Is less often more?

Discussion in 'Landscape Lighting' started by mikecox1, Apr 20, 2009.

  1. mikecox1

    mikecox1 LawnSite Member
    Posts: 25

    Let me preface this post with saying thank you to all the wonderful people on this board who helped me with this project. If it weren't for you guys I would have had one home run that would have daisey chained to 16 lights over a 90foot span and carried a 314 watt load. That would have been a disaster. With your help I was able to get wattage readings from 11.1 to 11.4 on every single fixture (all hail the multi-tap transformer and the hub method). I will also go on to say that doing an install the right way is a hell of a lot more involved than the non-educated public would ever know. You guys earn your money.

    OK, now to my post.

    At the inception of this project I thought that more light would have a bolder impact than less. Well, I finished imy install and I was amazed that I ended up liking lower wattage bulbs better than the higher wattage ones (except for the lights shining up on the walls of the house where more was better to me). The brighter ones seemed to wash out my landscape while the lower wattage ones showed more texture and depth. I can see that learning the landscape design part of your profession could take years to master. How often do you guys decrease the wattage of your fixtures after completing the install?
     
  2. NightLightingFX

    NightLightingFX LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 581

    Without getting into too much detail. I always try to think about using different levels of light. Nate Mullin's book "The Landscape Lighting Resource Manual" goes into alot of detail about this topic. Simply put, for a focal point use brighter light for supporting features, and secondary features, along with transitions use less light. Different levels of light can help create contrast and depth. I am sure some of the other guys can add to or correct what I said.
    ~Ned
     
  3. David Gretzmier

    David Gretzmier LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,645

    I tend to make sure the house looks great, washing the home with light by using different spreads and wattages, depending on the height of the house. more than once I thought it looked perfect, only to have the client want a bit less, and end up bumping down from 35's to 20 watt 60's, even on 2 and 3 story homes, leaving the soffit dark. some clients also prefer the yellower and dimmer light of 10 to 10.5 volts rather than the whiter light of 10.8-11.8.
     
  4. steveparrott

    steveparrott Sponsor
    Posts: 1,189

    I've often heard the concept that focal points should appear brighter than background elements and that you need to vary brightness from foreground to background to create depth. I find this to sometimes be misleading and just not true in many instances.

    I always start with an approach to provide an optimal illumination of every illuminated area and to reduce differences in apparent brightness to a fairly narrow range. Human vision doesn't judge depth by differences in brightness; it judges depth by two types of perception, binocular and monocular.

    Binocular perception of depth refers to our use of two eyes that register images from different angles - if the images shifts perceptably from one side to the other, we know it's close. The two eyes also need to adjust to converge their images to focus on an object. A close object requires greater adjustment (cross-eyed).

    Monocular perception of depth refers to clues such as relative size, presence of objects that interfere with vision of the faraway object, or the convergence of visual lines such as driveways or pathways. It can also include the distortion of the object and it's perceived color and color saturation because of fog.

    Except in the case of fog, images that are far away don't appear less bright than images close. An apple lit with 5 footcandles 15 feet away will appear as bright as the same apple 50 feet away. (Although apparent brightness will be affected by the region surrounding the apple - dark surroundings will increase the perceived brightness while light surrounds will diminish the apparent brightness.)

    This is why I believe it is misleading to think that a faraway object with a lower level of illumination will trick the viewer into perceiving greater depth. Depth is best achieved by illuminating objects near and far to a level of illumination that reveals the desired level of detail and color saturation. Depth is also revealed by illuminating any converging lines in the landscape that provide visual cues that one object is at a greater distance. Depth is also revealed by lighting objects that are behind other objects.

    As to whether or not to provide greater illumination on focal points. I agree that this can often be good since human vision tends to intially be drawn to objects that are brighter or that present greater contrast (in brightness) to their surroundings. Still, care should be taken to keep the apparent brightness relatively close to the brightness of other illuminated areas. You don't want the pupils to adapt to a very bright object, only to be followed by gazing to a much darker area - this would require the eyes time to adapt to the different light level.
     
  5. steveparrott

    steveparrott Sponsor
    Posts: 1,189

    Another note about the lighting of focal points in the landscape. Keep in mind that a well designed landscape uses landscape or architectural features as visual focal points. These could be specimen trees, garden beds, statuary or even the main structure. During the daytime, even when everything is illuminated, the eyes will travel to the focal points because of what they are and how they are situated in the overall design.

    When it gets dark, the same landscape exists, and the lighting designer has two main choices - 1. To illuminate the landscape in such a way that the important elements are revealed and the visual perception of the design is similar to daylight perception; or, 2. To create a new visual design by selectively illuminating only parts of the landscape, possibly altering the visual experience.

    If choice no. 1 is followed then there is no need to artificially increase brightness of the focal point since these items will assume the same role in the design as during the daylight. As long as all important areas are illuminated sufficiently and in the proper balance then the visual flow will be preserved.

    If choice no. 2 is followed, then the lighting designer may choose to influence the visual flow by increasing brightness of focal points, although in most cases it's probably not necessary.
     
  6. mikecox1

    mikecox1 LawnSite Member
    Posts: 25

    Good info. I will have to look at my yard with this information in mind and see if it changes how I want it to be lit.
     
  7. steveparrott

    steveparrott Sponsor
    Posts: 1,189

    Another note on brightness differences.

    Landscape lighting treads a fine line between creating a lighting design that mimics moonlight and creating a lighting design that injects artificial lighting effects to evoke an emotional response.

    Moonlight evenly illuminates everything except shadowed areas. Under moonlight there are essentially two levels of brightness - moonlit (about 0.01 fc) and shadows (unknown fc). To accurately recreate moonlight, we would position fixtures in trees throughout the property and make sure they were all the same low level of luminance. Of course, this would fail to satisfy many of the other goals of our lighting, especially safety and security.

    Instead, we engage in a creative application of light throughout the landscape and structures selecting variuos levels of illumination to evoke drama, mystery, etc. In this regard, however, we need to tread lightly lest we call attention to the lighting itself and exagerate emphasis imposing an obvious artificiality. The solution is a compromise and a guiding principle should be to minimize brightness as much as possible, especially differences in brightness throughout the design.
     
  8. Dreams To Designs

    Dreams To Designs LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,406

    Steve, sounds quite theatrical to me. That's the way I like it.

    Definitely the way good lighting designs should be based. Draw attention only to those things that truly deserve it after following the functions of safety and security.

    Now if someone would step up and carry a variety of 10 watt MR16's and frosted lens MR16's that would make design more fun. These lamps are out there, but not easy to get.

    Kirk
     
  9. JoeyD

    JoeyD LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,933

    10w MR16's are easy to get but have crappy lamp life.
     
  10. Dreams To Designs

    Dreams To Designs LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,406

    Joey, who's stocking other than 36 degree? Any reason for the short lamp life. I haven't encountered that in short time I've been using them.

    Kirk
     

Share This Page