17 Outdoor Lighting Tips and Ideas: Illuminating Gorgeous Exteriors at Night

Outdoor lights benefit you, your family, your guests, and your property. With smart outdoor lighting, you can enjoy outdoor living spaces after nightfall, and your pathways, driveways, and stairs stay safely lit. Bright outdoor lighting also helps deter crime.

The trick to a welcoming and safe outdoor lighting design is finding the balance between illuminating social spaces, landscaping, and architecture without making your lawn resemble a night game at Wrigley Field. Explore our 17 tips and ideas to illuminate your property, followed by a brief primer on the best bulbs and brightness levels for outside lighting.

Bring safety, security, and curb appeal to your home with outdoor lighting.

Bring safety, security, and curb appeal to your home with outdoor lighting.

What are the best outdoor lights and fixtures?

The best exterior lights and fixtures can withstand exposure to the elements. The lighting you install should be labeled for outdoor use—either ‘wet-rated’ for direct exposure to water (rain, snow, irrigation systems) or ‘damp-rated’ for use in covered outdoor areas. Check out our guide to choosing outdoor lighting fixtures, or find design inspiration below.

Outdoor Lighting Ideas for Patios

To create a welcoming warmth and interest, apply the same layered lighting design you use indoors to your patio or porch.

  1. Illuminate canopies and pergolas. During the day, they offer shade from the sun, but at night you need to bring the light. Outdoor pendants and chandeliers provide ambiance to keep the conversation flowing while shining light on tasks at hand, such as mixing margaritas or playing cards.
  2. Light your hardscapes for safety and style. Is the walkway to the grill or cook station a bit dark at night? Add step lights to make sure the chef can get food to the table with ease. You can also add wall lights and sconces to virtually any solid vertical surface, such as retaining walls and exterior walls, to cast an ambient glow that beautifies the space and lights the way.
  3. Leverage the flexibility of lamps. Easy-to-move outdoor floor and table lamps help set the mood in a wide range of styles, sizes, and colors. When you want to redesign the space, or create new seating areas for large parties, swapping out these flexible fixtures is a snap.
  4. Use an outdoor ceiling fan with lights. Deliver task and ambient light to your conversation or dining areas—as well as cooling breezes—with the addition of patio fans with lighting incorporated.

Outdoor lighting Ideas for the Backyard

Use fixtures to illuminate beautiful trees and elements of your backyard, and to create a welcome gathering spot beyond the porch.

  1. Showcase flora. Create a sense of nighttime wonder for your shrubs, gardens, and other landscape features via strategically placed bollard lights, post lanterns, and ground lighting fixtures.
  2. Make your fence line glow. Ground-based uplights or recessed downlighting adds depth to flat surfaces like privacy fences and stone walls, while enhancing security at your property border.
  3. Light the way. Make sure your family and guests can walk safely from point A to point B (and not trample your flowers and plants!) with low-profile or pole-mounted path lighting.
  4. Add a warm glow with a fire pit. You can find fire pits with simple silhouettes or striking cutouts that match your spirit. If you think you’ll use your fire pit often, keep it in mind as you design your outdoor lighting because it will add a significant light source to the gathering spots.

Outdoor Lighting Ideas for the Front of the House

Create a warm welcome for guests and keep out unwanted visitors by illuminating your entry points, landscaping, and front porch.

  1. Enhance your curb appeal. An inviting entryway or front porch invokes a sense of community and adds to the overall value of your home. An outdoor ceiling flush-mount or pendant light fixture can showcase this outdoor space with class. If you have landscaping or a garden out front that you are particularly proud of, make sure it’s visible night and day with landscape accent lights hidden among your plantings, or stylish lamp posts as interesting as your foliage.
  2. Watch your step. The front of your home is full of walkable areas, from driveways to pathways to front steps. Light the way for yourself and visitors with unique path lighting, downlights, recessed step lights, lanterns, and bollard lights.
  3. Discourage intruders. Lighting is an effective and cost-efficient way to deter would-be burglars. Use security flood lights to “flood” an area with bright light. You can also add eyeball recessed lighting fixtures to garage overhangs and porch ceilings, focusing the beams slightly outward to avoid window glare. Lanterns let people know you’re home, whether positioned at the end of the driveway, near pathways, or beside the door.
Welcome guests with a well lit front porch.

