Wall Washing vs. Wall Grazing: How to Use in Outdoor Lighting

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Two essential techniques stand out in outdoor lighting: wall washing and grazing. These techniques are distinct in their approach and offer unique visual effects, making them indispensable tools in the outdoor lighting designer’s toolkit.

1. Wall Washing: Wall washing involves casting a broad, uniform wash of light over a vertical surface, such as a wall or façade. This technique is akin to painting with light, as it bathes the entire surface in a soft, even glow. Wall washing is renowned for its ability to create a welcoming and harmonious atmosphere while highlighting architectural details and textures.

2. Wall Grazing: Conversely, Wall grazing is more akin to sculpting with light. It involves placing fixtures at an oblique angle to a surface, typically a wall, to accentuate textures, create shadows, and evoke a sense of depth and drama. Wall grazing is an artful technique that can emphasize the natural beauty of materials, such as stone or wood, and breathe life into outdoor landscapes.

Table of Contents

Section 1: Understanding Wall Washing in Outdoor Lighting

Wall Washing in Outdoor Lighting

A. Definition of Wall Washing in an Outdoor Setting

In outdoor lighting, “wall washing” is a technique that involves strategically illuminating vertical surfaces, such as walls, fences, or architectural features, to create an even and uniform distribution of light across these surfaces. Unlike focused or spotlighting techniques that accentuate specific elements, wall washing aims to paint the entire vertical plane with light, offering a balanced and encompassing radiance. It resembles gently bathing an outdoor wall in a soft and inviting glow.

B. How Wall Washing Contributes to the Outdoor Ambiance

The application of wall washing in outdoor lighting has a profound impact on the ambiance of a space. It fundamentally transforms how we perceive and engage with outdoor environments after sunset. By gently and uniformly washing the vertical surfaces, wall washing creates a harmonious and inviting atmosphere that beckons individuals into the outdoor realm. The soft, diffused light envelops the surroundings, making outdoor spaces feel welcoming, cozy, and inviting.

C. Advantages of Wall Washing in Outdoor Spaces

1. Creating a Welcoming Atmosphere: Wall washing infuses outdoor areas with warmth and hospitality. It sets a welcoming tone for guests and residents, inviting them to linger and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. This technique is particularly effective for residential gardens, patios, and outdoor seating areas in restaurants and cafes.

2. Enhancing Safety and Security: Beyond aesthetics, wall washing also serves a practical purpose. It significantly enhances safety and security in outdoor spaces. Uniformly illuminating pathways, staircases, and the perimeters of outdoor areas make potential hazards easily visible, reducing the risk of accidents and intrusions.

D. Ideal Outdoor Spaces and Applications for Wall Washing

Wall washing is a versatile technique that finds its place in various outdoor settings and applications:

1. Residential Gardens: It can accentuate the beauty of garden walls, creating an enchanting backdrop for evening strolls or gatherings.

2. Architectural Façades: Wall washing can accentuate a structure’s architectural attributes, underscoring its magnificence and distinctive design characteristics.

3. Retail Storefronts: In commercial settings, it can draw attention to retail storefronts, enticing potential customers and making a memorable first impression.

E. Practical Tips for Effective Wall Washing Outdoors

To make the most of wall washing in outdoor lighting, consider the following practical tips:

1. Fixture Placement and Angle: Position light fixtures at an appropriate distance from the wall to achieve the desired wash effect. The angle of the institutions should be carefully calculated to distribute light across the surface evenly. Experimentation and adjustment may be necessary to achieve the desired result.

2. Light Intensity and Color Temperature Choices: Select light fixtures with the appropriate intensity and color temperature. Warm white or soft white lights create a more inviting and cozy ambiance, while cooler temperatures may be used for modern or dramatic effects. Balancing these choices is essential to create the desired outdoor air.

Section 2: Exploring Wall Grazing in Outdoor Lighting

Wall Grazing in Outdoor Lighting

A. Definition of Wall Grazing in Outdoor Environments

In outdoor lighting, “wall grazing” is an illuminative technique designed to cast light across vertical surfaces, such as walls, textured facades, or natural elements like rock formations, precisely and calculatedly. Unlike wall washing, which bathes surfaces in a uniform wash of light, wall grazing strategically positions fixtures at oblique angles to create captivating plays of light and shadow. Wall grazing sculpts the outdoor environment with light, allowing for a nuanced and dynamic visual experience.

B. How Wall Grazing Elevates Outdoor Aesthetics

As an outdoor lighting technique, wall grazing possesses a transformative capacity to elevate the aesthetics of any outdoor space. Casting light diagonally across textured surfaces accentuates the intricate details, contours, and textures that may otherwise go unnoticed in the dark. This deliberate manipulation of light brings forth a heightened sense of dimension and visual intrigue, making outdoor settings come alive after sunset. As beams of light graze over surfaces, they impart an enchanting and almost cinematic quality to the outdoor environment, enhancing its overall allure.

