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Transform Your Garden: Top Landscape Lighting Techniques

Before adding backyard or landscape lighting to your yard, knowing a little about standard and well-regarded techniques would be wise. Landscape lighting design involves incorporating various methods to enhance the beauty and functionality of outdoor spaces.

Once you understand the fundamentals, you can plan your overall design to highlight certain features of your property and create the best outdoor lighting design for your specific yard and home.

Develop Your General Plan

You can find some basic backyard lighting ideas by driving or walking through neighborhoods at night, looking at pictures online, or looking through magazines. Sometimes, this can help you get started and on your way to creating the best backyard lighting design for your yard.

Remember to consider driving or walking around: nothing substitutes being there and feeling the atmosphere of a particular design concept.

Don’t overthink it at this stage. You want a general idea of how you want to approach your project. As you peruse the following techniques, your plan will evolve. That’s okay. Don’t be stubborn; iterate on your ideas until you feel confident.

Uplighting

In Ground Lights 3d

When uplighting, the light source should be placed on or in the ground, pointing upwards to highlight a specific feature. You could use uplighting to highlight statues, trees, bushes, architectural details, or even an attractive textured surface. It evokes drama and draws attention to specific focal points.

Downlighting

Landscape Lighting Downlighting1

Similar to uplighting but in reverse, downlighting involves installing lights in trees or on roofs to direct the beam downward and cast shadows. Use it for general ambience or to highlight certain landscape elements. This technique will cast light over a wide area, depending on your chosen fixture.

The lights can be mounted in trees or strategically placed on your house or another structure in the area. This technique works well to illuminate an area where you might entertain, like a patio or deck. However, it’s typically less soft than ambient lighting. Downloading can also double as security lighting.

Diffuse Lighting

Diffused Landscape Lighting1

You would use this lighting technique to diffuse or spread light over a wider area like a flower bed, a longer stretch of pathway, or another landscaped yard or garden area. 

This lighting technique often employs a softer light, so it is less likely to create distinct shadows or draw your attention to details. Sometimes, slightly brighter lights on posts can diffuse a pleasant illumination along paths, driveways, or landscaped areas.

Ambient Lighting

Like indoor ambient lighting, outdoor ambient lighting provides a general, comfortable level of even illumination to safely and easily use an area. You’ll find it used on patios, decks, and entryways. 

You can mix different fixtures to achieve this effect. For example, you could incorporate any combination of string lights, rope lights, patio umbrella lights, lanterns, wall lights, or lit deck posts.

Walkway and Path Lighting

It often utilizes small posts with built-in lights to illuminate pathways, ensuring safe navigation and adding a decorative touch. Bollard lights, post lights, and even in-ground uplighting will often provide sufficient path lighting. 

Solar Pathway Lights

Depending on how much you’ve already done to your yard, consider planning the shape and positioning of your paths or walkways to help compose the lighting across your property.

Deck Lights

Deck Lighting

Installed directly into decking or steps or placed in or on deck posts, these lights accentuate architectural details and improve safety along rails, steps, terraces, and drop-offs. Don’t just think functional; stand back and imagine the constellation of lights you might create with all the smaller lights around the deck.

Step Lights

Sometimes, it is just an extension of deck lights. Still, often, these help navigate different elevations of your yard or garden. These might sound boring and practical, but LED step lights frequently provide an opportunity for dramatic flair.

Post Lights

Standard posts with lamps on top or affixed near the top. We often see them along pathways. They can also feature atop deck posts. Post lights are generally preferred when landscape designers prefer a brighter, wider-spread lighting effect. Use post lights as part of your safety strategy.

Bollard Lights

Led Bollard Lights

We use these lower posts with embedded lights to illuminate walkways, landscaping, and architectural features. They are often sturdy and help prevent vehicles from crossing a threshold. Bollard lights used to be pretty utilitarian, but as they’ve become a more popular design feature, the variety of styles available has greatly expanded.

Spotlights

These directional lights, usually employing a narrow beam, highlight specific features in your yard or garden. They produce a concentrated, intense beam of light that can be strategically aimed at trees, sculptures, architectural elements, or other focal points to draw attention and create dramatic nighttime effects. 

