Downlighting vs. Uplighting: How to Select the Right Outdoor Lighting Fixture

Modern landscaping has transformed the use of outdoor lighting from a functional necessity into a form of artistry. Creating a dynamic “nightscape” in Lancaster, PA, backyards requires fixtures of various intensities installed at different heights and angles. Two of the most basic and widely used lighting techniques are downlighting and uplighting. Despite their apparent simplicity, these techniques are incredibly versatile and can be used to achieve a wide range of visual effects. Read on to discover whether downlighting or uplighting will be best suited to your next project.  

Downlighting vs. Uplighting

 Downlighting vs. Uplighting: How to Select the Right Outdoor Lighting Fixture  

Downlighting typically involves mounting a fixture onto a tall structure so that it casts a glow over the area beneath it. Experiment with the placement of fixtures to achieve the most natural look possible. While the designated area should be well-lit, the origin of this light should ideally be unclear and the fixtures should all be well concealed. Fixtures can be nestled into trees or tucked behind hardscaping elements like beams. Achieving a natural look and feel is also dependent upon utilizing bulbs of the right intensity. 

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For clients interested in a romantic atmosphere for their softscape, consider mounting low intensity bulbs in tall trees. The soft, faint light trickling through the branches creates an effect known as moonlighting. Dining tables and seating areas should also be lit using low intensity bulbs to prevent people from enduring an uncomfortable glare or a feeling of being overexposed. 

Uplighting is generally achieved using spotlights and well lights that are angled upward to illuminate specific structures. This lighting technique generally requires more forethought and artistic flair than downlighting because the light created is more focused and purposeful. Select structures with the most interesting shapes and textures for this technique. Twisted branches and the details on a sculpture will appear more alive and captivating when highlighted against a dark canvas. You could even angle a few fixtures to shine crisp beams of light onto a bare wall and imbue the home with a sense of elegant intrigue and dramatic flair. Create interesting silhouettes on bare walls by positioning shapely shrubs and other verticals in the path of light. 

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When to Downlight

Downlighting should be utilized for ground-level points of interest, like ponds and water features. Bodies of water are particularly good candidates because they reflect light from above in spectacular ways. Downlighting is also used to illuminate large outdoor living areas, and is generally executed to mimic moonlight and remain rather unnoticed. This type of large scale downlighting is primarily functional, ensuring that frequently utilized spaces can be navigated safely after dark. Small scale downlighting fitted beneath benches and the coping of retaining walls can also keep the ground well-lit to maximize safety. 

When to Uplight

Uplighting is generally used more sparsely because it often packs a greater visual punch. Carefully selected focal points and neglected areas of the landscape that bear little character are common candidates for uplighting. Uplighting is also often used to accentuate the evening presence of the home by highlighting elements on its architecture.

Combining Techniques 

It’s no secret that every great design bears highs and lows — in color, texture, and a range of other characteristics. Without a simple canvas, no one could see the added details. By combining the mellow effect of downlighting with the dramatic look of uplighting, you can create a landscape that is perfectly balanced and wonderfully captivating after sunset.