Designing Landscape Lighting: How To, Placement, And Effects

Create An Amazing Look For Your Home In Maryland, DC, And Northern Virginia

This ultimate guide to designing landscape lighting for homeowners can tell you just about everything you want to know. You can learn how to design landscape lighting, where to place it, and some techniques the pros use (which you can too). You’ll also be able to see the effect they can create for most any home.

Let’s see what Mike finds out about designing his outdoor lighting.

“Ain’t no way I’m going into this blind,” Mike grumbles.

Patty wants landscape lighting for their home now that she’s seen it at Betty’s place. “And what Patty wants, Patty gets.” After 19 years of marriage, he knows better than to try and argue.

Designing landscape lighting to look as beautiful as this one

“I got to agree though,” he thinks as he remembers Betty’s yard, “it did look pretty amazing. Maybe this’ll be kind of fun.” He’s always been good with home projects thanks to his dad teaching him when he was younger. Now he gets to put it to good use.

“Whelp,” Mike says aloud, “it’s too bad I don’t know jack about landscape lighting.” He chuckles dryly as he walks over to his computer.

His first step: research.

How To Design Landscape Lighting In 5 Steps

  1. Find ideas on what to light and lighting effects
  2. Choose where and what you want to light
  3. Select light fixture(s) and bulb type
  4. Test and adjust your landscape lighting design
  5. Enjoy your new landscape lighting
Designing landscape lighting to look as beautiful as this one

“Well, that almost seems too easy,” Mike remarks. “Oh, wait. There’s more details on how to design landscape lights further down.”

1. Find ideas on what to light and lighting effects

“I guess the best place to start lookin’ is at contractors near me because they may know what’s good and what’s not,” Mike mutters. “Where else did Patty tell me to look? It was Pistint…Penturst…Pinterest!”

Landscape lighting companies near you tend to have a good idea as to what is popular in your area. That doesn’t mean you have to do as they do though. Focus on making a landscape you love. Pinterest has thousands of landscape lighting ideas for you to look through to get your creative juices flowing (like these 3).

2. Choose where and what you want to light

As for what to light, this can include pathways, entrances, walls, your favorite garden features, and more (keep reading to find them further below). You can light pretty much anything on or around the outside of your home.

There are just about as many ways to light something as there are places to light. You can use landscape lighting effects like silhouetting, grazing, moon lighting, and more (find them further below). They can add depth and character to your landscape.

“But what’s the point, really?” Mike questions, understandably.

Walking down a bright garden path at night

Landscape lighting designs have 2 purposes: beauty and safety. Of course, lighting your landscape can make it look wonderful at night. “And Patty wants a ‘fairy-land’ type deal that looks better than Betty’s,” he groans inwardly.

Mike’s starting to realize how much work this is going to be.

The safety part is important too. But, it’s not really the safety as in “these lights will help keep trespassers off of your property.” Alarm systems work way better, although outdoor lights can make trespassers think twice. 

Landscape lights should give you and your guests a feeling of safety because everyone can see where to step.

3. Select light fixture(s) and bulb type

“LED lights are the new best bulb, huh,” Mike says, remembering back to when halogens were the best and brightest for designing landscape lighting. “I wonder why LEDs are better than halogens?”

LED lights are better because they last longer, use less energy, and can have a color-changing option (cool, right?)

A quick aside: we at Premier Outdoor Lighting like to use Unique Lighting System’s brass fixture line. They look amazing, are sturdy and durable, and have a wide range of designs. They are costly, but so are most amazing products.

4. Test and adjust your landscape lighting design

“Aaaand here’s the hard part,” Mike says, already exhausted. 

You can use a flashlight to stand in for landscape lights as you try out different placement and angles. Even after placing your landscape lights you may want to change the layout.

Tip: don’t place lights too close together or they can wash out an area. Plus you’ll end up spending more money on more fixtures and bulbs and electricity when you don’t really need that much lighting.

Testing and adjusting the landscape lighting design

“Ok, so when that’s all done I can finally be on step 5: Enjoying My New Landscape Lighting,” Mike sighs with relief. “Patty’d better help with the designing part or she may not get what she wants the first time and I’m not doing all this again.”

Designing Landscape Lighting: The 9 Best Places To Light

  1. Pathways
  2. Driveways
  3. Entrances
  4. Natural Areas
  5. Walls
  6. Trees
  7. Hardscapes (patios, decks)
  8. Garden Structures (gazebos, pergolas)
  9. Water Features

“Well, ok, but why are these the best places to include in a landscape lighting design?” Mike thinks aloud.

1. Pathway Lighting For Easier Walking

Seeing where to walk in the dark is easier when it isn’t, well, dark. Pathway lights can line and shine the right places to plant your feet. Then your guests will have an easier time walking and your plants won’t end up with a person crushing them.

“Sounds like a win-win to me,” Mike judges. Bollard lights, recessed lights, and garden lights are great choices as far as fixture types.

Pro-tip: staggering your lights so they aren’t right across from each other all the way down the path can make it look less like an airstrip.

2. Driveway Lighting For Smoother Driving

Same deal as with pathways, but with cars. So, you know, it can cause more damage to your grass and plants.

Placing lights at the front of the driveway creates a welcoming first impression. Placing them at the end can help people see where they are walking when the get out of their car. Having them line the driveway can help people stay on the concrete too.

