In 2017, we built several water features for a client who was turning a pretty blah property into their retirement home. The rear of the home was mostly glass and looked out onto a steep, unusable hillside. In other words, a perfect setting for a water feature! If you want to learn about lighting for ponds and waterfalls, keep reading to get results like this.
Lighting for ponds and waterfalls – start with the drama shots
For most natural-style water features, it’s the waterfall that gets the most attention (and oohs and ahhs). Waterfalls look fantastic when lit up at night. For lights that will be completely or partially in the water, we recommend lights designed for underwater use, like this one:
How you light up a waterfall depends primarily on where you can get a light fixture and what type of fixture works best. In the photo below, you can see how we lit each waterfall in a different way.
With waterfall A, we placed the submersible spotlight at the bottom of the pond, shining up into the waterfall. The light picks up the entire flow of water coming over the spillway rock, and it also lights up the area underneath it. It does a wonderful job of focusing your attention on the key feature of the pond. It’s the money shot.
With waterfall B, a direct spot underneath didn’t make sense. You can’t successfully have two competing focal points and I wanted this to be the “secondary” waterfall. Additionally, it’s a smaller, slower flow, so there’s not as much to illuminate. Here we took a submersible spotlight and placed it on a flat rock across the pond from the waterfall, in just an inch or two of water. You can see that the beam of light washes across the surface of the water and picks up the smaller waterfall. It also creates a little more shadowing in the stone of the back of the pond.
This wouldn’t be an option if this pond were viewed from all angles, as you’d see the fixture and you’d get the glare from the bulb. Since this pond will be viewed almost exclusively from the house and the deck, that’s not an issue. Always consider how you’ll hide the fixture when designing lighting for ponds and waterfalls.
Lighting for ponds and waterfalls – streambeds
With this pond we have around 30 feet of streambed. For the ponds in the front of this residence, we have almost 75 feet. After all that hard work (and probably 20+ tons of boulders) you’d better believe we want to show it off at night! There are three primary ways that we’ll illuminate a streambed.
Underwater spotlights – If there’s a big enough waterfall drop in the course of the streambed, we can light the waterfall just like we did the pond waterfall above. We didn’t have a sizeable drop (more than a foot) in this streambed, so we had to use other options.
Path lights – I like using pathlights for several reasons. For one thing, they do an excellent job of lighting both the water in the stream, and the stones and plants bordering the stream. They’re also easy to adjust, easy to move, and come in different heights and finishes to help them blend into the setting.
Bullet lights – Sometimes a pathlight won’t work. Maybe the grade is so steep that a pathlight can’t effectively light enough of the stream to make a difference; maybe the stream is bordered by such large boulders that you can’t get a pathlight close enough. That’s where bullet lights come into play. You can illuminate large sections of stream by angling the light diagonally across the stream, parallel with the grade. You can use risers to place the bullet lights high enough to shine slightly down and across. And sometimes they’re the best way to highlight a cool feature. In this example pond, I grabbed several huge boulders from around the property and we set them so it would look like the stream was emerging from a natural spring. What with all the plantings, as well as the drama of the stream and pond, you don’t really notice our not-actually-a-spring during the day. Hitting it with light reveals an awesome surprise come sundown!
Submersible lights (other than spotlights) – The easiest mistake to make when designing any landscape lighting is to leave dark areas among the lighted areas. This just makes those dark places seem even darker. In other words, if you don’t do something to light up your pond, it’s going to look like the black depths from which Cthulu will come to devour our world. That’s just bad design. Drop a submersible light in there to give your pond that soft glow.
I should also mention that when we’re doing lighting for ponds and waterfalls, we’re using low voltage (12 volt) lighting. It’s much safer around water than line voltage, and there are dozens upon dozens of fixtures made just for lighting in wet areas. With landscape lighting fixtures you definitely get what you pay for, and that’s especially true for submersible fixtures. It’s well worth the investment, unless you really enjoy sloshing around your pond in waders replacing fixtures all the time.
Are you looking for a water feature? Or do you have one that you like, but you really wish it looked better at night? We can help! Fill out the form below and someone will get right back to you. I just want you to get outside and play.
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