The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Outdoor Lighting Design Techniques


Outdoor Lighting Design Techniques and Effects

There are several different ways to light an outdoor area and different terms used. To help you learn the outdoor lighting design lingo, the following is a list of popular landscape lighting techniques and the effect it creates:


This technique involves lighting from up above to shine downward. There are two different options for downlighting:

Down Lighting from a Tree

Downlighting from a tree:  A specifically designed fixture is strategically installed on a branch high in a tree and aimed downward. The leaves and branches create a unique shadowing effect in the evening, much like the effect of a full moon-lit sky, and is also referred to as moonlighting.

This technique is great for patios, paths and walkways, driveways, and more.

Down Lighting from a Structure

Downlights attached to a structure: The downlights in this photo are attached to a pergola, and can also be attached under the eaves of a house roof line, patio covers, gazebos, and more. Down-light fixtures are custom designed and strategically placed to blend into the structure, drawing attention to the area, not the fixture.

This technique is great for emphasizing a structure, drawing attention to some flower beds or beautiful plants in the front of the house, as well as lighting entrances and doorwaysSee more down-lighting applications on Houzz»


This technique involves lighting from the ground up.

Up Lighting

Fixtures are placed at the base of the tree or structure and pointed upwards, thereby creating a silhouetting or shadowing effect.

The technique serves dual purposes. Up-lighting can add security to the exterior of your home, or draw attention to a particular tree or object. Show off a large tree and its branches, bushes and shrubs, or emphasize unique features on your property such as a flagpole, fireplace, and statues to name a few options. See more up-lighting applications on Houzz»

Path Lighting:

This technique involves lighting paths, walkways and steps.

Path Lighting on Steps

There are numerous different ways to light paths, walkways, and steps. You can install path lights, down lights, or a combination of both.

This technique adds safety to walkways and steps, helping prevent potential trips and falls. Also providing adequate light on walkways helps guide yourself and guests around your property. See more path lighting applications on Houzz»

Specialty Lighting:

This combination of techniques we use to light specific features of a property, or can serve as a specific function. Different techniques are used to light seawalls, decks, stone features, and water features. Here are a few of our most popular specialty lighting techniques:

Sea Wall Lighting

Seawall lighting is a technique where lights are installed into seawalls, creating a unique effect of shining a soft, reflecting light on the water. The lighting will make the area by the water much safer at night as well. 

Outdoor Deck Lighting

Deck lighting involves installing fixtures onto prominent posts of the deck, creating light with a relatively large spread.  Adding lighting to the posts of your deck can easily extend the time spent outside enjoying the evening while adding safety too.

In-grade lighting

In-grade lighting involves installing well lights at the base of a stone feature or interesting architecture. The fixture allows the light to gently crawl up the stone or texture, creating unique shadow effects.

Lighting water features

Lighting a water feature involves using fixtures submersed in water. This technique creates a truly unique effect where the light looks like it is dancing on the water. This technique can be used in water fountains, ponds, and pools.

These are just a few specialty lighting techniques we use. To see more and ask questions about a specific technique, view more specialty lighting on Houzz»

We recommend choosing a company that specializes in outdoor lighting solutions for residential and commercial projects. This dedication to lighting means a dedication to quality and attention to the details. When the contractor understands the intricate details of design and installation customers are rewarded with a long-term solution they can be proud of.

Download the essential guide to hiring an outdoor landscape lighting professionalDownload the Essential Guide to Hiring an Outdoor Lighting Professional»

If you have any questions about or would like to discuss your outdoor lighting needs, please feel free to contact us or schedule a free consultation today! 

Outdoor and Landscape Lighting Ideas - Browse Our Photos for Inspiration | McKay Landscape Lighting Omaha Nebraska

Landscape lighting is what we do. Every day.

We’ve been in the landscape industry since 1987, becoming a dedicated outdoor lighting firm in 1992. Our experienced lighting team provides the expertise and experience needed to light your outdoor space for both beauty and security. Our goal is to provide the highest quality, custom lighting services and products, to homes and businesses across the nation.

Located in Omaha, McKay Lighting services Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota areas, including Lincoln, Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Des Moines, Kearney, the surrounding areas and beyond.

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