Water features fall into four broad categories: pools, fountains, waterfalls, and streams. Each of these presents a particular set of lighting challenges and opportunities, but all can provide spectacular results.
The most basic lighting design question for a water feature is whether the aim is to preserve and enhance the feature’s daylight mood or to transform it after sundown into something entirely different. Pool and pond installations provide good examples of the versatility of lighting in expressing the design goal.
A reflective water surface by day can be transformed to a source of light in the darkness when the underwater bulbs come on. By day, the water returns an image of its setting, by night it becomes a glowing portal into another world. Alternatively, water skimming lights accentuate the surface, the shimmering boundary between air and water, preserving that daytime impression. The emphasis can be shifted further to nighttime reflection by positioning lights so that the pond or pool throws back dancing light and shadows onto trees, ground features, or the house.
Experienced designers familiar with water’s unique properties know how to bring a concept to life. A typical DIY error is inadequate lighting. Water is about 700 times denser than air, and light passing through water dissipates over much shorter distances than in the air. More wattage is needed to achieve the desired effect where it involves underwater lights, especially. Water clarity can be an issue, too. Features with rapidly recirculating water tend to keep it clearer than do static pools and ponds. The effect produced by underwater lights in murky water is often less than completely appealing.
Professionals also know that predicting what water will do with light is not an exact science. The process of building a lighting design for a water feature (or indeed wherever water acts on an outdoor lighting design) should include flexibility to move things around, try alternatives, and loop back to the drawing board if need be. The LED/ low-voltage revolution in outdoor lighting has vastly expanded the range of hardware options and along with this the menu of effects available to designers.
One of the advantages an experienced professional brings to the table is efficiency in searching this huge library of possibilities and quickly picking and deploying the right equipment to realize a customer’s dreams. Water features are as varied and diverse as the imaginations of their creators. A little more patience may be needed to get the lighting just right where water is in the picture, but the results are well worth it.