Lighting the Landscape
“LIGHTS . . . CAMERA . . . ACTION!” yells the hollywood director. The studio lights are switched on to illuminate the set; the sound system is turned on and the cameras roll. on a movie set, numerous types of lights are placed in position to create a realistic-looking environment. Every light used serves a different purpose and function.
Some highlight the actors; others set the mood, while still others draw attention to props or stage elements that would otherwise go unnoticed. But the art of hollywood lighting remains so subtle, it usually escapes our attention.
That’s the way it should be with landscape lighting. It’s designed to show off the beauty of your client’s landscape after dark. Using a variety of lights, properly placed, you can enhance environments, create mood and draw attention to details that may not have been noticed before.
Like the film director, you have the power to turn your client’s pitch-black backyard into a luxurious staycation destination. And just like the director who wouldn’t throw the same light on the actor as he does the stage, you should incorporate numerous artistic lighting techniques.
Think of the large light hanging out of frame to imitate moonlight in the movie ‘Moonstruck’. This same technique, called moonlighting or down lighting, can be created for your client. By using soft light sources, positioned high overhead, you can cast or create the appearance of a full moon every night. “It just takes the right type of light fixture, color temperature and positioning,” says Don Leyn, vice president and principle of Universal Lighting Systems in Englewood, Colorado.
“Many clients spend tens of thousands of dollars on beautiful landscaping, and then when it gets dark they never see it,” says Leyn. Why not sell your client landscape lighting so they can enjoy their backyards long after the sun has set?
Current trends point to enormous growth in outdoor living spaces. Great rooms equipped with fireplaces, kitchens with seating and dining areas—all add even more opportunity as these spaces will need to be illuminated.
And don’t think of landscape lighting just for the backyard either. Lights, properly placed in the front yard, welcome your clients home and enhance the home’s nighttime curb appeal. The added value you’re providing is that lighting adds safety and security as well.
Many landscape contractors, especially in the residential market, offer design/build projects. Contractors, or designers, design the landscape and then install it. Landscape lighting is an extension of that design.
It is not very difficult to learn, and you should learn, because this segment of the landscape market has grown and continues to grow by double digits.
Not only are you leaving money on the table by not offering this service, you are doing a disservice to your client.
So how do you get started? Kevin Gordon, national sales manager for FXLuminaire in San Marcos, California, suggests that you seek out any local courses being offered. Many distributors who sell landscape lighting offer seminars.
“Better yet, find a good lighting distributor in your marketplace and get to know a representative of that company,” says Gordon.
“Most of them (the reps) are fairly decent designers in their own right; picking their brain for their knowledge and tips can be invaluable. They also may offer training classes,” he says. “There are little nuances that they understand that can fast-forward you in the area of lighting.”
once you’ve mastered the general principles, it’s time to do an installation. “I think that anyone who hasn’t lit landscapes before should practice the basics and effects, so they can see how easy it is,” says Laura heath, owner of Timberland Landscaping in Loveland, Colorado. “So don’t be afraid to start small.”
Heath advises, “Play with these effect techniques, get familiar with what a tree or plant looks like with, for example, up lighting.” Don’t worry about what type of light to use, just go out and work with the effects.
When you’re comfortable with the techniques, it’s time to go out and prospect clients. “The best way to sell any client is to use the number-one closing tool—a night demo,” Gordon says.
“You set up a temporary demo area in a small portion of your client’s garden and light it up. Let them (the client) know that you can take the scene you’re demonstrating, and do it across their entire back or front yard.”
Another tip is to leave the lighting demo there for a couple of days. “The best thing to do is to set it up on Friday and leave it for them to experience over the weekend,” said Gordon. “Most of the time, just doing this sells the job.” Understand, though, that this can be expensive to do, because you have to buy a lot of product.
“Once you have installed some jobs, don’t forget to capitalize on the fact that people like to keep up with the Joneses,” Gordon adds. It’s about letting people know who did the job. The minute you finish a job, your client is going to show it off, creating a natural advertisement for your company. “Ask if you can put a sign up that says, ‘Created by Joe’s Lighting Company’ for a week or two. Referrals are a huge source of revenue and can fuel your business for a long time,” he says.
