by Bruce Dennis, Lightcraft Outdoor Environments—an APLD CA Bronze Sponsor

I am often asked, what creates a good lighting project? Many professional books have been written on this topic, as well as week-long workshops on landscape lighting. For the purpose of this article, I will highlight some of the most important aspects of good lighting.

As you know, most professional landscape projects incorporate some type of outdoor lighting into their plans. Property owners continue to realize the importance and value of landscape lighting as it relates to the overall beauty, safety and entertainment value of their outdoor environment. In addition, the popularity of LED lighting creates an even bigger demand, as lighting products have become extremely energy efficient while offering exceptional illumination, low power consumption with brilliant and vibrant colors.


Think like an artist. Light like an artist using proper light levels and proper Kelvin colors that match the landscape.

•Focal points are highlighted. This can be an art object, a unique tree or architectural feature.

•Establish rhythm and continuity. This means that the lighting is balanced, LED Kelvin colors match and flow seamlessly throughout the property.

•Light levels are layered. Soft light up front, medium light in the center and then brighter (higher lumen) light at the back. This is the key to visual comfort.

•Create lighting zones. This allows for greater design control.

•Depth and perspectives provide visual comfort and harmony. The human eye responds well to layers and transitional lighting that easily flows from zone to zone.

•Light intensity is balanced with the landscape elements. Consider size and dimension, as well as the natural colors of the landscape and architectural features.

•The light effect is seen, not the source of the light. Avoid glare as much as possible.


•Do not over light. Many times “less is more.”

•Avoid “runway” or “landing strip” effect. The lighting should be applicable to the environment and in random harmony.

•Generally, odd numbers of light fixtures are more natural.

•Avoid seeing the light source from all perspectives. Minimize glare.


•The lamp source is the key. The fixture is secondary to the actual fixture.

•Establish a theme. Is it soft and romantic or bright and bold?

•What kelvin color would look best? Very warm (2700k), warm (3000k) or intense (4100k).

•Consider the architectural style of the property and match it to the fixture.

•What are we lighting? Determine the light level - wattage, kelvin color and beam angle.

•Light spread—Fixtures placed higher off the ground will provide a wider light spread. Fixtures with larger apertures and lenses will allow the light to spread more quickly.

•Test and validate. Start with small sections (or zones) to validate the effect, while considering the clients taste.

•Lighting is a science as well as an art. I encourage you to test, validate and play.


•Brass and Copper are best. Aluminum, plastic or steel are lesser quality. Choose materials without ferrous metals.

•Natural finishes are preferred over painted or powder coated fixtures. Natural finishes are oxidized and will not chip, flake or peel like powder or topical finishes may.

•Choose replace-able and service-able components that are easily field serviced.

•Choose fixtures that are sealed, gasket-ed and designed for harsh climates.

•Do not choose fixtures by price. A wise man once summed it up perfectly, “The bitterness of low quality lasts much longer than the sweetness of a cheaper price. You may get a cheaper price, but you may have to buy it twice.”


Seven types of fixtures can cover most landscape lighting jobs

1. Accent lighting - Up and Down Lighting.

2. Path and Area Lighting - Center stem or side-stem designs.

3. In ground lighting - Hidden recessed designs.

4. Step, Deck and Wall lighting - Allows for beauty as well as safety. Consider any tripping hazards in the landscape.

5. Down and hanging lighting - Provides a moonlit effect and allows for interesting shadows.

6. Underwater feature lighting - Lighted water features can add excitement and dramatic effects.

7. Beauty products such as Bistro String or LED tape light. Specialty lighting creates warm and inviting spaces.


The landscape has continuing and evolving elements. Choose fixtures that can accept a variety of wattages, kelvin colors and beam angles.

Use the correct wattage and beam angle to “dial in” the desired effect. Remember accessories - Risers, shielding, and various lenses that will allow for specific and desired effects.


Placement, location and aiming of the fixture is crucial.

Direct Lighting — Place the fixture directly in front of the object.

•Indirect Lighting — Place the fixture behind or off to the side of the intended element.

•Silhouette Lighting — Place fixtures in front of reflective materials by using indirect and shadow casting.

•Cross Lighting — Place fixtures at various cross angles to cover more area and minimize direct lighting hot spots.

•Moon Lighting — Place fixture in a downward position, creating a moonlit effect.

•Mirror Lighting — Cast indirect light onto water features with indirect lighting off of walls or structures.

Grazing — Skim architectural elements with light to pick up subtle features and details.

•Signature Lighting — This can be a number of lighting features that add a specialty touch to the design. For example, Bistro String lighting provides an implied space, providing or enhancing the social environment space.


•Simplifies the wiring.

•Creates proper layers and lighting transition.

•Identifies the location of the power supply.

•Consider a “hub” or a sprinkler valve box to centralize the connection points.


A lighting demo can be very effective in having the client say yes to a lighting plan. Here is a lighting tool used by experienced contractors to help their clients understand the value of landscape lighting.

•Set up a small area to demo. Have a lighting kit wired and ready to go. Place the lights in a key area that can be seen when the client comes home at night.

•Leave the lights for a small period of time. Put in writing that the lights are temporary and may be removed at any time.

•Remove the lights after a few days (or on a Friday). This will stimulate a demand after the client is accustomed to seeing their home can be beautifully lit.

•Most clients want some type of landscape lighting, but many times do not provide the budget. Once the client sees areas of the property lit, the value becomes apparent.

•It is acceptable to start with less fixtures as long as you provide a large enough transformer and cable to expand the landscape lighting system in the future.


Landscape lighting is an essential and integral part of the landscape design. A little light goes a long way. It is important to note that the designer and contractor understand the basics of LED lighting, as it relates to the landscape. As with many schools of thought, keep it simple. LED products are constantly evolving. Please remember to test and validate all new technology. Get well acquainted with your favorite fixture choices and make sure they can be field serviced and updated as new and improved “breakthrough” technology becomes available.

For more information on landscape lighting workshops, please contact us to learn more about educational training, design and layout, trouble-shooting and updated lighting technology.

Bruce Dennis
Lightcraft Outdoor Environments
9811 Owensmouth Ave. #1
Chatsworth, CA 91311
818 349 2663