Landscape Lighting Techniques

Before you start adding backyard lighting or landscape lighting to your yard it is good to know a little bit about common landscape lighting techniques. Once you understand the common lighting techniques you can start planning your overall design to both highlight certain features and to create the best outdoor lighting design for your specific yard and home.

Choosing Landscape Lighting Techniques

Once you decide which landscape lighting techniques you want to use and know how you want to use them you will also be better prepared to start shopping for the right backyard lights to successfully complete your project.

There are a variety of fixtures that will help you achieve just the right look whether you are looking for energy-efficient outdoor solar lights, low-voltage lights or other specific types of outdoor lights. Or you may want to hire a professional to help you create the optimum design for your yard and to help with installation.

You can find some basic backyard lighting ideas by driving through neighborhoods at night, looking at pictures online or by looking through magazines. Sometimes this can help you get started and on your way to creating the best backyard lighting design for your yard.

Diffused Lighting

Diffused Landscape Lighting

Diffused Landscape Lighting

Diffused lighting is typically used to diffuse or spread light over a wider area like a flower bed, a pathway or another landscaped area of the yard. This type of lighting technique often uses a softer light, however slightly brighter lights that are higher off of the ground, like bollard lights, can diffuse a nice light on paths, driveways or landscaped areas. Solar path and post lights often work well for this.

Ambient Lighting

Similar to indoor ambient lighting, outdoor ambient lighting provides a general comfortable level of illumination in an area that allows you to easily and safely use the space. Ambient outdoor lighting is commonly used on patios, decks and entryways. There are a variety of fixtures you can use to create this effect including string lights, rope lights, patio umbrella lights, lanterns, wall lights, or deck post lights just to name a few.


When uplighting the light source should be placed on or in the ground pointing upwards to highlight a specific feature. Uplighting can be used to feature things like a statue, trees or even a interesting textured surface. This lighting technique can create a dramatic effect.


Landscape Lighting Downlighting


Downlighting, as the name suggests, is when you mount the fixture high above and direct the beam downwards. This technique will cast light over a pretty wide area, depending on the exact fixture you choose. The lights can be mounted in trees or strategically placed on your house or another structure in the area. This technique can work well to illuminate an area where you might entertain like a patio or deck, although it’s typically not as soft as ambient lighting. But it can also double as security lighting.


Moonlighting is very similar to downlighting but typically a softer light is used to create the effect of moonlight coming through the trees and creating natural shadows instead of having it feel like artificial outdoor lighting. Sometimes a light with a slight filter or bluish color is used to get a more realistic effect.


Accent Lighting And Spotlighting

Accent lighting is typically brighter; it is used to highlight specific structures or landscape features, for example a water feature or a specific landscaped area of the yard. A spotlight can be used to focus a controlled beam on the point of interest. Occasionally floodlights are used to create a wider distribution of light. In some cases, for example if you have a fountain, colored lights can be used to create a more distinct look.

Cross Lighting

Cross lighting is an outdoor lighting technique where you use lights to illuminate an object from more than one angle. Not only can this allow you to better light an object from varying angles, it can also provide an opportunity to produce some interesting shadows, depending on how the fixtures are directed.

Grazing And Washing

Landscape Lighting Washing


Grazing and washing are used to highlight the texture of a specific surface. Grazing can be very effective when light is used to highlight attractive masonry, such as stone or brick. Washing is often used in the front of homes with lights installed on the ground pointing upwards across the surface of the home.


Shadowing, sometimes called shadow casting, is an outdoor lighting technique where you install lights in front of an object, like a small bush, to cast a shadow on the wall behind it to add depth and a bit of drama to your backyard lighting design. Typically the lights are installed in front and below the object from which you want to create the shadow, but you can use your artistic side and get creative with this technique.


Silhouetting is used to create a similar feel that happens when the sun sets and creates a silhouette of an object, like a tree or bush, against the sky at dusk. With this technique you want to place the light low behind the object you are trying to silhouette. The light fixture should be concealed and pointed towards the viewer.

Underwater Lighting

Underwater lighting only applies if you have a water structure in your yard like a pool, pond, fountain or waterfall. When used well underwater lighting can create some really beautiful effects. In some cases colored lights and dimmers can help you make the best use of this technique.

Whether you choose to do the job yourself or hire a lighting contractor good use of landscape lighting techniques can really enhance the look, functionality and security of your yard at night.