C. Benefits of Wall Grazing in Outdoor Spaces

1. Accentuating Architectural Elements: Wall grazing highlights the architectural facets of buildings and structures. It draws attention to unique design elements, such as ornate facades, intricate stonework, or decorative moldings, allowing their beauty to shine even in low-light conditions. This technique serves as an artistic spotlight, celebrating the craftsmanship and artistry of architectural features.

2. Adding Depth and Drama to Landscapes: Beyond architecture, wall grazing is a powerful tool for outdoor landscaping. It introduces depth and drama to natural elements like rock formations, retaining walls, and foliage. Casting angled beams of light creates visually engaging interplays of light and shadow, transforming an ordinary landscape into a captivating nocturnal scene.

D. Suitable Outdoor Spaces and Applications for Wall Grazing

Wall grazing is an adaptable technique that finds relevance in a multitude of outdoor spaces and applications:

  1. Architectural Facades: Wall grazing can bring out the majesty of a building’s exterior, emphasizing its character and uniqueness.
  2. Landscape Features: It is ideal for highlighting landscape elements such as garden walls, water features, and sculptures, breathing life into these elements under the night sky.
  3. Natural Environments: Wall grazing can be used in natural settings to accentuate geological formations, creating an enchanting blend of nature and artistry.

E. Tips for Implementing Wall Grazing Effectively in Outdoor Settings

To achieve the desired visual impact with wall grazing in outdoor lighting, consider the following practical tips:

1. Fixture Types and Placement: Choose fixtures designed for wall grazing with optics that direct light precisely. Position these fixtures at calculated angles to achieve the desired grazing effect. Experimentation may be necessary to find the optimal placement for each unique outdoor feature.

2. Controlling Glare and Unwanted Spill: Utilize glare control mechanisms, such as shields or baffles, to minimize excessive brightness and glare. Ensure the light is focused primarily on the intended surface, preventing unnecessary spillage that could detract from the overall effect.

Section 3: Key Differences Between Wall Washing and Wall Grazing in Outdoor Lighting

architectural outdoor wall washing lighting design

The choice between wall washing and wall grazing hinges on the desired emotional and aesthetic impact you wish to achieve in your outdoor spaces. Wall washing creates a tranquil and harmonious atmosphere, while wall grazing introduces dynamism and intrigue, making both techniques indispensable tools in the outdoor lighting designer’s repertoire.

A. Lighting Direction and Angles

One of the fundamental distinctions between wall washing and wall grazing in outdoor lighting lies in the direction and angles at which light is applied to outdoor surfaces:

1. Wall Washing: In-wall washing, light fixtures are typically positioned parallel or nearly parallel to the wall or surface being illuminated. This orientation allows for a broad light distribution, creating a uniform wash effect that evenly bathes the entire surface. Light washes down the wall, covering it in a soft, diffused glow.

2. Wall Grazing: Wall grazing, in contrast, involves positioning light fixtures at oblique angles to the surface. The institutions cast light across the surface, skimming rather than bathing it. This angled approach creates dynamic plays of light and shadow, accentuating textures and producing a visually captivating effect.

B. Visual Effects on Outdoor Surfaces and Landscapes

The choice between wall washing and wall grazing leads to distinctive visual effects on outdoor surfaces and landscapes:

1. Wall Washing: Wall washing tends to produce a serene ambiance. It imparts a sense of continuity and balance to the surface, making it appear gently bathed in a subtle radiance. This technique best suits surfaces that create a welcoming and harmonious atmosphere, emphasizing the surface’s texture and color.

2. Wall Grazing: Wall grazing is known for its ability to introduce drama and depth to outdoor scenes. By casting light at an angle, it highlights the relief and contours of the surface, creating pronounced shadows and highlights. This technique emphasizes the three-dimensional aspects of outdoor elements, making them pop and adding a sense of intrigue and dynamism.

C. Choosing the Appropriate Technique for Your Outdoor Design Goals

Selecting between wall washing and wall grazing in outdoor lighting should be a deliberate decision based on your specific design objectives:

1. Wall Washing: Choose wall washing when your primary objective is to establish a cozy and welcoming atmosphere in your outdoor areas. It is especially suitable for settings where you want uniform illumination across larger surfaces, such as building facades or expansive garden walls. Wall washing is ideal for highlighting the overall character of a surface.

2. Wall Grazing: Choose wall grazing when you aim to infuse outdoor spaces with drama, depth, and visual interest. This technique shines when accentuating the intricate details of architectural features, sculptures, textured walls, or natural elements. Wall grazing is a go-to choice to add an artistic touch to your outdoor lighting design.

