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When it comes to LED lighting solutions, there are usually two goals that people have. The first is to make sure that their home and property are well-lit, to make it easier to navigate and to deter unwanted intruders during the night time. The second goal is to use lighting in a decorative or complementary way that accentuates the things you like about your home and property. For both of these goals, downlighting is a great technique to try.

In this article, we’ll discuss what downlighting is, how it compares to uplighting, it’s opposite, and some of the things you might want to use these lighting techniques for in your own landscaping and indoor lighting solutions.

What does “downlighting” mean?

Simply put, downlighting is a term used to refer to installing lights above an area intended to be illuminated. These lights are installed so that they face downwards or cast most of their light downwards—hence “down” lighting. There are lots of different kinds of lighting that might be considered downlighting. For instance, you might consider any ceiling-based light to be a form of downlighting. Wall sconces, which primarily shine downwards, would also qualify for this description, as would floodlights or security lights installed high up on the outside of a home. 

Why might you want a downlighting effect?

Downlighting can be both decorative and functional. Here are some downlighting advantages that you might want to be aware of:

In the functional sense, downlighting is a great way of lighting up a large area. This is why many indoor spaces use lights in the ceiling or higher up, because the light from those fixtures will spread further in the room, making it easier to see everything with fewer light sources. Outdoors, the same effect can be seen in things like lights installed on the corners of a home to illuminate the surrounding property, front porch, garage door, and so on.

Decoratively, downlighting is a great way of brightening up areas of interest or drawing attention to certain areas. Wall-mounted lights which face downwards will shine against the wall, for instance, creating a bright spot that draws attention. This is sometimes done to frame doorways or windows, or to illuminate decorative aspects or furniture if used indoors. 

Downlighting is very useful for large areas that also need to be lit up. Because it’s an efficient way of lighting up an outdoor space, it’s great to use sparse lighting to brighten up your surroundings without having to illuminate every corner of the property.

However, in smaller indoor areas, too much downlighting (especially in the form of can lighting, for instance) might create a much harsher effect than you actually want for that outdoor space, resulting in glares and awkward shadows that through off depth perception. Downlighting might be helpful for a kitchen, office, or a room where you work on crafts or hobbies which need good visibility, but too much downlighting might create an overly bright, almost clinical look in, say, a bedroom or living room.

On the other hand, a softer downlighting effect, like that achieved by a soffit light, might be just the thing you need for a gentle nighttime lighting system in a room or hallway inside your home, giving enough light to see by without being so much that it keeps people awake when they aren’t up and about. In other words, the best option for each of your home’s interior spaces will depend on what ambiance you want the lighting to give and what type of downlighting you go with.

What is uplighting?

As the opposite of downlighting, we have uplighting- a technique where lights are installed lower down and shine upwards.

Many forms of low-voltage landscape lighting are done as a type of uplighting, with ground-installed fixtures shining upwards on trees, branches, walls, or other points of interest.

Uplighting on its own is rare in interior spaces and normally seen only in things like nightlights. This is because uplighting is a much less efficient way to light up an entire room, so it’s best used in situations where that isn’t the goal-a nightlight might be used just to illuminate a hallway in the dark and keep passersby from bumping into furniture, for example, and so does not require very much overall light in the room.

Additionally, many indoor lamps use a combination of uplighting and downlighting by shining out of their shades in both directions. This tends to provide a softer color temperature for an interior ambiance, while still giving enough light by which to see.

When should you use uplighting?

Generally speaking, uplighting should be used in situations where your goal is not just general illumination of an area. Area lights can help people see everything on the property, but uplighting is best at highlighting certain property features. When your lighting fixtures are there to make it easier to get around without lighting up every corner of a room, uplighting is often a better choice. It allows light to diffuse more softly in a room, which might be just what you need if that room is not a place where strong lighting is needed or desired.

By shining upwards, uplighting also usually avoids creating any major shadows which might result from overhead decorations. Some forms of downlighting might be interrupted by ceiling-mounted fans or other features. In outdoor settings, your home’s exterior may overhang the walls, making it difficult for downlighting to illuminate them in the same way that uplighting could in those situations.

When it comes to downlighting and uplighting, is one better than the other?

Like many things with home design, the answer to the “uplighting vs downlighting” question is, “it depends on what you’re looking for.” One method is not generally preferred over the other when it comes to aesthetics or functionality, but the situations described above might be some instances when you will want things done in a certain way to get a certain effect.

What type of lighting do you want for a home exterior?

So, looking specifically at home exteriors, which method is likely better for illuminating a home’s walls and outside? 

Although downlighting is a nice way to light up exterior walls and can give them a radiant appearance when done well, recessed downlighting on its own sometimes leaves the roof of a home looking extra dark and shadowy, which might not be what you’re looking for. On the other hand, while uplighting is a great way to achieve a similar effect without running into the overhang issue quite as much, it may be literally overshadowed by foliage if you have plants growing close to your walls. 

All this is to once again say that the “right” lighting for your situation will depend on your home’s design, what other kind of LED lighting you have going on already (porch lights and interior lights that are visible through windows can make a big difference, as can holiday lights), and above all, how you want your home to look. 

What is best for illuminating gardens and landscaping?

Many landscapes will be best lit with uplighting, especially in open areas without walls or fences on which to attach downlights. This allows you to illuminate, for instance, a single tree in the middle of a yard, or a fountain or birdbath standing on its own, away from taller features. Trees in particular are often light by uplighting because this allows them to be seen clearly without casting a shadow that would result from overhead lights. Pathways in a landscape are also often lit by uplighting, usually by small lights installed flush with the ground to provide a gentle guide for anyone using the path (without lighting up the entire yard with a massive floodlight).

What types of lights and bulbs create these effects?

Another type of downlighting can be achieved through soffit lights. These lights are usually recessed lighting, created by narrow strips that shine downwards along a wall, diffusing the illumination and giving the area a kind of glowing effect from a distance. These lights are often decorative in nature, and can really create a striking effect that will make a home stand out in the dark.

How can JellyFish Lighting help me? 

If you’re looking for some professional advice and help with the installation of your home’s LED downlighting, you can reach out to contact JellyFish Lighting. We’ll help you create the effects that you’re looking for on your property. 

Happy lighting!