Painting With Light
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

Residential Lighting: You describe landscape lighting as painting with light. Why?

Nate Mullen: My philosophy is that designing outdoor lighting is very much like painting a portrait. The painter isn't concerned about how many brush strokes, how much paint or how many colors it required. Likewise, the lighting contractor shouldn't be concerned with how many lights it takes to achieve his vision. A lot of contractors ask the homeowner how many lights they want. That's like saying to a painter, "Give me a portrait using three tubes of paint." A lighting job may require 42, 82 or 102 lights. It takes what it takes.


RL: What are the most common mistakes that outdoor lighting contractors make?

NM: One of the biggest mistakes is using the same intensity of light throughout the whole project. They typically front light every-thing, so everything is at the same intensity. Most contractors go out during the day, bury their fixtures and they're done. It's impossible to see how the light reacts on different surface areas unless you view it at night.


RL: What is the best way to achieve different intensities of light?

NM: Move the fixtures around to achieve different effects. Try lighting objects from the side, the back and from above. Another way is to use corrective lenses. By using dimpled, frosted and spread lenses, you can tone the light down, whiten it, soften it, whatever, without changing the position of the fixture or changing the light bulb. It's a trick of the trade, and once you start using lenses, you'll never do a job without them.


RL: What tips can you offer to help contractors close more outdoor lighting sales?

NM: You wouldn?t buy a blank canvas from a painter because you don't know what the art looks like. Let's apply that same scenario to outdoor lighting. The contractor gives the homeowner a price of, say, $8,000. The homeowner has a figure closer to $300 in mind. The contractor explains that he charges $200 a light and that he is going to put in 40 lights. The home-owner says, "I don't want my yard to look like Disneyland. Can't you give me fewer lights"? The portrait painter would never cut the cost of his painting in half by eliminating half the color. That being said, how do you sell an $8,000 landscape lighting job? Give your prospective customers a list of 10 homes where you've installed lighting, so they can do a drive by, see your style and even talk to the homeowners. If they like what they see, do a night demo at their home. Then they can see what it really looks like, rather than trying to imagine it.

Nate Mullen (a.k.a. the Illuminator) is the owner of Unique Lighting Systems and President of the International Academy of Architectural Landscape Lighting. He is also the author of three books on the subject of outdoor lighting.



Nate Mullen says the use of special lenses is one of the easiest ways to achieve different lighting effects while also cutting down on glare. Specifically, he suggests:

· Use a dimpled lens to increase beam spread and scatter light.

· Use a frosted lens to soften white light.

· Use a linear lens to change the beam spread from a circular to a rectangular pattern.

· Use a blue lens in water, to highlight statues and to create a moonlight effect over patios and other sitting areas.




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