How to Design the Perfect Backyard Lighting System

“Outdoor” lighting is a very broad term. For many lighting designers, every outdoor lighting project is approached the same way, whether it’s for a façade, a backyard, or a pool. At Enlightened Lighting, we have a very specific design philosophy exclusively for backyards so that we can achieve the perfect combination of atmosphere and practicality for every customer.

When we design a lighting system for a backyard, we start by dividing the space into different sections and identifying the key elements as well as functional use of that space.Backyard Lit

Functional Lighting

First, we look at practical or functional lighting. This includes any fixtures that are needed to improve visibility and safety, including deck lights, stair lights, and patio lights. Typically, these lights are placed in a subtle location to give great light without adding any visual interruptions. Stair lights, for instance, sit flush with stairs. Patio lights can fit under capstones to light the patio while highlighting the stonework of a retaining wall.

Up Lighting

Second, we identify areas that could use uplighting. Uplights are placed underneath a tree to shine up and highlight the structure and branches of the tree. This provides an ambient glow that also adds to the visibility, but it doesn’t go overboard to make people feel like they are on display.

When placing up lights, we consider which light strength and spread will be best for each tree based on its height and breadth. We strategically place up lights on trees of different heights and in different locations around the yard – some that are at eye level, and others that have tall canopies – to create a full and balanced appearance.

After establishing these two main types of lighting, we consider other techniques depending on the layout and features of the backyard. Some of the most common options include:

Specialized Lighting

  • Downlighting: placing lights high in a tree or off the house to shine down and provide a soft light on the ground.
  • Moonlighting: similar to downlighting, except we design the light to shine down through a structure (like branches). This creates a broken light pattern on the ground, mimicking moonlight.
  • Wash lighting: placing a light further away to give a gentle “wash” of light. This is used on trees like holly or magnolias that do not allow for up-lighting because of their dense leaf structure.
  • Silhouette lighting: placing a light behind an object so that the object does not have direct light on it, but you still can make out the structure of the object. This is often done on small statues.
  • Shadowing: shining a light through a shrub or tree to create a shadow on a wall or structure. This is a beautiful effect, but it has to be done carefully to avoid a spooky Halloween vibe.
  • Underwater lighting: shining a light through water, particularly moving water, such as a waterfall. The moving water and light create a stunning effect above the water feature.

Lit Up Water

In each aspect of backyard lighting, placement is very important. Too much light can look busy, but not enough causes areas to disappear into the darkness. We like to equate lighting design to cooking with garlic: It adds rich flavor and can make a dish shine, but a little bit goes a long way and you can really tell when it’s overdone.

When you’re ready to turn your backyard into an evening oasis, contact Enlightened Lighting! We’ll work with you to design a custom lighting system that meets your preferences so you can enjoy your backyard after the sun goes down.