How to Light Water Features, Ponds, and Waterfalls

What is more soothing and calming than the visual aesthetic and relaxing sound of trickling water on a summer evening?  The backyard pond or waterfall is a hardscape often most treasured by those homeowners who have them. Some homeowners install these water features to cover distracting sounds from nearby traffic, boisterous neighborhood parks, and other sounds of urban life that can shatter the tranquility of a personal outdoor setting or living space. For others, the aesthetic of the water feature was the motivating factor for the installation. Whatever the reason for the water feature, a well-designed custom landscape lighting design will amplify the serene setting that a water feature creates for a landscape.

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Lighting revives the flowing fountain, pond, or waterfall once the sky has closed its eyes, and the cloak of darkness has enshrouded the scene. Light, softly splashing over a cascading waterfall, deftly illuminating a pond rolling with koi, and basking myriad plants in dancing silhouettes create motion and breathe life into the feature.  Darkened windows become living natural masterpieces that lift the eye of the soul.

Here are tips that help when lighting water features.

Light with intentionality

Go out at night and seek to answer the important question, “Why light?” When thinking about lighting an object or area such as a water feature, be deliberate in the approach. Seek to justify or explain the reasoning behind every lighting angle. Employing this approach will minimize costly mistakes.

A flashlight can be used to provide an idea of how the feature or an element of the feature might appear when illuminated at night. Imagine the flashlight is the lighting fixture that will be mounted in the ground. How do the angles and shadows appear? For those with no experience in lighting design, this simple exercise may save a lot of time.

Consider the optimal viewing angles

It is important to recognize the angles from which the landscape feature will be most frequently viewed and enjoyed. This viewing point may not be the optimal vantage point from which to view the feature. As an example, assume that the landscape will primarily be seen from the back patio or from the back windows of the home. This visual vantage point can be taken into consideration when placing lights. Choose lighting fixtures carefully. Steps should be taken to shield glare from the viewing site.  Glare can ruin a set and should be eliminated as much as possible when creating the desired impact.

To submerge or not to submerge?

Should a water fixture be placed in or out of the water? If the pond, stream, or waterfalls are well maintained, and the water is kept clear, then consider underwater lights.  The lighting effect will only be as impactful as the clarity of the water itself. So, underwater lights should only be installed or placed in clear water. Cloudy, murky water will dim the lighting. If the determination is made to use submerged lighting, use the best quality fixtures that are designed to be in or submerged under the water. Solid brass fixtures sourced from a trusted manufacturer are recommended.

Careful fixture placement

When strategically placed, underwater lights can capture water movement and add a magical element to the landscape feature. In addition to an underwater light, having an above water light softly overlapping with the underwater light creates a fulfilling soft ambiance.


Maintenance should be implemented on all outdoor lighting systems, regardless of being submerged in water. Though water feature lights are subject to water intrusion from being submerged, above water lights are subject to water contact when they are used around a pond or waterfalls edge.  The pond environment splashes water on nearby above-ground lighting fixtures. This moisture finds its way into the system. A good inspection and cleaning in spring and fall are encouraged to keep a lighting system in good working order.

Selecting the appropriate lighting fixture is as important as selecting the placement of that fixture within the landscape and the selection of the best aiming angle.

Careful consideration and planning are necessary to create a captivating lighting effect. The key is to understand the feature or area being illuminated and the best manner to illuminate the various aspects of the landscape.

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Water features such as a fountain, pond, stream, or waterfall are complex. The constant presence of water creates a safety concern involving both installation and maintenance. Well-illuminated water features contribute a fabulous dimension to any overall landscape plan. Securing the consulting services of an experienced, professional landscape lighting design specialist is recommended and well worth the expense. Their knowledge of the technology and their design expertise can combine to create an extraordinary landscape experience.

For more information about landscape lighting design, call Southern Landscape Lighting Systems of Alpharetta, GA at (770) 691-1221.

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