Designing With Light

One could argue that half the battle with describing lighting is the language used.  When “talking tech” among fellow lighting designers it is great to use geeky language and technical terms, but it is easy to lose your customer with this lingo. Understanding your audience is extremely important.  Learning to convey your thoughts and design concepts in a non-technical way will pay off in the long run. 


When designing with light, it is critical that you know your customer’s needs from the start; this will ensure a smooth project.  To keep your customer engaged, it is important to identify the objective of a design within a few minutes of a design consult.  For example, if the customer mentions they like to entertain a lot, that might be a hint to use a little more of a bold dramatic approach, rather than a safety and security approach.  


Knowing the viewing angle of the object that you are lighting is crucial. I have seen installations where a fixture was installed “per plan”, only to have the fixture be on the wrong side of a block wall, and the light effect was not viewable from the customer’s patio. What aids in this endeavor is asking the customer some lifestyle questions.  Where do they spend the most amount of time?  How do they use their outside areas? It is also helpful to observe an object you want to light from multiple angles; move around the area, indoors and/or outdoors, with the customer to get a good idea. Going through these exercises will give you a better understanding of the need and thus a successful end result.


If the proposed area proposed to light is quite small, it might feel even more cramped if you only light architecture and plants within that area. A method used to make small spaces feel bigger is to capture objects that are farther away, but still in view. This will help draw your eye out to a focal point rather than the immediate space.  This same concept can be used to light focal points in a landscape that are far away.  


Layering light within a landscape lighting plan is very useful to achieve a dramatic look with many features.  This can be achieved by using different lighting methods such as up lighting, down lighting, back lighting, and path lighting.   Another technique that aids in a well thought out lighting design is building hardscape features to accept the lighting you plan on installing. For example, use a large cap stone for a knee wall to help disguise the light source.  Or, install a LED light strip underneath the ledge of an outdoor kitchen just by planning ahead and having a slightly larger overhang.  The options are endless when designing the hardscape around a lighting plan.

Kevin SmithComment