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Texas Outdoor Lighting Design: Low Light Levels Are Best

We’ve all heard the term “less is more” and we understand that too much of anything is very often just that – too much.  So it makes sense that some people may think using more fixtures in our lighting designs might mean too much light. Truthfully, a lot of our designs actually use the “more is less” lighting technique when counting fixtures.  How can more fixtures actually produce less bright light? I wish the answer here was easy; but I’m going to try to explain why more fixtures are usually needed in the typical outdoor lighting design.

A 4 watt LED fixture is perfect for this small Japanese Maple tree

A 4 watt LED fixture is perfect for this small Japanese Maple tree

Quite often when I walk a property with a prospective client they will point to a tree and say “I want to light that tree,” and then they’ll point to another place and say, “and I want a light there.” As we walk the grounds there is a lot of pointing indicating where they might like the light.  I generally nod and take my notes and ask some questions to get a better idea of why this person wants lighting, and how they want their lighting to look.  This is when they also mention they don’t want their property lit up like a resort.  They don’t want it too bright, and they want it to look classy.  Hey, we’re on the same page at that point, because I certainly do not like landscapes that are just blasted with light.  I like to call over-lit landscapes, “LIGHTscapes” because it becomes all about the lighting and not about what is being lit.  I prefer to create what I call romantic lighting; but producing soft, layered lighting like this usually takes a lot more fixtures than most people think.

One of the reasons it takes so many lights to do this kind of lighting is because using one fixture to front light an oak tree – no matter how many lumens it produces — is just not enough.  One bright light simply can’t do the same job as two (or more) lower wattage fixtures. As a matter of fact, it’s rare that one fixture is all that’s needed to get a beautiful lighting effect for just about anything.  I’m not saying that you can’t light things up with one light, I’m just saying it’s very hard to light it well with only one light. There have been times when I’ve been able to light a large oak tree with just three fixtures because I was lighting other things in the area, and I let some of their light spill into the large oak tree.  We always take those things into consideration when creating a design, especially on a budget.

We also avoid using fixtures that are too bright. Since light doesn’t bend around the tree using only one bright light fixture, the result is harsh, intense spots in the nighttime darkness. It’s much better to use more fixtures that produce fewer lumens to add dimension, and fill the space with softer illumination.

A good lighting designer also tries to avoid large dark holes between the areas of brighter lighting, which are generally focal points on the property.  The best concept in great lighting design is to guide your eye toward the point of interest by gradually intensifying the light along the way to the desired location.  This draws your eye to the place where we want you to focus your attention.  By doing this your eye adjusts easily to the light instead of having a really bright spot in the middle of the darkness. These stark, super-bright points actually become quite glaring and offensive to the eye instead of enhancing a special piece in the landscape.

Yes, less is more in that we use less lumens per fixture in our designs; but more is better when we talk about the number of fixtures needed to produce a quality and beautiful outdoor lighting design that you will really love.

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