How to light an outdoor scene | Our Step-by-Step Guide

Outdoor scenes can be breathtakingly beautiful, but proper lighting is essential to appreciate their beauty truly. Good lighting can enhance the mood and atmosphere of an outdoor space, highlighting its features and bringing it to life.

Whether planning a romantic dinner under the stars or hosting a backyard party, outdoor lighting can help create a magical ambiance that will leave a lasting impression on your guests.

In this article, we’ll explore the different types of outdoor lighting, provide tips on how to plan and set up your outdoor lighting, offer suggestions on how to use lighting to create specific moods and effects, and answer some common questions about outdoor lighting.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a solid understanding of how to light an outdoor scene like a pro. So, let’s get started!

Types of Outdoor Lighting

When it comes to lighting your outdoor scene, there are several types of lighting to choose from. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the right type of lighting based on your needs and preferences.

Pathway Lighting

Pathway lighting is used to light walkways and paths in your outdoor space. These lights are typically installed along the edges of walkways and are available in various styles, including lanterns, posts, and bollards. They provide a soft, warm glow that helps guide people through your outdoor space.

how to light an outdoor scene

  • Advantages: Pathway lighting adds beauty and functionality to your outdoor space, making it safer and easier to navigate at night.
  • Disadvantages: Pathway lighting can be expensive, and some styles may require professional installation.


Floodlights are bright, intense lights illuminating large areas, such as a backyard or a patio. They can be mounted on walls or posts and are available in halogen and LED options.

flood light for backyard and patio

  • Advantages: Floodlights provide excellent visibility and can help deter intruders from your property.
  • Disadvantages: They can be too bright and harsh for certain situations and may cause glare and light pollution.


Spotlights highlight specific areas or objects in your outdoor space, such as trees, sculptures, or architectural features. They are available in both fixed and adjustable styles and can be used to create dramatic effects.

  • Advantages: Spotlights can add depth and texture to your outdoor space and highlight specific features you want to draw attention to.
  • Disadvantages: They can be expensive and may require professional installation.

String Lights

String lights are a popular choice for outdoor lighting, particularly for festive occasions such as weddings and parties. They come in various shapes and sizes and can be hung from trees, posts, or other structures.

string lights for patio and backyard

  • Advantages: String lights add a warm and inviting glow to your outdoor space and are versatile enough for various occasions.
  • Disadvantages: They may require frequent bulb replacements and can be difficult to install in hard-to-reach areas.

Choosing the right type of outdoor lighting depends on your needs and preferences. Consider the size and layout of your outdoor space, the purpose of the lighting, and the desired mood or atmosphere you want to create. Doing so lets you select the perfect lighting option to illuminate your outdoor scene.

Tips on how to plan the lighting for your outdoor scene

Planning your outdoor lighting is important to achieving a well-lit and aesthetically pleasing outdoor space. Here are some tips to help you plan your outdoor lighting:

Assess Your Needs

Take a walk around your outdoor space and make a list of the areas that need lighting. Consider areas that need extra visibility for safety, such as pathways and stairs, as well as areas where you want to create a certain mood or atmosphere, such as a patio or a garden.

Determine Your Budget

Outdoor lighting can range from inexpensive to very expensive, so it’s important to determine your budget upfront. Consider the cost of the fixtures, installation, and ongoing maintenance when creating your budget.

Consider the Different Types of Lighting

As discussed earlier, there are several types of outdoor lighting to choose from. Consider the pros and cons of each type and how they will best suit your needs.

Decide on a Style

Consider the overall style of your outdoor space when choosing your lighting fixtures. Do you prefer a traditional or modern look? Would you like to incorporate a specific theme or color scheme?

Choose the Right Bulbs

The type of bulbs you choose for your outdoor lighting can greatly impact the overall effect. Consider the color temperature, brightness, and energy efficiency of the bulbs.

Create a Lighting Plan

Once you’ve assessed your needs, determined your budget, and chosen your fixtures and bulbs, it’s time to create a lighting plan. Consider the placement and direction of the fixtures to achieve the desired effect. Include various lighting types and heights for a balanced and visually appealing result.

Following these tips, you can plan your outdoor lighting effectively and achieve the perfect look for your outdoor scene.

how to light an outdoor scene

Factors to Consider When Planning Your Outdoor Lighting

When planning your outdoor lighting, several factors must be considered to ensure that you achieve the desired effect. Here are some important factors to keep in mind:

Size of the Area

The size of the outdoor space you want to light is an important factor to consider when choosing your lighting fixtures. A larger space may require more fixtures, while a smaller space may only need a few strategically placed fixtures. Consider the size and layout of your space when choosing your lighting options.

Type of Event

Another important factor to consider is the type of event or activity that will take place in your outdoor space. For example, if you’re hosting a party or a gathering, you may want to incorporate festive string lights or colored bulbs to create a celebratory mood. On the other hand, if you’re looking to create a calm and relaxing atmosphere, warm and soft lighting may be more appropriate.

