It only takes one night in Las Vegas to be captivated by the lights. But have you ever stopped to consider just how much of a difference the outdoor lighting makes? You don’t have to look any further than the fountains of Bellagio. Now, the fountains are spectacular at any time of day but they’re different at night, they are even more spectacular and they capture a mood that can only be evoked at night and the only difference is the lighting. Perhaps I’m blinded by my passion for lighting design but I would argue that’s not the case. If you do a google image search for “fountains of Bellagio” and you’ll see that almost every photograph is taken at night. That’s because even if you haven’t stopped to think about the psychology of it, most people intuitively appreciate the added element of beauty that lighting brings.
But you don’t have to live or go to Las Vegas to share in this appreciation for lighting. If you’ve ever stopped to admire a well lit home at night or have had the privilege to enjoy the ambience of a skillfully designed outdoor lighting system at a restaurant or hotel then you know first hand what effect it can have as our surroundings seemingly come to life at night in a way that sunlight can’t capture. Thanks to the tremendous increase in popularity of landscape lighting in recent years, homeowner’s and landscapers alike are considering landscape and outdoor lighting to be a necessity in much the same way as they do with their irrigation system, especially in climates such as Las Vegas where people enjoy the outdoors all year. Many more people however live with the regret that they didn’t have the foresight to realize how much more they would enjoy their landscaping if only they had added lights when they installed their landscaping. Fortunately there are many reasons why adding an outdoor lighting system to your property after your landscaping is established makes a lot of sense. It’s never too late to light up your home and landscaping.
If you want to appreciate the benefits of a well lit home I would suggest it’s best to hire a professional. But who determines what makes a professional? I’ve seen great work done by people new to the industry and terrible work done by people with 10+ years of “experience”. Below you’ll find 4 qualities a good lighting designer should be able to provide for you.
Referrals – A quality lighting designer should have plenty of referrals for you to review. These referrals should be specific to the person not the company. Just because a company employs one individual that’s put together a portfolio of pictures and referrals for the company doesn’t mean the person trying to sell you a lighting system is capable of the same caliber of design. These referrals can be customers you can call that can personally attest to their experience with the person designing your project as well as addresses of homes you can drive past to preview their work first hand. The nice thing about landscape lighting is that a homeowner doesn’t have to welcome you as a stranger into their home in order to see the work that their landscape lighting professional did, you can simply drive past and see for yourself. Previewing new work as well as older projects is a good testament to the quality of the work done and what kind of service program they offer.
Products – The types of materials a contractor uses is a good way to identify quality work. Generally speaking the typical big box stores don’t sell the quality of fixtures that you’d want to purchase if you want to get the most out of your lighting system. Go to your local hardware store to see what they offer and then ask to see a sample of what your lighting designer is proposing to install. You’ll know right away just by holding the fixture how it compares. I’ve seen countless projects where whoever installed it used good quality fixtures and a professional grade transformer but the results were just OK or worse. What I’ve never seen is someone who used cheap fixtures and a standard 12v transformer but the results were amazing. For the best results you should avoid installers using these inferior products. Most lighting designers will have their preferred choice of fixture that they use most of the time but you should also be weary of someone who exclusively uses one manufacturer’s fixtures on all their projects. A talented lighting designer will be familiar with a large amount of the products and fixtures on the market, all of these fixtures become tools in their arsenal to create the perfect design. Just as a fisherman may have just a couple favorite lures, he still has a tackle box full of lures that he’s tested over the years and reaches for on occasion.
Experience – There are lots of ways to gain experience but not all are equal. I would argue that a landscaper that has been installing lights with his landscaping projects for the last 8 years does not have 8 years of experience installing landscape lighting any more than you have 20 years experience as an opera singer because you like to sing in the shower in the morning. Simply asking how long an individual has been installing landscape lighting will not quantify their experience, ask how they learned how to design landscape lighting systems. Most true professionals have either had a mentor that helped trained their eye and hone their skills or they’ll admit that they learned the by trial and error, by working long hours to see their work at night, making adjustments, moving fixtures after they’ve been installed, and trying new things. In addition, the one thing all experienced professionals will have is photos, lots of photos.
Photos – Landscape lighting photography is perhaps single best way to identify a true professional in this industry. This is even more true here than in most trades because in many ways it validates that you have a well trained eye for lighting as well as your commitment your craft. Capturing the beauty of a landscape lighting system is no easy task. A landscaper for example can simply take out their iPhone and spend a couple minutes snapping photos and have pictures worthy of an album, brochure or website. Nighttime photography requires a tripod and and relatively expensive photography equipment that must be set up just before dusk sometimes done over multiple nights in order to get great shots. With landscape lighting it takes just as much of an eye to capture a quality photo as it does to design the job in the first place. Whether they take the photos themselves or the hire a professional, a talented designer will have many photos. A project that really does look magnificent at night might not be portrayed that way in a photo without a good deal of effort to capture it. A true professional should be willing to do what it takes to acquire many photos so that they can accurately portray to a potential client what their home will look like at night when a project is complete.
It’s important to do your research to find a identify a talented lighting designer. A designer that can bring these 4 things to the table will probably do good work. Keeping these things in mind as you search for a qualified contractor to design and install your outdoor lighting system will help expand your living space and add year of enjoyment and beauty to your home.