A beam angle determines how much light is projected from a given light source or fixture. It is a major contributor to the overall look and feel of your landscape lighting design.

This blog post will discuss beam angle best practices as they relate to landscape lighting design. You will learn what beam spreads are best used for the most common outdoor lighting applications and why a versatile fixture is crucial to creating a thoughtful outdoor lighting design.

What You Need to Know About Beam Angles

The beam angle of your outdoor lights has a huge impact on the ambiance of a space. For example, adjusting your beam angles to highlight unique focal areas will create a very different feel to lighting that provides accent lighting.

To better understand beam angles, you need to know the basics. You’ll learn about the two most critical factors below.

1. All About Intensity

Intensity refers to how bright or dim the light emitted from a given source is. Typically, the intensity of light output depends on the beam angle. For example, narrow beam angles produce more intense lighting because the focus is on a smaller area. 

On the other hand, wider beam spreads will produce less intense light since the light emitted is spread over a larger area— for example, a patio, outdoor sitting area, or backyard. 

Since your outdoor area may contain multiple spaces, you can mix and match beam angles based on the specific needs of each outdoor space in your landscape. Overall, adjusting your beam angle and intensity can help you add depth to your space and create a visually stunning landscape design.

2. Appropriate Beam Angle

The appropriate beam angle for your landscape lighting design depends on several factors. They include the size of your space, its purpose, and the overall aim of your lighting— eg. Is it decorative or functional? 

For example, if you want to light up a small sculpture in your garden with something like our CAST MR-16 Bullet Light, a narrow beam angle would highlight the details of the object. But, if you’re highlighting a tree, a wider beam angle will allow you to properly illuminate the entire tree canopy.

Another, important consideration for the correct beam angle is the distance between the light fixture and the object you want to illuminate. If the object is closer to the light fixture, then a narrow beam angle will prevent light from washing out the surrounding area. This way, you can better create contrast and add more dimension to your landscape design. 

Illustration showing silhouetting, shadowing, and grazing types of lighting cast on a monstera plant at night.

You can learn more about some of these principles for outdoor lighting in our article on front-of-house lighting positions.

Why Adjustable Beam Spread Fixtures Matter

As you’ve learned from our post about the right level for outdoor lighting, landscape lighting design is a synergy of using LED lights at the right light level. This also means fine-tuning the design at night to adjust not only the light level but the beam spread. Having the right beam angle makes all the difference in the world when it comes to lighting a property correctly.

Clubhouse at night with lighting on porch and along center pathway made of stone.

Now, the ability to dial in the desired mood and aesthetic is arguably one of the most important aspects of landscape lighting design; thus, having capable, versatile lighting fixtures is an absolute must. 

For instance, our Impressionist Series offers 20 light levels, five beam spreads, two color temperatures, quick change optics, and an adjustable glare shield equalling 200 different lighting effects. This makes a contractor or lighting designer’s job incredibly simple, giving them full control of every project.

When to Use Wash Lighting or Extra-Wide Beam Angles

A wall wash beam angle is considered 85 to 120 degrees. Typical landscape lighting fixtures used for washing are well lights, spot lights, and rectangular wash lights. (For us, this includes our Wash Light Series and Craftsman Series.)

Small shrubs with purple lilacs planted in pebbles in a row along pathway with lighting at night.

Wash lighting is used for all Level 1 lighting tasks. Wide beam spreads are best used to light big, wide, low-to-the-ground hedgerows and bushes, retaining walls, cultured walls, stone walls with a texture to them—anything that is incredibly wide (let’s say 80 feet), or have a wide base that you wish to illuminate immediately at ground level.

Wall washing is also the best bang for your buck because you can light more with fewer fixtures. For instance, if you are lighting an 80-foot-wide white stone wall, you can place a fixture every 12 feet. If you were to use a medium or narrow beam spread, fixtures would need to be even closer together, which could result in hot spots—something you always want to avoid.

When to Use Wide Beam Angles

A wide beam angle is considered 50 to 65 degrees and used in Level 1 moonlighting. Moonlighting is an outdoor lighting effect that mimics the light of a full moon spilling onto a property or whatever subject intended to be lit. 

Triangle lawn lit up with tree lighting and in plants along the house at night.

The moonlighting effect is created with the use of tree lights. For example, the best CAST fixtures to use to create moonlighting include the Impressionist LED Tree Light (CIT164) which provide dimming capabilities, and the Classic Series LED Tree Light (CTLED141).

When to Use Narrow Beam Angles

A narrow beam angle is considered 12 to 24 degrees and is generally used to illuminate formal stone columns, chimney tops, top peaks, and gables. This effect can create big beautiful beams on wrap-around porches, or lovely posts along country porches—straight up to the soffit of three-story homes. 

A narrow beam spread is also used to illuminate grand trees 80 feet tall, especially palm trees!

White Plantation-style home with two floors lit up at night with porch lighting and in front yard landscaped plants.

Spotlights and well lights (also known as ground lights) are most typically used for narrow beam spreads using a 200 to 600-lumen output, or Light Level 4.

Additionally, narrow beam angles can be merged with wide beam angles to create a layered lighting effect. This helps you create a dynamic light pattern. It’s also worth noting that narrow beam spreads require careful placement and positioning to avoid casting harsh shadows in the surrounding areas.

When to Use Medium Beam Angles

Medium beam angles are considered 28 to 45 degrees and are the most common beam spreads of the bunch. Medium beam angles are generally used to light two-story homes to project light 20 to 40 feet high into the soffits and tops of similar-sized trees. 

Spanish-style home with tall palms illuminated in front of the house with smaller lighting along stone driveway.

Medium beam angles are quite versatile and useful for various outdoor lighting applications.

The most commonly used lighting techniques for medium beam spreads are uplighting, downlighting, and moonlighting with an output of 120 to 250 lumens, or Light Level 3. (Any one of CAST’s fixture series will do the job here—the Impressionist Series, Classic Series and its 141 Bullet, or the Craftsman Series and its well lights, ground lights, and spot lights).

When used for uplighting— especially for trees, shrubs, and notable architectural features— medium beam angles can create a dramatic effect by highlighting textures or casting subtle shadows.

Conclusion: Mixing & Matching Beam Spreads

One thing we’d like you to walk away with after reading this blog (in addition to the wealth of information above) is this— it takes a symphony of light levels and beam angles, and nighttime adjustments to achieve beauty, symmetry, cohesion, and depth. The human eye needs to move seamlessly throughout the landscape without spotting “black holes” or dark areas in a scene. 

Using light levels and beam angles, you can easily create focal points that direct people through the property in a beautiful, symmetrical, cohesive way. Thus, it’s important to use versatile fixtures to mix and match light effects easily and efficiently (particularly for making quick and painless nighttime adjustments).

We hope this gives you a lot to think about when planning your next outdoor lighting project, and make sure to check back more for tips from the CAST Lighting team!