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