See the light, not the source

Think about how to show off the landscape and architecture while keeping the source out of view with an overall plan.
When designing a lighting system, use these tips to keep in mind the viewpoints of the object being illuminated and hide the sources.

The magical effects of landscape lighting systems have graced the homes of many for years. Pioneers of our industry Frank Nightingale and Bill Locklin shared the same theory on lighting effects. Being a magician, Frank Nightingale hid his fixtures in plain sight by constructing them in the form of garden ornaments, like birdhouses and plant holders. Bill Locklin coined the phrase, “The effect of the light should be seen, not the source.” Locklin often gave great examples of how to hide light sources during seminars.

In today’s lighting world, these marching orders from the pioneers are not really discussed. When designing a lighting system, it is important to keep in mind the viewpoints of the object being illuminated. Here are some tips to accomplish this.


Perhaps there is a large tree in a lawn area that can be viewed from both the front and back yards. Speak with the customer to understand how much they wish to emphasize it. If this happens to be a grand feature in the design, you may want to hide the fixtures by using several well lights around it. This way you illuminate the entire tree without seeing any fixtures. Since uplighting is an unnatural effect, the eye will be drawn to the illuminated feature and not the light source itself.

Directional downlighting

When designing directional downlighting, select fixtures with longer or adjustable shrouds. Choose your targets. Select the proper wattage, Kelvin temperature and beam angle. Place them in a way to be sure there is no light leakage or potential glare. You can add hex louvers to fixtures to remove potential side glare. Check the viewpoints and be cognizant of any neighboring properties. Avoid any chance of light trespass that could cause trouble for your client.

Grazing effects

In most situations, the customer has paid much more for the dwelling than the actual landscape. Illuminating the home should always be discussed on a home consultation. When a light source is hidden behind a shrub or bush and is aimed at the architecture, the texture is illuminated. If the plant material is not too dense, it will be seen in silhouette. This can provide the grazing of the structure, the silhouette of the plant and a perfectly hidden fixture. Check to avoid any potential hot spots. Use caution when lighting under windows. Be sure the pitch of the roof will not reflect any light directly into windows.

Pathway lighting and taller fixtures

Pathway fixtures may be hard to conceal. Considering the viewpoints of the path and lights can help you determine the right tools to use to direct the light where the client wants it. Perhaps the client has knee walls on either side of the walkway. Instead of traditional hat path lights, consider using hardscape pucks or ledge-style under-cap lights. Another situation might be dense hedges on either side of the walkway. Ask the customer if they will allow a slight separation to be cut into shrubs. If they are willing, you could consider an adjustable fixture on a longer mounting stem with a 90-degree elbow at the top. Position this fixture to be hidden inside the gap between the hedges. The beam of light will look like it is coming from the side of the shrubs without showcasing a fixture.

In some areas, it may be necessary to use a taller fixture. Larger flower gardens are a perfect example. Check all viewpoints of the area. Look for seating areas. If there is a bench in the area, take a seat for a moment. Check the height level of the plant material. This will give you a good idea of where the bottom of the fixture shield should be. Select a well-shielded, taller area light. Look for fixtures with frosted lenses and good reflective quality on the underside if in the shade. Many manufacturers make a garden torch with a 12-volt lamp under the shade. This could be a fixture that could be considered for the task.

Underwater lighting

When illuminating fountains, the viewpoints will be rather obvious. However, they are critical to consider. For wall fountains, viewpoints are normally 180 degrees; whereas a fountain in the center of an entry may have a 360-degree viewpoint. Consider the ideal fixture placement for the scenario. Keep in mind the reflectivity of the fountain and adjust the wattage and lens type accordingly. Use eyebrow shields and hex louvers to prevent any glare coming from the basin. Fishponds can have a variety of viewpoints. Keep any uplights hidden and directed at the waterfall if there is one. To illuminate the basin, position the fixture on the sides illuminating toward the center of the pond, and use shelf rock to conceal them.

Take pictures of all viewpoints

When you walk the job, take pictures of the site and note all the different lighting viewpoints you encounter. The viewpoints from a single-story home and a multistory home will be different. On a multistory property, ask your client to take some pictures from the second or third level windows to give you a view from the top down. You will be able to plan your system better to avoid any glare from entering the higher-level windows.

These are just some of the ways to plan for viewpoints in lighting designs. What tip do you find helpful? Special thanks to Sean Curran, CLVLT, for consulting on this article.

Kevin Smith is the national technical support and trainer at Brilliance LED LLC, Carefree, Arizona, and can be reached at

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