Section 4: Real-Life Outdoor Applications

A. Residential Outdoor Spaces

1. Patios and Decks: Wall washing and wall grazing techniques find fruitful application in enhancing the appeal of residential patios and decks. On patios, wall washing can gently illuminate adjacent walls, fostering a relaxed and inviting ambiance for evening gatherings. On the other hand, wall grazing can accentuate the texture of wooden deck walls, creating a visually engaging backdrop that adds depth to the outdoor living space.

2. Gardens and Pathways: In residential gardens and along pathways, wall washing is vital in illuminating retaining walls, fencing, or garden walls. Evenly distributing light across these surfaces transforms them into captivating focal points, making evening strolls or garden gatherings a delightful experience. Wall grazing can highlight the natural beauty of stone pathways and garden walls, enriching the landscape with textured nuances and shadows that come alive under the night sky.

B. Commercial Outdoor Spaces

1. Hotel Exteriors: For hotels and resorts, the exterior lighting sets the stage for the guest experience. Wall washing is an ideal choice to accentuate the grandeur of hotel exteriors, showcasing their architectural beauty and creating a lasting first impression. It allows the building’s façade to radiate elegance, making the property all the more inviting to arriving guests.

2. Restaurant Outdoor Seating Areas: Restaurants with outdoor seating areas benefit significantly from the subtle charm of wall washing. This technique can softly illuminate the walls surrounding al fresco dining spaces, fostering a cozy, intimate atmosphere that encourages diners to linger and enjoy their meals. When applied to unique architectural elements or planters, wall grazing adds a touch of sophistication, enhancing the overall dining experience.

C. Architectural and Landscape Features

1. Highlighting Walls and Façades: Wall washing is an invaluable tool for architectural lighting. It can highlight the intricate details of historic buildings, drawing attention to ornate facades, decorative moldings, or elegant columns. The even wash of light can transform a building’s exterior into a work of art, showcasing its architectural heritage and design finesse.

2. Illuminating Sculptures and Water Features: Wall grazing comes into its own when accentuating outdoor sculptures and water features by casting angled light across these artistic elements, creating captivating interplays of light and shadow that enhance the sculptures’ three-dimensional qualities. The technique can bring statues to life, making them the focal point of attention in outdoor art installations.

Section 5: Factors to Consider When Selecting Outdoor Lighting Fixtures

Making informed choices when selecting outdoor lighting fixtures involves considering a range of factors beyond mere aesthetics. Prioritizing durability, aesthetic harmony, energy efficiency, and compatibility with lighting control systems ensures that your outdoor lighting not only enhances the beauty of your outdoor spaces but also functions reliably and sustainably over time.

A. Weather Resistance and Durability

One of the foremost considerations when choosing outdoor lighting fixtures is their ability to withstand the rigors of the elements. Outdoor fixtures are exposed to various weather conditions, including rain, snow, humidity, and extreme temperatures. Therefore, opting for fixtures specifically designed for outdoor use is crucial. These fixtures typically have weatherproof seals, corrosion-resistant materials, and durable finishes to endure long-term exposure to the elements. Look for fixtures with high IP (Ingress Protection) ratings, which indicate the fixture’s resistance to dust and moisture, offering more excellent durability in challenging outdoor environments.

B. Fixture Designs that Blend with Outdoor Aesthetics

Outdoor lighting fixtures should seamlessly integrate with the aesthetics of the outdoor space. The fixtures’ design should complement the area’s overall style and architecture, enhancing its visual appeal rather than detracting from it. Consider the fixture’s shape, color, and finish to ensure it harmonizes with the outdoor surroundings. For example, institutions with sleek, modern designs may be ideal for contemporary settings, while traditional lantern-style fixtures may be more appropriate for a classic or rustic ambiance.

C. Energy Efficiency and Sustainability

In a time marked by a growing focus on environmental consciousness and energy conservation, selecting energy-efficient outdoor lighting fixtures represents both a conscientious and economically prudent choice. LED (Light Emitting Diode) fixtures have become a preferred choice for outdoor lighting due to their exceptional energy efficiency, longevity, and reduced maintenance costs. Look for institutions with high lumen output and low wattage to maximize illumination while minimizing energy consumption. Additionally, consider institutions that are ENERGY STAR certified or compliant with other sustainability standards, as they can contribute to reducing your carbon footprint.

D. Compatibility with Outdoor Lighting Control Systems

The ability to control and customize your outdoor lighting is essential for optimizing its functionality and efficiency. Ensure the selected fixtures are compatible with outdoor lighting control systems, such as DMX, timers, motion sensors, photocells, or intelligent lighting technology. These systems empower you to automate lighting timetables, fine-tune brightness levels, and adapt to shifting environmental circumstances. Smart lighting systems, in particular, offer remote control and programmable features through smartphone apps or voice commands, providing convenience and flexibility.

