Lighting and Nature

Back in the day when I was learning about outdoor lighting, my mentor, Bill Locklin, said that if I was to learn anything about the natural effects of outdoor lighting, I needed to take a walk at four different times of day. So, walk, I did …



A walk toward the east during the dawn hours 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, the silhouettes will become very defined. As the sun rises, different shadow patterns will be visible and the silhouettes will disappear. Then, if you turn, and begin walking toward the west, you will be able to see the tops of trees and other objects being illuminated by the rising sun. This is nature’s way of backlighting.



Choose to walk on a sunny day during the noon hour and you will see the true color rendering of natural sunlight. Try standing under a large tree to view the effects of natural down lighting. The branch structure of the tree will produce a defined shadow as the sunlight passes through it. As the noon hour passes and the sun moves westward, the shadows begin to elongate.  If you have the opportunity to walk near a body of water at this time of day, you will likely be able to view 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 will appear. Take time to look and truly see the warm colors and effects of the setting sun. Viewing these effects during dusk will provide a very good example of backlighting. The rising and setting sun is very similar to adjusting a fixture.



Choose an evening with a full moon. A full moon is an amazing natural light! Stand under the same tree as you did in the noon sun. The full moon will also produce defined shadows as the light passes through the trees. If there is turf under the tree, the full moonlight will provide a cool white effect.  This same effect can be achieved by using a higher kelvin lamp or integrated fixture in a downlightingapplication. During a moonlight walk, check out the mirror lightingin the body of water as was viewed during the early afternoon; it will likely be more subtle, but it will be there.


Keep in mind that, regardless of the time of day, the greater the ambient light that is in the area the more muted any of these effects will be. Ambient light sources such as streetlights and coach lights can compromise your walk through nature as well as your landscape lighting design.  Choosing the correct lamps and using a viable dimmer, will help you achieve the desired outcome.


I encourage you, also, to take these four walks through nature. Take the time and absorb what nature has to teach us!

Kevin SmithComment