Don’t forget to take pictures of each project. Then you will have something to show your prospective clients. You can also post these images, building your website, and further promoting your business. Lighting is very visual; use this to ‘sell the sizzle’ to prospective clients.
Even using great selling techniques, you still may not convince your client to spend money on lighting. It’s usually the line item they cut when you present them with an entire landscape plan. A perfect example of this is when Heath was hired by a family to do a $100,000 landscape installation’ over several years.
Heath put $9,000 worth of landscape lighting on the top of her bid. The amount wasn’t much compared to the overall budget, but when the client saw the amount, he looked at her and said, “I’m from Branson, Missouri. We have a streetlight in the middle of the street where we play kickball; I’m not spending $9,000 on lights.”
While working with this client, she invited him over to her home, where she had incorporated landscape lighting in her backyard. After spending some time there, he came up to her and said, “All right, I’m ready for lighting; I had no idea what it could do.”
Once a client does say yes, it’s important to ask him what type of look he wants to achieve. What does he want to see when he looks out his window, or walks into the backyard? How does he want to feel when he entertains?
Gordon says, “Beginners try to do too much with too few fixtures. They also try to make the lights brighter.” He suggests, “Don’t overlight; a little light goes a long way.” Not every inch of your client’s landscape has to be lit. “It is the play of light and dark that makes landscape lighting interesting and appealing,” Heath adds.
Beginners tend to throw a lot of light on an area, using a few fixtures; it really should be the reverse—to throw less light using more fixtures. Why? Because, again, the idea is to subtly light an area. Less is more; you will never get a dramatic effect using bright or flood lights.
“If your client balks at the price of so many fixtures, reduce the number of fixtures to get the price down by lighting less space,” says Gordon. You can always add more later on.
As you can see, it’s not just about buying some fixtures and putting light bulbs in them. It’s about setting the stage, creating an ambience for entertaining or even a romantic mood for special occasions.
With the addition of landscape lighting, a new dimension of beauty, safety, security and usability is achieved. Not only does landscape lighting present exciting opportunities to grow your business, but it can also be an artistic challenge. You’d be amazed at what you can do with light.
With the training and tools available today, isn’t it time to add landscape lighting to the services you offer? Landscape contractors today are not just guys with a shovel and a pitchfork anymore; they can now create outdoor living spaces.
“After you have the general principles of landscape lighting down, all you really need to do is take a few design courses and you’ll be an artist in no time,” says Cruz Perez, vice president of marketing for Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting in Simi Valley, California. “I can’t tell you how many times a contractor has told me, ‘I just don’t have the creativity for lighting.’ No worries,” says Perez. “Put in a few installations and once you get the feel for it, the creative juices will flow.”
Once you get a handle on these elements, you can move to more complicated techniques, such as shadowing, grazing, silhouetting and cross lighting.
What is the future for landscape lighting? In a word, exciting.
We believe that we have barely scratched the surface. With the advent of LEDs and the new technologies that are being introduced, there is a whole other world to be captured.
There’s equipment out there which allows you to program zoning and dimming from a single controller. You can highlight special areas with brighter lighting, and power down other areas that you want to downplay. You can even change lighting during the course of an evening, bringing the lights up while you eat, and dimming them when you’re finished.
Using different color temperatures within a landscape is also something landscape contractors are starting to work with.
Here a working example of this: a contractor was lighting a garden bed with a huge blue spruce tree in the middle of it. The lights used to highlight the plants were a warm amber color. In that light, the spruce tree disappeared, because the amber color washed it out. All he did was change the lamps, highlighting the spruce with a cooler, bluer color temperature. Suddenly, the blue spruce popped and became part of the garden again.
Seasonal lighting is another emerging trend. Because low-voltage light doesn’t require cables to be buried, moving the fixtures seasonally becomes an option. In the summer when the trees are full of leaves, you might want to back the light off a bit, to catch the movement and for a more dramatic look, highlighting the tree’s bare limbs. shadows the leaves provide. In winter, you could move the light closer You, as an experienced landscape contractor, probably already have a keen eye for landscape design. You can easily translate that into a talent for landscape lighting design, too. There, you can set each night scene to be as dramatic or as inconspicuous as the homeowner may desire . . . or fade to black.