Furthermore, consider the scalability of the outdoor lighting control system. Will it accommodate future expansions or changes in your outdoor lighting layout? Compatibility with wireless communication protocols like Wi-Fi or Zigbee can facilitate the addition of new fixtures or adjustments to your lighting scheme without complex rewiring.

Section 6: Design Tips and Best Practices for Outdoor Lighting

Following the design tips and best practices below, you can create a compelling and functional outdoor lighting scheme that transforms outdoor spaces into inviting, visually captivating environments while addressing common challenges associated with outdoor lighting projects.

A. Balancing Functional and Decorative Lighting

A harmonious outdoor lighting design requires a careful balance between functionality and aesthetics. While illuminating outdoor spaces to ensure safety and practicality is essential, incorporating decorative lighting elements can elevate the ambiance. Here are key considerations:

  1. Layered Lighting: Embrace a layered approach by combining ambient, task, and accent lighting. Task lighting serves practical purposes like pathway illumination, while ambient lighting provides a general description. Accent lighting, conversely, introduces decorative elements such as ornamental fixtures or creatively lit foliage.
  2. Dimming Controls: Install dimming controls to adjust the brightness of your outdoor lighting fixtures. This flexibility allows you to adapt the lighting to different occasions and moods, from bright and functional to soft and inviting.
  3. Uniformity and Balance: Ensure that the lighting scheme maintains uniformity and balance. Avoid over-lighting or under-lighting certain areas, as this can create discomfort or detract from the overall aesthetics.

B. Combining Wall Washing and Wall Grazing for Versatility

The synergy of wall washing and wall grazing techniques offers a versatile approach to outdoor lighting design. By strategically integrating both methods, you can achieve a wide range of lighting effects:

1. Wall Washing: Employ wall washing to provide uniform, soft illumination on vertical surfaces like walls or facades. This establishes a welcoming atmosphere and enhances architectural details.

2. Wall Grazing: Integrate wall grazing to add depth and drama to outdoor scenes. It highlights textures, creates shadows, and emphasizes three-dimensional elements, visually captivating landscapes and structures.

3. Sculpt with Light: Blend wall washing and grazing to “sculpt” your outdoor space. Highlight architectural elements with wall washing and use wall grazing to add dynamic touches to textured surfaces or sculptures.

C. Creating Focal Points and Highlighting Natural Elements

Outdoor lighting can be used to draw attention to specific focal points and the natural beauty of your outdoor environment:

  • Focal Points: Identify vital focal points, such as sculptures, water features, or architectural details, and illuminate them strategically. You create visual interest and drama by directing attention to these focal points.
  • Natural Elements: Celebrate the beauty of nature by highlighting trees, shrubs, and rock formations with well-placed fixtures. Uplighting trees or grazing textured surfaces can transform your outdoor space into an enchanting nocturnal wonderland.
  • Pathway Lighting: Ensure safe navigation with pathway lighting. Use fixtures that softly guide visitors while accentuating the charm of your garden or landscape.

D. Addressing Common Outdoor Lighting Challenges

Outdoor lighting projects often come with specific challenges that require thoughtful solutions:

1. Glare Control: To prevent glare, particularly in areas with reflective surfaces, use fixtures with shields or glare-reducing optics. Proper placement and beam control can also minimize glare.

2. Light Pollution: Be mindful of light pollution. Use fixtures with precision optics that direct light where it’s needed without spilling into the night sky. Shielding institutions and using warm color temperatures can further mitigate light pollution.

3. Maintenance: Select fixtures that are easy to access and maintain. LEDs have longer lifespans and require less maintenance than traditional bulbs. Regular cleaning and maintenance checks ensure optimal performance.

4. Energy Efficiency: Adopt energy-efficient lighting fixtures such as LEDs to reduce energy usage and operational expenses. Implement lighting controls to schedule lighting when needed and dim it during off-peak hours.


Outdoor lighting is a powerful medium through which designers and enthusiasts can shape the nocturnal world. It is a dynamic and ever-evolving field that invites creativity, innovation, and the exploration of new horizons. As we navigate the outdoor lighting landscape, let us recognize its transformative power as a catalyst for enchantment, comfort, and connection in landscape and architectural design. We carefully apply outdoor lighting to illuminate our surroundings and aspirations for a more beautiful, functional, and sustainable outdoor realm.

Why Upward Lighting?

Choosing Upward Lighting’s outdoor LED fixtures offers energy efficiency, durability, and customization. With various brightness and color temperature options, compatibility with lighting controls, and a commitment to sustainability, Upward Lighting provides reliable and environmentally responsible solutions for your outdoor lighting needs.

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