“This’ll definitely help Patty stop running over the grass. Stupid, slightly curved driveway,” Mike gripes.

3. Entrance Lighting Is Appealing & Polite

Fun fact: people’s eyes go to the front door when they first see a house.

“Y’know, now that they mention it I just might do that too. I’ll need to test it out next time I go over to a friend’s house,” Mike determines.

Wall sconces bordering entryway

Entrances grab attention, so go ahead and make them shine at night! You can use wall sconces for a classical look or recessed lighting if you have a covering over your front door.

It’s also nice to wait for the door to open under a light instead of in the dark.

4. Natural Area Lighting Creates A Scene

Mike pauses for a moment, thinking “Patty’ll sure love to see her roses at night. She loves those things more than me,” he chuckles.

Lighting natural areas can show off your garden work. You can also use your plants to make cool and interesting lighting effects, like silhouettes. Natural areas tend to be darker, especially if they have bushes and trees in them. Lighting them brightens your yard.

5. Wall Lighting Has Great Effects

“Walls? What kinda walls need lighting?”

For one, you can light the exterior walls of your home. The uplighting technique can make your walls come alive with textures and patterns you may not have seen before. Walls are also great places to help make amazing lighting effects.

You can also light any walls you have around your property whether it’s wood, brick, or other material. Lighting your boundaries can create a peaceful moat of light around your home. 

It’s nice to make sure the lights don’t cause glare or shine into your neighbor’s house.

6. Tree Lighting Can Go Up Or Down

“Trees are pretty neat, but for lighting?”

You can create a moonlit night in your yard every night with moon lighting. Placing lights to shine downwards from tall trees (25 feet or higher) can make it seem like moonlight is filtering through your trees. It’s great for over patios and fire pits.

You can also shine uplights on trees to create living columns of light.

7. Hardscape Lighting For A Fun Night

“Lighting patios makes sense. Sure works for Betty” Mike remembers.

Patios, decks, and outside areas are fun places to be, so why not use them at night too? String lights running through the trees, a nice fire pit to sit around, maybe some moon lighting to create a natural glow. You can try out many different ways and lights when designing landscape lighting.

8. Garden Structure Lighting To Sit Beneath

“Wait, like gazebos and pergolas, right?” Mike correctly guesses.

Designing lighting for a gazebo

You can run string lights through and around these or even have some hanging lights coming down from the ceiling. They can create a beautifully lit scene in your yard and be a fun place to gather under.

9. Water Features

Mike pauses, confused. “So, is it around water features or in them?”

It can be both. Underwater LED lights work amazingly well, don’t cost a lot of money, and you can even have them programmed to change color on command. It’s the same for the above water lights. You can provide a great scene and let people know where the edges are.

Now Mike is about to discover the lighting effects part of designing landscape lighting.

3 Amazing Effects You Can Create Yourself

So  these are going to help take my landscape lighting up a few levels,” Mike thinks skeptically.

1. Silhouetting

“I can turn your favorite features into eye-popping silhouettes. Cool,” Mike says, sounding interested.

It works best with an uplight and objects with walls behind them. Shine the uplight on the wall right behind the object and it can turn said object into a beautiful silhouette.

Silhouetting as a landscape lighting design

2. Shadowing

“Huh. It’s the exact opposite of silhouetting, yet it’s also an amazing landscape lighting effect.” 

Shadowing landscape lighting technique creating amazing shadows on wall

This time, place your uplights in front of your favorite feature (with a wall behind it, of course) and watch the shadows blossom on your wall. See the patterns and textures it creates as the light and dark play off each other.

3. Uplighting

“Uplighting? You mean like the uplights the last 2 landscape lighting effects use?”

Uplighting for cherub statues

Mike is exactly right. You can shine uplights onto walls, statues, trees, and any object really. It’s a great way to draw attention to the favorite parts of your yard. Different angles and distances can create new looks too.

Of course, there’s more landscape lighting techniques than just those 3. “I’m just going to stick with 3 for now. Don’t want to go overboard with the lighting techniques and make my yard look like a shadow puppet show or something.”

Mike realizes that designing landscape lighting can be about what not to light as much as what to illuminate.

The Process In Action For Mike’s Yard

“Well, I already did step 1 by finding ideas on what to light and lighting effects. Now, what and where will I light in the yard?” Mike frowns.

“Uplights for the walls, especially where those plants are. I’m going to use those landscape lighting techniques I just read about, see how good they work in my yard. Guess I’ll also see about getting those Unique Lighting systems fixtures. If the pro’s use them then they’re good enough for my yard.”

But first, Mike wants to try out the flashlight test so he can get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. He waits for it to get a little darker before grabbing his flashlight and heading out into his yard.

While out there, he also decides to get lights for the pathway around back and garden lights for the shorter plants.

As for moon lighting the patio, well, in Mike’s words, “That’s a job for professionals. I don’t need to be climbing up trees, that’s dangerous. Nobody needs to do that unless they do it for a living.”

On a serious note, please do not attempt to install lighting high off the ground as it can be dangerous.

Now Mike just needs to get Patty’s help, or approval, for the landscape lighting design so he can get to work. Or he can hire a professional lighting team (like our team) to do all the work for him.