Mood and Ambiance

The mood and ambiance you want to create in your outdoor space are key factors to consider when choosing your lighting options. Do you want to create a romantic, intimate, bright, lively atmosphere? Consider the mood you want to create and choose lighting fixtures that complement that mood.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is an important consideration when choosing your outdoor lighting fixtures. LED lights are a great energy-efficient option that can help save you money on your energy bills in the long run. Be sure to check the energy ratings of your fixtures and bulbs before making your final selection.

Maintenance and Durability

Maintenance and durability are important factors when choosing outdoor lighting fixtures. Look for durable fixtures to withstand the elements and require minimal maintenance. Consider factors such as the materials used in the fixtures and the ease of changing bulbs.

By considering these factors when planning your outdoor lighting, you’ll be able to choose the right lighting fixtures and bulbs to achieve the desired effect and create a visually appealing and functional outdoor space.

Setting Up Your Lighting

Once you have chosen your lighting fixtures and bulbs and created a plan, it’s time to set up your outdoor lighting. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you:

  1. Gather Your Tools: Before you begin, ensure you have all the necessary tools and materials. This may include a ladder, a drill, screws, wire connectors, and electrical tape.
  2. Install the Fixtures: Using the lighting plan you created, install the fixtures in their desired locations. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and use the appropriate hardware and tools for your fixtures.
  3. Connect the Wires: Once the fixtures are installed, it’s time to connect the wires. Strip the ends of the wires and use wire connectors to connect the wires from the fixtures to the main electrical supply. Be sure to turn off the power supply before making any electrical connections.
  4. Test the Lights: Once all the wires are connected, turn on the power supply and test the lights to ensure they function properly. Make any necessary adjustments to the placement or direction of the fixtures to achieve the desired effect.
  5. Set Up a Timer or Smart Controls: Consider setting up a timer or smart controls to save energy and ensure your lights are only on when needed. This will allow you to set specific times for the lights to turn on and off or even control them remotely through a smartphone app.

how to light an outdoor scene

Tips and Tricks for Outdoor Lighting

To create the best effect with your outdoor lighting, it’s important to position the lights correctly. Here are some tips and tricks to help you position your lights for the best effect:

  1. Highlight Key Features: Consider what you want to highlight in your outdoor space when positioning your lights. This may include landscaping features such as trees, shrubs, or water features. Use spotlights or floodlights to illuminate these key features and create a focal point in your outdoor space.
  2. Avoid Glare: Avoid placing lights directly in the line of sight to prevent glare and create a more natural-looking outdoor space. Instead, position lights to shine down onto the ground or at an angle toward the object you want to illuminate.
  3. Use Layers of Light: Light layers help create a more dynamic and visually appealing outdoor space. This can be achieved by using a combination of task lighting, ambient lighting, and accent lighting. For example, use string lights for ambient lighting, spotlights for task lighting, and lanterns for accent lighting.
  4. Consider the Distance: When positioning your lights, consider the distance between the light source and the object you want to illuminate. A general rule of thumb is to place the light source about three times the distance away from the object as the height of the light fixture.

 Using Lighting to Create Specific Moods and Effects

Lighting can create specific moods and effects in your outdoor space. Here are some examples:

  1. Romantic and Intimate For a romantic and intimate atmosphere, use warm and soft lighting such as string lights or lanterns. Place the lights low to create a cozy and intimate feel.
  2. Bright and Lively For a bright and lively atmosphere, use colorful or bright lights such as colored bulbs or LED strips. Use multiple layers of light to create a dynamic and energetic space.
  3. Calm and Relaxing For a calm and relaxing atmosphere, use warm and soft lighting such as string lights or lanterns. Position the lights at a low height and use multiple light layers to create a cozy and peaceful atmosphere.

With these tips and tricks, you can create a beautiful, functional outdoor space that meets your needs and preferences.

How to light an outdoor scene FAQs

What are the best types of bulbs to use for outdoor lighting?

The best types of bulbs to use for outdoor lighting are LED bulbs. LED bulbs are energy-efficient, long-lasting, and come in a variety of colors and brightness levels. They are also more durable than other bulbs and can withstand temperature changes and outdoor elements.

How do you avoid glare from outdoor lights?

To avoid glare from outdoor lights, you can use shields or hoods to direct the light downward and away from the line of sight. Position the lights to shine down onto the ground or at an angle toward the object you want to illuminate. Use diffused or frosted bulbs to create a softer and more natural-looking light.

How do you protect outdoor lights from the elements?

Choosing weather-resistant lights designed for outdoor use is important to protect outdoor lights from the elements. Look for lights with an IP rating of at least 44, indicating they are resistant to dust and splashing water. Install the lights in covered or sheltered areas to protect them from direct rain, snow, and wind exposure. Regularly clean and maintain the lights to prevent dirt and debris from accumulating and affecting their performance.


In conclusion, outdoor lighting is crucial in creating a visually appealing and safe outdoor environment. By understanding the different types of outdoor lighting and factors to consider, you can create a lighting plan that meets your specific needs and desired mood.

Setting up outdoor lighting requires careful planning and attention to detail, but the results can be stunning. You can create unique outdoor lighting designs by experimenting with different techniques and effects.

Remember to carefully choose weather-resistant lights and position them to avoid glare and create the desired effect. We hope this article has provided useful tips and inspiration for your outdoor lighting projects.