By now, you’ve got your outdoor lighting fixtures picked out, your power sources are all sorted, and you know which light bulbs best suit your needs. So what do you do with it all? You don’t want your landscape lighting to look haphazard or unprofessional; but where to begin? It helps to know the techniques that the landscaping pros use to illuminate their work. Use these techniques selectively, and combine them to create just the right lighting effect for your outdoor space.

Lighting Techniques

Uplighting – as the name suggests, this lighting style places the lighting source low to, or in, the ground, with the light pointing upwards to draw attention to dramatic focal points. Add even more drama with one of these up-lighting techniques:

  • Grazing – place the light close to a surface you wish to highlight, and point it so that the light grazes the surface enough to bring out its interesting features without overpowering it.
  • Back lighting (or Silhouetting) – place the light behind an object to create a silhouette.
  • Shadowing – position the light in front and down low to project a shadow of the object onto the surface behind it.
  • Cross lighting – you see this most often with flagpoles: two or more spotlights point upward at an object to illuminate it from different angles.
  • Washing – placing a light near the base of a wall or other broad surface so that it becomes awash in light.

Downlighting – again, the name seems self-explanatory. The light source is placed above the object and pointed downward. But there are a couple of downlighting techniques that achieve dramatically different effects:

  • Moonlighting – soft lights are placed up high and hidden in trees to mimic natural moonlight.
  • Spread or Diffused lighting – the light source is typically lower and covered, as in bollard lighting, to direct soft light onto a low-to-the-ground feature such as a flowerbed or pathway.

Spotlighting – this technique uses an intense beam of light, pointed either upwards or downwards, to bring focus to a specific feature.

Ambient lighting – think of this as “comfort lighting” that illuminates the areas where you’ll spend the most time, such as porches and patios. Depending on the mood you wish to set, it can be something as simple as a decorative porch light that casts enough light for safety and security, or as elaborate as strings of party lights, lanterns, candles and outdoor lamps to create a festive mood long into the night.

With so many lighting techniques at your disposal, the design possibilities are nearly endless. Next week, we’ll look at some Do’s and Don’ts of outdoor lighting design to help you pull it all together.

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