Designing with outdoor lights is an art form similar to painting or sculpture, but instead of paint or clay, we use light as our medium. The same elements of design and composition apply to lighting as they do any other form of art. The qualities we strive for to capture the most visually pleasing results are harmony and unity; proportion and scale; and pattern, texture, and color, all blended to create our client’s masterpiece.
All About Balance of Outdoor Lighting
A successful composition, whether a painting or a garden design, must be in balance, so the entire picture comes together as a cohesive whole. When this balance is achieved, the composition feels good. The same is true for designing effective outdoor lighting for your home and landscapes. You want to create a harmonious whole. If the lighting design is spotty, say with brightly lit areas broken up by dark holes that don’t lead the eye to a focal or resting point, the results are too harsh. We design with soft layers of light between brightly lit areas. This soft “transition” light helps the eye move seamlessly through the composition to the different points of interest.
Balance can be either symmetrical or asymmetrical. If a daytime landscape is strongly symmetrical, we want to reflect that in your after dark illumination. As an example, if you garden features some large trees as a focal point, we may want to give equal weight to lighting both trees at night. To achieve symmetry in outdoor lighting design, we generally want to create equal brightness from one side of the scene to the other side.
Asymmetrical designs are less visually stable. Done well, asymmetrical designs can be exciting and dynamic because they encourage the eye to move through the scene, creating an emotional response as the eye settles on an object and until it moves on. Generally, asymmetrical designs will be more harmonious if you feature odd numbers. One, three, or five points of interest feel more unified than an even number.
The star of the scene should be more brightly lit than lesser features, understanding that you do not have to include all the daytime focal points in your nighttime design. You can create a sort of rhythm with landscape lighting by illuminating a row of trees, for example, each with its own uplight, or by highlighting the support posts of a pergola next to the pool. A row of equally spaced lights grazing the wall of the pool house or cabana is another example of good rhythm.
Bottom line: Lighting should be an enhancement, even subtle, creating a warm feeling inside. A landscape lighting design feels great when you barely notice it, until you turn off the lights. That contrast usually creates an “oh wow” from our clients, and a warm feeling for our team.