Welcome guests with a well lit front porch.

Outdoor Landscape Lighting Ideas

Balance is the key to landscape lighting; poorly aimed or excessive lighting can result in light pollution and unwanted glare.

  1. Illuminate your focal points.For prized trees, sculptures, or architectural elements use upward-facing floodlights or, for a dramatic touch, try a technique called ‘moonlighting’ which entails mounting downlights up high in nearby trees to cast a glow from above.
  2. Get artistic. Position ground lighting fixtures onto a stationary object for a shadow effect, or use a low-intensity fixture to graze a wall or tree trunk with light. You can also create stunning natural silhouettes with lights placed behind bushes or trees.
  3. Light-up your water features. Pools, fountains, waterfalls, and ponds should be focal points of any outdoor space. Make sure they are well lit as a matter of safety and so that they draw the eye and reflect light after dark.

Think Beyond Outdoor String Lights

Though festive over a patio or deck, outdoor string lights have some drawbacks. They aren’t as sturdy as fixtures and may require restringing after strong winds; bulbs may need frequent replacing, and they can have a slightly haphazard appearance that detracts from your designer outdoor living space.

Some alternatives to outdoor string lights that may better fit your style include:

  1. Chic outdoor pendants. Hang pendant fixtures from the ceiling of a covered area with seating, such as your wraparound porch or paved patio. You can choose styles that match your home's architecture (modern, colonial revival, Victorian, Tudor), or you can capture the string light look with clustered pendants featuring glass covers and Edison-style bulbs.
  2. Unique wall sconces. Position an evenly spaced line of wall lights or sconces on retaining walls, solid fencing, or your home’s exteriors for a cheerful glow.
  3. Low-profile landscape up-lighting. These fixtures chase away shadows while highlighting architectural features and beautiful flora. Use a large number of small fixtures for distinctive up-lighting.
Add an extra touch of style with your light fixtures.

Add an extra touch of style with your light fixtures.

Are LED Lights Suitable for Outdoor Use?

Yes, LED lights are solid options for outdoor use. They last longer than halogen and incandescent bulbs, put out a minimal amount of heat, and are much more energy-efficient. As a bonus, LED lights don’t attract as many bugs. Here are some outdoor lighting fixtures that use LED bulbs:

  • Bollard lights: Light side throw, louvered, and cylindrical bollard lights provide the right amount of illumination without adding light pollution to the night sky.
  • Landscape and pathway lights: Ground spotlights and shaded post lights make moving around at night a breeze, either out-of-sight or as chic focal points.
  • Outdoor accent lighting: Wall washing ground lights, well lighting, and recessed and flush-mount patio fixtures chase away the shadows with warm, crisp light.

What’s the Best Lumen for Outdoor Lights?

Brightness is a key consideration for different uses throughout your outdoor space. Just as you don’t want every room in your home at the same brightness level, you should aim for a mix of lumens in your outdoor space to achieve that “wow” factor.

  • Patio, porch, and deck lighting: Bulbs in the 400 to 700 lumens range can help you see what you are doing while setting the right mood with ambiance.
  • Landscape and pathway lighting: Decorative and functional, 100 to 200 lumens is recommended.
  • Flood lights: Brightness equals security; motion sensor floods require 300 to 700 lumens. For other flood lights shoot for 700 to 1,300 lumens.
  • Solar lights: These vary in uses, from decorative landscape lighting to security flood lights, so the brightness varies accordingly from 220 to 1,300 lumens.

Ready to Explore Outdoor Design Beyond Lighting?

Discover our collection of outdoor living advice and ideas, or learn how to create a great outdoor space you and your guests will love.