How To's, Ideas + Inspiration

9 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Outdoor Lighting

Like many of us, you’ve probably invested a whole lot into the design of that beautiful home of yours. During the day, it looks absolutely cozy and inviting—and that magic shouldn’t fade away when the sun goes down.

Private home in Bacharach, Germany, day and night. Image via

This is the beauty of landscape lighting. The right illumination in your outdoor space will better highlight your home’s architectural features and accentuate some of those prized plantings and trees. Get the most out of your outdoor lighting scheme with these nine important considerations.

1. Map out your landscape lighting design.

There is no need to channel a Christmas tree when lighting up your outdoor space. Take a little time to figure out what areas in your landscape you want to highlight. Whether your outdoor lighting is for strict functionality or for aesthetic accentuation, placement is key.

Take a walk around and pinpoint where you want to draw focus. The basic outdoor lighting areas are:

  • pathways and entryways
  • driveways
  • steps
  • patios
  • trees/plantings
  • unique architectural elements and water features, if you have them

2. Keep an eye on the spaces in between.

Atlantis LED Path Light from Hinkley Lighting

The light should guide your eye from one structure to the next, rather than a single wash of continuous illumination. In this case, less is more. A single beam of light will cut through the darkness. Use that power effectively by placing large lighting fixtures at least 20 feet apart and smaller ones at least 10 feet apart.

3. Focus on the front entry for great curb appeal.

Cosmo LED Outdoor Wall Light and Syntra LED Bollard from TECH Lighting

The front entrance is the pivotal transition space between your outdoors and indoors. Using proper lighting there will help create warm and welcoming ambiance with the right brightness and color temperature. For the traditional warm glow incandescent lights usually give off, go for energy-efficient LED light fixtures with a light color temperature of 2700K.

4. Correctly size and position entryway and garage lighting.

The most common error for entry outdoor fixtures is choosing lights that are too small. Undersized outdoor lighting fixtures will get lost in viewing the overall house at a distance, and probably won’t light up the surrounding area as well. A good rule of thumb is for outdoor wall sconces to be sized to measure about one-fourth to one-third the height of the front door. These fixtures should be positioned at eye level, so the center of the light source is approximately 5.5 to 6 feet from the ground and mounted 8 to 10 feet apart.

Similar to the entryway, garage lighting fixtures should measure one-fourth to one-third the height of the garage door. The position of the garage lighting fixtures, however, does vary depending on the height of the garage.

5. Know when to use uplighting…

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Highlighting: Commonly used to illuminate plants, trees, sculptures and garden structures, spotlight fixtures are often placed at the base with the light angled upwards to illuminate both the base and the top.

Silhouetting:  Placing spotlights behind a structure and aiming the light at a wall behind it will create a backlit effect. This will add drama to the outdoor scene by only allowing the outlined form of the structure to be seen.

Shadowing: Using a spotlight in front of a plant and angling the light toward a tall wall behind creates dramatic shadows as a backdrop. A definite eye-pleaser, this method transforms a small plant into a large, dramatic shadow that also gently moves with the wind.

Wallwashing: Placing fixtures near the base of a wall and angling the light almost directly upward will efficiently highlight the wall’s texture and project a soft ambient glow around the surrounding area.

6. And when to use downlighting.

Moonlighting: Positioning a spotlight high above the desired area (usually upon a tree) creates elegant shadows of the illuminated structure (usually a tree) and casts an even ambient glow. The lighting fixture must be installed very high and angled no more than 30 degrees from vertical for the best effect.

Accenting: Commonly used to draw attention to small details or for illuminating a target space.

7. Show the way with path lighting.

Image via

Path lights, such as bollards, mounted perpendicular with a variety of different beam spreads are the most common way to illuminate a walkway. If there’s a wall along a walkway, you can also create path lighting using wall lights. Along with a low planter or stairs, step lights are unobtrusive and also offer great path lighting.

8. Don’t forget the ambiance.

Wall lights and landscape lighting will illuminate your outdoors, but might not make your patio feel party-ready. String lights are a popular choice for the patio as they add enchanting ambiance to outdoor spaces and can be hung and moved as needed. Consider adding some lanterns and other portable accent lighting, or even a firepit for added ambiance and to make the area feel even warmer and inviting.

9. Accent a water feature.

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If you have a waterfall, pond, or fountain, the effects you can create on it at night can be magnificent. The key is to use enough light, as the illumination will dissipate in the water. When lighting a waterfall to highlight the movement of water, aim the light to where the falling water hits the horizontal surface so that the light catches the air bubbles. When submerging the light fixture, you’ll need to experiment to get just the right angle of light because water bends light.

Whether you have barely any landscape lighting at all or just enough outdoor lighting to get by, lighting up your outdoor space to welcome you home at night can be easily done. Those design details go a long way in making an ultra-cozy home you will look forward to coming back night after night.

Sophia Zhang

Sophia Zhang

UC Berkeley graduate and technology enthusiast, Sophia brings her technical background to YLighting’s site merchandising team. Aside from her appreciation of business and innovative design, Sophia immerses herself in multi-genre entertainment from motion pictures to musicals. In her free time, she'll likely be Leaguing, controlling droids, or snuggling kittens.

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