Tips And Techniques, Lighting, Outdoor Living

10 Landscape Lighting Techniques To Brighten Up Your Space

Landscape lighting on Walloon Lake

There’s nothing quite like a Northern Michigan night, whether you’re enjoying quiet conversation under a starry sky or telling spooky stories around the campfire. As landscapers, we design outdoor spaces with both daytime and evening use in mind, taking into consideration elements like safety, ease of movement, and use of color and shape. One of the ways we enhance the nighttime landscape is through landscape lighting design. Below, we’ll discuss 10 landscape lighting techniques and explain where to put landscape lighting to achieve specific looks and moods.

But before we get to all of that, let’s answer one fundamental question: why include landscape lighting in your outdoor space? We have a dedicated team of landscape lighting professionals because we believe in making the most of all Northern Michigan has to offer. That includes spending time outside after the sun has gone down! Landscape lighting creates an inviting space with lots of aesthetic benefits, but it also adds safety by illuminating paths and highlighting potential tripping hazards.

Landscape lighting goes beyond pure function, so let’s take a look at some different lighting design techniques.


By placing spotlight-style landscape lights at the base of a feature and angling towards it, you create a highlight effect. This can be used to draw attention to specimen trees, statues, or hardscaping elements like water features. Varying the distance and angle of the lights can change the effect, so experiment to find the look you’re going for.

Highlighting landscape lighting spotlight

Photo courtesy of Hunter Industries Incorporated.


While Highlighting is achieved by landscape lights placed in front of and angled towards a feature, a silhouette is formed when the lights are placed behind and angled away from the feature towards a structure behind it, such as a wall or fence. The soft light reflected off the solid surface will create a dramatic shadow out of the object in front of it.

landscape lighting silhouetting manicured evergreen

Photo courtesy of VOLT® Lighting


Similar to Highlighting, Shadowing uses landscape lights angled towards a specific feature. However, the lights are often softer and create a gentler glow around the feature, casting a gentle shadow onto a solid surface behind it. This is a great effect for features that have an element of movement, such as tall grasses that sway in the breeze.

Shadowing landscape lighting Japanese Maple Kichler Lights

Photo courtesy of The L.D. Kichler Co.


Most often applied to walls and rows of shrubs, Washing creates a soft, ambient glow across a surface. This helps to define and accentuate larger areas, without creating a harsh brightness within the landscape. For best results, skip the spotlight and go instead for a wide-angled floodlight with low wattage. Experiment with angles and distance to find the look you love!

uplighting wash landscape lighting on stone wall

Photo courtesy of Hunter Industries Incorporated.

Up-lighting & Down-lighting

Up-lighting is a dramatic highlight of a particular feature by placing a light directly below it and angling it upwards. This can create a Shadowing, Silhouetting, or Washing effect based on light intensity and placement in relation to the feature.

Down-lighting is, as you’ve likely already guessed, placing a light in an overhead space and angling it down at a feature. Often used under the eaves of a home, Down-lighting creates a pool of light at the base of the structure it’s attached to. Both of these can be used to accent specific landscaping elements, such as statues, specimen trees, or water features.

Uplighting exterior décor on home landscape lighting
Downlighting landscape lighting in Northern Michigan

Top photo courtesy of CAST Lighting; bottom photo courtesy of VOLT® Lighting


Aiming to mimic the glow of the moon, Moonlighting is created by light fixtures placed within a tree’s canopy. Angled downward, they cast gentle shadows through the leaves and create a soft light within the canopy.

Moonlighting driveway landscape lighting in Northern Michigan

Photo courtesy of CAST Lighting


Focused more on function, path-lighting utilizes down-lighting techniques to illuminate stairs and walkways. When placing lights along your paths, be sure to consider any risks to the features, like accidentally being kicked or struck with a mower.

Path-lighting stepping stones landscape lighting northern Michigan

Photo courtesy of Hunter Industries Incorporated.


In-grade lighting is often installed in conjunction with hardscape features and aims to create light without drawing attention to the fixture itself. These fixtures are often well lights, installed flush with the surface, and used in areas where lights might otherwise be a tripping hazard or unwanted obstacle.

In-grade landscape lighting pathway FXL

Photo courtesy of Hunter Industries Incorporated.


Pools, spas, water features, and shorelines can all benefit from properly placed landscape lighting. Lights can be installed either above or below the water line to create different effects. To illuminate the steps of a pool or spa, place lights no more than twelve inches below the water’s surface. For general coverage, placing lights at either end or at even increments along the walls are most practical. Moving water creates incredible effects when illuminated from below and makes for a striking nighttime feature. For safety, make sure you hire a licensed professional for this style of lighting.

Outdoor spa lighting

Now that you’ve gotten to know the ins-and-outs of landscape lighting styles, you’re ready to pick the places in your landscape that would benefit from a little illumination. Whether you’re looking to highlight a specific feature, add safety to paths, or make your space more inviting after the sun has set, there are plenty of great techniques to meet your needs. And if you need a little help, our team of landscape lighting professionals is ready to help you get from initial idea to finished installation, so contact us today to get started!