Our first priority in lighting the landscape is to provide the basic illumination that enables our vision. From there, we expand our designer’s skill to include several other goals – some obvious, others more subtle. The following article not only elucidates these goals, it sets them in relation to each other. It is the relationship of lighting goals that defines lighting quality. Lighting quality is the value we bring as professional landscape lighting designers.

What is Lighting Quality?

Quality is a nebulous word and largely subjective. One person loves the lighting, another hates it, and another is indifferent. With such a range of opinion, how is it possible to define and achieve this quality? The answer can be found by considering a host of factors including human needs, economics, energy efficiency, environmental issues, and considerations of architecture and plant material. The next time a homeowner asks why she should hire you to do the lighting, you will explain lighting quality and how you achieve it.

A 2008 landmark publication by the IESNA, A Guide to Designing Quality Lighting for People and Buildings defines and illustrates quality lighting from a needs standpoint. The following points are distilled from this publication and commentary provided by CAST Lighting’s Steve Parrott.

Human Needs

  1. Task Visibility.
  2. Task Performance.
  3. Mood and Atmosphere.
  4. Visual Comfort.
  5. Aesthetic Judgement.
  6. Health, Safety, and Well-Being.
  7. Social Communication.

Summary of Quality Landscape Lighting for Human Needs

The lighting designer illuminates the landscape to serve the needs of people who live and visit there. The designer provides sufficient illumination of the right type to enable people to perform needed actions in an environment that is visible, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing.

Economics and Environment

  1. Maintenance.
  2. Ownership Cost.
  3. Sustainability.
  4. Lighting Control.
  5. Dark Sky.

Summary of Quality Landscape Lighting for Economic and Environmental Needs

The lighting designer selects fixtures and components that are long-lived, reasonably priced, energy-efficient, and that represent a minimal impact on environmental concerns.


  1. Integration with Existing Architecture.
  2. Lighting Emphasis and Variation.
  3. Codes and Standards.

Summary of Quality Landscape Lighting for Architecture

The lighting designer recognizes important architectural and landscape features, and creates a design to selectively highlight these features. The designer also selects lighting fixtures that are visually appropriate to the surroundings.

Plant Materials

  1. Integration with Existing Plant Material.
  2. Plant Growth.
  3. Plant Health.
  4. Plant Aesthetics.

Summary of Landscape Lighting Quality for Plants

The lighting designer incorporates plant material into the lighting design with recognition of each plant’s distinctive qualities, and plans for lighting system changes as plant materials grow.


Quality lighting for the landscape is comprised of a host of factors including human needs, economics and the environment, architectural factors, and plant material considerations. The lighting designer who embraces all these factors and incorporates them into lighting plans offers great value to lighting consumers.