By carefully positioning and adjusting spotlights, you can accentuate favorite parts of your property, enhancing their visual appeal and creating a sense of depth when mixed with less bold lighting techniques.

Accent Lights

This technique can be similar to spotlighting but generally involves leveraging smaller, more precise lights to accentuate or outline the detail of a particular feature. You might outline the perimeter of a flower bed with accent lights or enhance the drama of a fountain with colored accent lighting. Employed with precision and subtlety, these techniques could all be considered accent lighting.

Floodlights

These lights are like spotlights but in the opposite stylistic direction of accent lights. They utilize a broader beam to illuminate larger areas for aesthetic or security purposes. They can also provide functionality by lighting athletic facilities. 

If you’re lucky enough to have a tennis court on your property, you could employ floodlights and ambient lights to make a playable space. I’ve also seen some effective use of floodlights to create stark illumination of a wall of trees at the edge of a dense forest bordering a property.

Silhouetting

It involves placing a light source behind an object to create a silhouette effect against a backdrop, often used for plants or sculptures.

Silhouetting can create a similar feel to when the sun sets and creates a silhouette of an object, like a tree or bush, against the sky at dusk. With this technique, you want to place the light low behind the object you are trying to silhouette. The light fixture should be concealed and pointed towards the viewer.

Shadowing

Sometimes called shadow casting, this technique casts light on an object to create a shadow on a backdrop like a wall or fence, adding depth and intrigue to the space. Typically, you install the lights in front and below the object from which you want to generate the shadow but experiment and discover how different angles generate different effects.

Moonlighting

This technique involves placing lights high in trees to mimic natural moonlight, casting interesting shadows, and providing ambient lighting. It can be similar to downlighting, but a softer light mimics the effect of moonlight filtering through the trees and generating natural, soft shadows instead of the bold, stark shadows resulting from standard downlighting.

Sometimes, landscape designers use a light with a slight filter or bluish hue to achieve a more convincing effect.

Grazing

This technique involves placing lights close to a textured surface (like brick walls) to highlight the texture through the interplay of light and shadow. Grazing can be very effective when used to highlight attractive and detailed masonry.

Washing

Like grazing, washing involves highling surfaces, but the designers deploy the light source a little farther away than grazing. People often use washing in front of homes, with lights installed on the ground pointing upwards across the home’s facade.

Cross Lighting

Landscape Lighting Washing1

This clever technique uses lights to illuminate an object from multiple angles. The objective is to enhance dimensionality while avoiding a washed-out look. Positioning the lights just right allows you to fully light a facade, for example, without losing the relief provided by recessed shadows. In some ways, cross-lighting a surface provides the inverse effect of floodlighting that same surface.

Rope Lights

Led Rope Light

Less a technique than a device, rope lights have become increasingly popular with the evolution of LED lights. You can quickly achieve different techniques by employing rope lights in strategic locations out of view, such as under a railing or behind a low border wall. 

They also make for excellent outlining of paths and driveways. Battery-powered LED lights allow you to deploy these light sources in locations otherwise unreachable because of their poor proximity to electrical outlets.

String Lights

Most traditionally associated with holiday decorations, string lights still offer opportunities for year-round decorative lighting. A curtain of string lights draped across a lattice can provide a stunning backdrop for your outdoor dining. Or string them between trees above you to create a subtle ambient light across your patio.

Underwater Lights

Designed to be submerged, these lights add dramatic effects to water features like ponds, pools, or fountains. When used well, underwater lighting creates some genuinely memorable spaces, with the movement of the water projected onto nearby foliage or architecture. You might try colored lights and dimmers to amplify the effects of this technique.

Hardscape Lights

A specific form of accent lighting, this technique employs small lights installed onto structures like walls or steps to create subtle lighting effects. We often use hardscape lights to graze or wash walls with light.

Embarking On Your Design

Each technique uniquely enhances your landscape, whether for safety, aesthetics or to create a specific mood. Combining different techniques can foster a well-balanced and inviting outdoor space.

Once you decide which landscape lighting techniques you want and know how to use them, you’ll be better prepared to shop for the right light fixtures to achieve your dream space successfully.

Whether you choose to do the job yourself or hire a lighting contractor, employing a blend of these landscape lighting techniques will enhance your garden or yard’s look, function, and security in the deep, rich darkness of night.