Stealing Nocturnal Scenes

Eric Herman Headshot
2 L 1021 Aq 10209 Southernwind Pools Web
Photo courtesy Southwind Pools

I'll admit it, I'm kind of a thief. Not in the literal sense, of course, but I’ve always enjoyed walking through the night, capturing glimpses and taking mental pictures of things, places and people I see. These moments I take away are forever mine, and I collect them with a sort of quiet fanaticism and greedy relish.

There’s just something amazing about the way the world looks at night, the way it’s different from the bold literalism of the day, transforming ordinary places into apertures filled with shadow and mystery.

During the past two-plus uncompromisingly weird years (and we all know what I mean by that), I’ve lived in Palm Springs, Calif., a perfect place for a nocturnal visual pilferer like me. The warm desert nights are arid and electric, the landscape sweeping and barren, yet crackling with life. It all shines, twinkles and shimmers in the starlit night, beckoning the wanderer.

One of the elements I’ve learned to appreciate on a particularly profound level throughout my many years of “casing” the night, has been the ingenious applications of landscape and architectural lighting. I’ve seen a spectrum of examples in countless places, but here in particular, the rocky landscape, filled with the sculptural living forms of cacti and succulents, existing in harmony with the opulent contemporary architecture are, as I’ve discovered, the perfect objects for nighttime exterior lighting.

Wherever applied, landscape lighting, thoughtfully planned and applied, can reach into the realm of high art, adding an entirely different dimension to beautiful spaces after the sun goes down. I first embraced that lofty idea about 20 years ago when I attended a class taught by Janet Lennox Moyer, arguably the preeminent landscape lighting artist working today. Her book, prosaically titled, “The Landscape Lighting Book,” is widely considered the bible of landscape lighting design.

Her presentation forever changed the way I see landscape lighting, and indeed, the world at night. It was after that, that I truly embraced my inner nightwalker. She spoke to the possibilities inherent in the artful lighting of structures and how areas of light and dark can be used to express architectural lines and articulate character. I remember her saying in a subsequent conversation, “If you’re lighting the Washington Monument, you don’t light the sides, you light the corners.”

Those types of revelations have been eye-opening, both figuratively and literally. Now, when I see a space beautifully lit, so many aspects come into view. I see depth, rhythm, texture, intimate and distant views, all more felt than verbally understood. Looking back over my many years publishing articles about water and exterior spaces, it’s little wonder many of my favorite images are those taken at night. The way lighting can be used to create and amplify reflections in still water, or practically set aflame plumes, waterfalls and textured water surfaces.

As Moyer and other accomplished practitioners show us, lighting is about choices. The designer, with the collaboration of the customer, chooses what to light and what to leave in the shadows. That alone defines the viewer’s experience. But there’s so much, much more to it: The angle and distance of lighting, brightness, color, spread, number of lights, the use of shadow, backlighting, up lighting, down lighting, path lighting, lighting foliage, moving water, and even the visual design of the fixtures themselves, and numerous other aspects — they all conspire to forge an optical tapestry, a ballet of photons, so to speak.

It’s also readily apparent that today’s LED technology (an entire subject unto itself) has further pushed open the doors of lighting design possibilities, with the ability to use smaller fixtures, readily change colors and even imitate flame. It’s worth mentioning here that these new products have completely transformed swimming pool lighting, which now can take its place in the tapestry of illuminated landscapes.

As I walk through the streets of my city at night, my appreciation of the ingenious use of exterior lighting becomes evermore rich and rewarding. I also can’t help but notice how the homes and other properties that lack landscape lighting, some of which are truly spectacular places during the day, simply fade into obscurity at night as I move past them looking for my next visual heist. These small journeys always sooth and inspire my mind, body and soul, and dazzle my eyes — and I’ve never been caught!

Eric Herman is editor of WaterShapes Magazine and vice president of communications for Watershape University. He is a former senior editor with AQUA Magazine, a position he held for nine years, and a long-time member of the pool, spa and aquatics industry dating back to 1989.

This article first appeared in the June 2022 issue of AQUA Magazine — the top resource for retailers, builders and service pros in the pool and spa industry. Subscriptions to the print magazine are free to all industry professionals. Click here to subscribe.

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