Exterior Lighting – How to Enhance Outdoor Settings and Paint with Light

Mar 13, 2017

Exterior lighting can perform many functions – from dramatising and transforming a building façade at night, to highlighting landscape features, providing illumination for outdoor dining settings, and ensuring the safety of users of pathways and stairways.

There are many techniques for achieving dramatic effects using outdoor lighting to enhance outdoor settings and paint with light. Here are just some of the most effective:


Uplighting uses low-voltage halogen or LED lighting placed at the base of a tree and pointed upwards to highlight the tree’s shape and trunk. Another luminaire placed two to three metres away can be placed to highlight the tree’s canopy.


Shadowing is used to ‘wash’ a feature such as a tree, fountain or statue so that it will cast a shadow against a wall or other solid structure such as a fence.  Place the lighting fixtures low and angle upwards for the most dramatic effect.


Spread-lights or uplights placed right beside a wall, with beams directed upwards, can be used to highlight interesting textures.


Crosslighting is used to light a feature from two sides and is usually used to highlight the major feature in a nightscape.


Create the shadows and effect of a full moon lit sky by placing fixtures high in a tree, crosslit down on the ground below.


Placing luminaires to the side of the surface you wish to illuminate and letting it ‘wash’ over it creates a soft glow bathing a wall or row of shrubs.


To create a silhouette effect, a spread light (typically a bi-pin halogen bulb with mirrored backing) is used to create a wide band of white light for backlighting objects or plants against a wall.

Underwater lighting

Submersible outdoor lighting can create magical effects when placed in ponds, pools and fountains. Colour-changing pool lighting can be used to create a party atmosphere.


Lighting along pathways should be primarily focussed on wayfinding and safety but can also be placed to create a sense of romance or adventure, enticing the user to see where the pathway might lead.

String lighting

Strings of tiny LED lights can be hung in trees or along the roofline of a building to create a twinkling effect.

LED technology has also spawned a number of innovative new outdoor lighting solutions including floating light balls, strip lighting, internally illuminated outdoor furniture and illuminated plant holders.

Exterior lighting should be selected specifically for the application to deliver suitable IP ratings for ingress protection, and IK ratings for impact resistance. Specific products are available to suit building codes for commercial and urban exterior landscapes including bollards, ceiling lights, flood and spot lights, floor lights, illuminated furniture, in-ground lights, landscape and garden lights, LED strip lights, pendant lights, post lights, table lights and wall lights.

When exterior lighting is durable, long-lasting, energy efficient and environmentally sustainable it can be used to great effect, enhancing any outdoor setting with the transformative power of light.