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Where To Place Landscape Lighting

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Illuminating landscapes is a far more nuanced pursuit than many first think. Rife with different techniques, this outdoor lighting application can leave your head spinning as you wrestle a wicked case of option paralysis and shudder at the sheer volume of research that lies ahead of you.

But fret not, my light-bringing friend! I’m going to be breaking down all the essentials of landscape lighting right here right now. Stick with me and you’ll know exactly where to place your landscape light fixtures to best flaunt your features.

Where To Place Landscape Lighting

Landscape Lighting Techniques

The placement of landscape lights is all about creating a look and a mood, and to do so, you need to know exactly what look and mood you’re aiming for.

Luckily, the landscape illuminators that came before us have already split the various lighting methods into the following categories:

  • Silhouetting
  • Highlighting
  • Washing
  • Shadowing
  • Down lighting
  • Up lighting
  • Moonlighting
  • Accenting
  • Shoreline/pool
  • In-grade
  • Path lighting

It’s a hefty list, but below, I’ll be explaining exactly what each of these methods entails and how you should place your landscape lights to achieve them.


Rather than illuminating, silhouetting is all about shrouding a feature in darkness by lighting the space behind it. It makes for a high-drama aesthetic, and it’s my favorite way to make defined and highly manicured elements of an outdoor area pop.

Any exquisitely shaped plant life with plenty of definition such as spiral hedges will look amazing silhouetted, as will ornate man-made aspects of a landscape such as statues or certain water features.

To achieve this arresting look, you need to choose a feature close to a solid backdrop such as a wall, fence, or block hedge. You’ll place the light behind the feature, facing the backdrop, thereby darkening the feature whilst simultaneously imbuing it with a soft glow.


Highlighting is the exact opposite of silhouetting in that your aim is to illuminate a feature, showing off its color and form. Exotic ornamental grasses look fantastic with a bit of highlighting, as do statues and trellises.

Place your lights at the frontal base of the features you wish to highlight. The closer the light is to the feature, the more focused the highlight will be, while stationing the lights further away will provide softer, wider coverage of the feature.


Washing is most commonly used to draw attention to accent walls or wide trellises. The idea is that you bathe most of the surface in a soft, indirect light that trails off towards the edges of the structure, creating a subtle vignette.

While it seems like spots are the lights you’d need for washing, you’re actually better off using a low-wattage, wide-angle flood, as they’re less directional.

If you managed to find a suitable floodlight, place it a few feet in front of the structure. The larger the structure, the further away the flood will have to go to capture it all, and if you’re using a spotlight, it will have to go a long way back.


Shadowing sounds like silhouetting, but it’s actually very different. The goal here is to cast the shadow of a feature onto something behind it, whether that be a wall, a fence, a section of lawn, or even an entire facade.

Sparse plants such as acers make the perfect subjects for shadowing, as the shadows created are sprawling and well-defined. Ornamental grasses aren’t a bad target either, as they move a lot in the wind, adding interesting dynamic to the shadow cast.

The trick to shadowing is placing your light low down in front of the feature and tilting it up towards the most interesting aspects of your target.

The distance between your light and the feature, as well as the angle of your light, will have a huge impact on the resulting shadow, so don’t hesitate to experiment for a bit and find a shadow projection that you like.

Down Lighting

Down Lighting

Down lighting is used to illuminate something from above. There are a number of different lights you can use to do this, but pay attention to how they can be mounted, as you’ll need to secure them to a high structure.

This form of lighting is usually used to highlight a building perimeter, but it can just as well be applied to natural elements of a landscape. For instance, you could mount a down light on a tree to illuminate the plant life below.

This one’s fairly self-explanatory. Simply mount your light high on a structure and orient it so it’s facing directly downwards.

Up Lighting

Up lighting is down lighting flipped on its head. It’s basically a combination of highlighting and shadowing commonly used to emphasize decorative elements on a wall or fence.

The placement method for up lighting is the same as the one for highlighting but for the fact that the light needs to be far closer to the feature, almost completely beneath it.


Moonlighting involves placing a number of down lights high in the canopies of trees, thereby creating a moonly glow over a large area, complete with interesting shadows cast by the foliage of the trees.

You may need a ladder to reach high enough in your trees to place your down lights for moonlighting. Try to mount them beyond the first few branches to create a few leafy shadows below.


Accenting in landscaping is all about the dramatic juxtaposition of light and darkness on a single feature. This method can make a feature even more eye-grabbing than a standard highlight, as it adds some contrast and mystery to the scene.

The best accenting approach in regard to placement involves using a hidden fixture with a narrow beam that cuts across the feature at an angle from above or below.


Shoreline/pool lighting can be both practical and cosmetic in nature. To name just a couple of applications, it can highlight the steps of a pool or spa to keep users safe, or it can illuminate the moving water of a water feature from below.

When used for safety purposes, these lights should never be more than 12” below the surface of the water, and, typically speaking, the wall of a pool or spa is the best place to install them.


In-grade lighting is basically just up lighting but with a recessed light that sits flush with the ground. They’re usually installed at the base of hardscape structures.

You get a bit of wiggle room when it comes to placement, but if you want to illuminate the structure well, it’s best not to install them beyond 1.5 feet away.

Path Lighting

The best path lights are just specialist down lights that can be mounted or staked into the ground on either side of a walkway.

They should be placed close enough together that there are no significant dark spots on the path.

Final Thoughts

It seems like there’s a lot to consider when figuring out where to place landscaping lights, but it’s all simple stuff.

Ask yourself which of the visual effects discussed here today you’d prefer for any given feature, then follow the corresponding placement instructions.

You’ll get that yard of yours looking like a million bucks in no time!

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