Downlighting vs. Uplighting | Landscape and Event Lighting Strategy

Downlighting vs. Uplighting | Landscape and Event Lighting Strategy

There are a lot of ways to play with light. But before you start spending money on lighting for your home or event, carefully consider the reasons why you want to add lighting.

Do you want to light up a bench for safety and comfort? Is there a beautiful tree ready for the limelight? Or do you just want to be able to enjoy the property at night?

After you have thought about why you want lighting, sketch your property. Keep in mind the views from the inside, aesthetic focal points, safety focal points, ambient and focal lighting.

Downlighting vs. Uplighting

To help you think about how you should light up your yard, there are two main lighting strategies:

  • Downlighting, which is light that is aimed downward.
  • Uplighting, which is light that is aimed upward.

Safety and beauty are probably high on your list of reasons why you want landscape lighting. Luckily, you can achieve both with a combination of downlighting and uplighting.


Downlighting is a great way to create a gentle, diffused light resembling moonlight.

Downlights are often connected to a metal cylinder, which creates a light that is concentrated in a downward fashion. It is normally recessed into a hollow opening, in the rafters, ceiling or wall. They can also be attached to trees to enhance the moonlighting effect.

They cast a large area of light, making them an effective way of lighting up architectural features, paths, porches, and other areas of the home.

Downlighting Features:

  • Enhances safety and security
  • Best around walkways and steps, illuminating without blinding
  • No potential tripping hazards
  • Can be used to outline driveways and architectural elements
  • Marks off elements in the garden
  • Accents patios, decks, and pool areas

Different Types of Downlights 


If you have a lot of trees on your property, moonlighting can be the most effective type of landscape lighting. For moonlighting to work, the lights must be installed high up in the trees, pointing downward to create a washed out, bluish moonlighting effect. The best shadows and effects are created if the tree isn’t very dense. Open-branched trees work best with moon lights.

If you really want to enhance the look of your trees, consider combining spotlighting at the base of the tree with moonlighting in the trees. With lights strategically aimed up and down the tree, you can create a very beautiful and dramatic effect with little effort.

Learn more about lighting up trees and plants.

Wall Mounted Sconces

Outdoor sconces are normally installed high up on an exterior wall or any flat and vertical surface. There are many different lighting configurations available, even including uplighting options. For instance, dual downlight/uplight wall sconces can shine light upwards and downwards to highlight both the wall and the walkway.

Pin Spotting

Pin spots are typically used for events, such as weddings. They are basically very narrow bullet lights with special bulbs that emit a warm, white light. They are installed and tightly focused by professional installers to create a dramatic effect around centerpieces, cakes, and other focal points.


Uplights are a great way to shine light on a tall object, such as a tree or column, but they can also be used for smaller objects, such as fountains, bushes, and décor.

Usually installed at or below ground level, uplighting is one of the basic forms of landscape lighting design. Lighting architects tend to use uplights around the bases of trees and buildings to highlight their structure.

You can install uplights at the base of trees or the underside of the tree canopy to light up all the beautiful tree branches, creating intricate shadows that make any space more beautiful and welcoming.

Uplighting Features:

  • Creates a focal point
  • Good for highlighting small trees and shrubs
  • Illuminates statues, fountains, and other architectural features
  • Adds depth to walls and flat surfaces
  • Establishes clear spatial boundaries
  • Contributes to ambient lighting for added safety and security

Different Types of Uplights

Bullet/Spot Lights

Bullet lights are small, bright lights that are usually installed into the ground to create a more focused uplighting effect. The narrow beam of light can be used to create sharp highlights and shadows near favored plants and trees.

Wash Lights

Wash lights add a diffused light around smaller plants, shrubs, and walls. They can be used to add subtle highlights while simultaneously lighting up a pathway.

Well Lights

Well lights are normally installed into the ground, eliminating the unsightly aspect an aboveground light fixture may have. Well lights can be installed underneath benches, plants, walls, and along pathways.

Flood Lights

Flood lights are similar to bullet and spot lights, except they cast a much wider beam of light. Flood lights flood a large area with light, which is why they are used for illuminating large walls and facades, sometimes extremely large trees.

Learn how to transform your yard with uplighting.

Downlighting versus uplighting? Get the best of both worlds by mixing and matching, like this beautiful Texas home we had the pleasure of lighting up:

Angle shot of landscape lighting on 2-story house - Low Voltage lighting from The Perfect Light in Dallas and Houston, TX

Lighting is the most important element in fulfilling your paradisal vision. If you live in the Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, or San Antonio metro areas, contact the professional lighting architects at The Perfect Light for a free lighting design consultation.

From permanent landscape and security lighting to Christmas and Event lighting, we can help you from design to execution, including control systems, wiring, and installation.

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