Outdoor Lighting Overview - Part II

Location, Location, Location

When placing your outdoor lights, you need to be aware of their physical location and where the light will shine. Be careful not to hide the lights so well that they themselves become a hazard. Guests should not have to worry about tripping over fixtures, twisting ankles in recessed ground, or knocking their heads on a raised light source.

If may help to divide the space into a foreground, middle ground, and background. Use a mid-level brightness on the foreground, low-level on the middle, and the brightest lights on the background. This will help the eye take in the whole as a defined area rather than a space that fades off into nothingness.

You should also consider where the light goes once it leaves your yard. The same source that highlights your hydrangeas may cast an unfortunate glare into a neighbor's window or a passing motorists eyes.


Lighting should not hide the contours of the ground or disguise other changes of topography. Multiple light sources can help you avoid this problem. A single source can be disorienting, flattening the field of vision and playing tricks with depth perception. Light from multiple angles will provide a more natural look and a more safely useable space.

Uneven or irregularly placed lighting can prove disorienting and have an isolating effect. Group the lights together or arrange them in patterns that draw the eye along and pull the whole area together.

Lighting from underneath can provide a dramatic effect, especially with trees. But if the trunk is unlit, the tree may seem to be floating. With smaller trees especially, lighting from underneath can create the illusion of height. Lighting from above provides a more natural look since that's the direction sunlight comes from.

Trees that aren't densely packed, like oaks, can also benefit from lighting that shows them off from within, exposing the structure of the branches.


A lot of this can be hard to visualize, so do some experimenting. Get some extension cords, stakes, and shielded, clip-on light fixtures as well as a ground fault interrupter (GFI) to plug into. Work when the ground is dry, clipping the lights to stakes or holding them from a stepladder. If you're the one holding the lights, it will help to have someone at ground level who can tell you how it looks. With a little work, you'll find something that looks natural and pleasing to you.

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