Lighting with Nature 

Bill Locklin (the pioneer of 12V landscape lighting) believed that to learn about the natural effects of outdoor lighting, one needs to take a walk at four different times of day: dawn, noon, dusk, and under moonlight.


A walk toward the east at dawn will show off beautiful silhouettes of trees, mountains, and other tall structures. Watch as the effects of light change as the sun rises. At one point, silhouettes will become very defined. As the sun rises, different shadow patterns become visible, and the silhouettes will disappear. Then, if you turn and walk west, you’ll be able to see the tops of trees and other objects illuminated by the rising sun. This is nature’s way of backlighting.


Take a walk on a sunny day at noon, and you will see the true color rendering of natural sunlight. Try standing under a large tree to view the effects of natural downlighting. The branch structure of the tree produces a defined shadow as the sunlight passes through. After noon, as the sun moves west, the shadows begin to elongate. If you walk near a body of water in the afternoon, day, you will probably see taller objects reflecting in the water. This is a great example of mirror lighting. Similarly, when taller objects are illuminated upward in lighting design, the same effect can be achieved.


As the sun sets to the west, a different set of shadows and silhouettes appear. Take time to look at (and truly see) the warm colors and effects of the setting sun. Seeing these effects at dusk provides a very good example of backlighting. The rising and setting  sun is like the effect of adjusting a fixture.


Choose an evening with a full moon. A full moon generates amazing natural light! Stand under the same tree as you did in the noon sun. The full moon also produces defined shadows as light passes through the trees. If there is turf under the tree, the full moon will provide a cool white effect. You can achieve the same effect by using a higher kelvin lamp or integrated fixture in a downlighting application. During a moonlight walk, check out the mirror lighting in the same body from the early afternoon—the effect will likely be more subtle, but it will be there.


Remember: Regardless of the time of day, the more ambient light there is in the area, the more muted these effects will be. Light sources such as streetlights and coach lights can compromise your nature walk as well as your landscape lighting design. Choosing the correct lamps, and using a viable dimmer, will help you achieve the desired outcome.

Take these four walks through nature—absorb what nature can teach us!