Up and down lighting are the two basic techniques for any lighting design. If you think about it, all lights are either mounted on the ground and face up or are mounted up high and shining down. Within each of these categories are many, many different fixtures.
Up lighting occurs when a fixture is positioned low to the ground and facing up. Trees that are up-lit show off the interesting branching structure. Other things that can be up-lit include house walls, flagpoles, and signs.
Down lighting occurs when a fixture is mounted on a natural or artificial structure and illuminating the space below it. For example, path lights are down lights because they light up the area below the light. Other down lighting examples include porch lights, wall lights and tree mounted downlights.
Paths are fun to light. The most basic path is lit with path lights spaced out. I enjoy spreading them far enough that the light from one just barely doesn’t touch the next. In doing this you have enough light to easily see your way, but aren’t overwhelmed with light. You also avoid the Dalmatian effect where it looks like your path has spots.
Another way to light paths is using down lights mounted on a tree. This works well for spaces where you want to see a little further than just the path. Mounting a low wattage spotlight on a tree will give a very soft glow to a large area. This is very pleasant and inviting. If you have an area with an outdoor table, consider using this type of lighting so that you illuminate the table, path, and area in between.
I was at a conference a few years ago and I heard the best talk on lighting houses. The point that stuck with me is that the eye looks for outlines to create an image of what is going on. If the outlines of a house are visible, the mind will fill in what is inside. What this means for lighting a home is that corners need lit and walls do not. Look at the pictures below. Notice that the first one is hard to figure out what the house looks like. Now look at the second picture. Notice how you can understand the dimensions of the house and have a pretty good idea of its shape. Look back at the first one again. Do you see the difference?
Trees are best lit with up lighting. Position two or three spotlights around the tree. Placed closer to the trunk will highlight the branching structure. Placed further, out past the drip line of the tree (where the branches end), will highlight the overall shape of the tree.
Flagpoles are pretty easy to light. Use one or two spotlights and angle up toward the flagpole. Sometimes the light ends up shining directly in your eyes, in which case you would want to put a hood on it to shield the viewing point.
Lighting water features
Water features offer many different ways to light them. Similar to paths, try one spotlight aimed downward from a tree to illuminate the whole feature. For a more creatively lit feature, use underwater lights to show off the depth of the pond or to illuminate the bottom of the waterfall. Use path lights along the edge to show off some of your favorite plants while also illuminating another part of the feature. In some cases, an up light can show off a fountain or bubbling rock. The possibilities are endless.
Return to Grimm’s Lighting Page