It's not uncommon in landscape lighting design to hear about a beautifully envisioned project that quickly turns into lights so bright your yard may as well be a landing strip at JFK airport. Assuming you're not planning on landing any aircraft in your yard, it's important to consider light pollution and unwanted glare. We're answering some of the most common questions to make sure your design is the vision you hoped it would be, and first up, how to target the focus of your lighting to get the safety and overall look you’re going for.
Target Lighting Appropriately
The key here is that you want your light to shine deliberately—every light should have a specific purpose. Otherwise, you either get that JFK landing strip or a backyard full of wandering spotlights. Here are some tips to get the focus of your lights where you want it:
- While it might make sense at first, a lot of strong lights focused haphazardly won’t equate to safety—the opposite is actually true. Strong lights, focused incorrectly, will actually cause unwanted glare, which can be the opposite of safe as well as annoying. So be sure to target your lighting on the beautiful things in your yard: trees, structures (play, fixed, etc.), plants, water features, pathways, and stairs (more about pathway and stair lighting to come).
- When you’re placing the focus on the things in your yard, focus lights downwards in most cases. This alleviates the chance for glare and random beams of light throughout your yard.
- Remember that the features of your yard are the stars of the show, NOT your lighting. Your lighting serves to highlight all the beautiful aspects of your yard, so be sure to keep it in its place. What are the best ways to accomplish this? Here are some methods you can put to work to keep the focus of your lighting in the right places:
- Uplighting focuses light upwards on landscape elements like trees and structures.
- Moonlighting does just what it says: Provides soft, natural, moon-like lighting in large areas for both safety and ambience. A great place to use moonlighting is in trees.
- Pathway lighting does provide safety (see below), but it can also greatly add to the beauty of your nighttime landscape.
Avoid Glare on Paths + Stairways
Here’s the deal where glare is concerned: While we might not even think about it, there’s a connection between our brain and our eyes. When lights cause glare, it can actually cause not only eye fatigue, but actual pain in some instances. Think about when your eyes are suddenly hit with bright light, and your first instinct is to cover them up with your arm or your hands. Now, think about this happening on paths and stairways—arguably the two most dangerous places in your yard accident-wise. That’s why it’s so important to avoid glare on paths and stairways at all costs. So, what are the best ways to avoid glare in these spaces in your yard?
- Determine the lighting angles needed in the space to ensure those beams of light go where they’re most needed.
- Space lighting fixtures appropriately. If they’re too close, you’ll get glare. If they’re too far apart, you won’t get the safety and effect you’re wanting. Go for pools of light, which will provide both safety and beauty.
- Focus pathway and stairway lighting downward, as recommended above, to help alleviate the chances of any glare.
Consider What Lumens are Needed
When it comes to lumens, we categorize lumen output in 4 levels, from lowest to highest (brightest). And like we mentioned above, it’s good to remember that strong lights don’t necessarily equate to safety. The amount of light you choose to place in different areas of your yard depends on your safety needs, the overall effect and feeling you’re wanting, and the size and placement of what you’re illuminating. Let’s quickly breakdown the different levels of light so you can get the correct degree of brightness to make your landscape dreams a reality.
Light Level 1 (80-120 lumens): This is our lowest lumen output, and this light level is best used for ground level objects 6-10 feet in height. Think: Low growing plants, bushes, shrubs, ground level porches, sidewalks, and so forth. The main goal for level 1 lights is to provide a “wash” of lights.
Light Level 2 (140-180 lumens): Use level 2 for objects 10-20 feet high, and remember that the taller the object, the more light that will be needed to illuminate it correctly. Use Level 2 for tasks like lighting the façade of your home, medium-sized trees, etc.
Light Level 3 (230-270 lumens): Level 3 works best for large trees and three story homes, and mansions. Spotlights, well lights, and up lights can help you achieve your level 3 lighting needs. Moonlighting, like we talked about above, also works well at this level.
Light Level 4 (350-1000 lumens): If you’ve got 50-80 foot tall trees in your landscape, then level 4 is for you. Level 4 will also illuminate tall chimney peaks and your mega mansion. Spotlights, well lights, and uplights also work well for level 4 lighting, and don’t forget to use moonlighting for those 50+ foot tall trees. The effects will be incredible!
Keep in mind that you can layer these light levels throughout your yard, providing the safety you need as well as the dramatic lighting effects that can turn a dark landscape into a nighttime oasis.
Use Dimmers to Adjust Landscape Light Brightness
One thing you might not think about when planning your landscape lighting is that you have the option to choose lighting fixtures with settings, like a dimmer option. Not only does this allow you to achieve the proper amount of lighting quickly and easily, but it also allows you to create the desired overall atmosphere in your yard when the sun goes down through depth, mood, and lighting layers, like we talked about above.
Once you have your overall lighting plan in place, now is the time to decide in which areas you want a dimming option. Here are some specific areas to think about where dimming can come in handy:
- Water features, like ponds and pools: When people are enjoying your pool, you especially need a different level of light for safety. When they’re not, a dimmer will still provide needed safety as well as beautiful ambiance.
- Gardens: Dimmers in gardens allow you to highlight your focus areas and dim the light on areas where you still want to provide safety and the appropriate amount of mood lighting.
- Play spaces: When the kids are outside playing at night, brighter lights are key for both safety and playing. However, when the playground is vacant, or it’s an adults-only occasion, dimmed lights are the ticket to still maintaining safety and the right amount of lighting.
- Entertainment areas: Like with play spaces, depending on what’s happening entertainment-wise, the option to have brighter or dimmer lighting and the ability to change that lighting almost effortlessly is a huge benefit.
Use the tips above to ensure the lighting in your beautiful landscape adds to the overall feeling and safety you’re wanting, not detracts from it. Need further assistance? We’re happy to help, so contact us, and we’ll put our 20+ years of lighting experience to work for you.