Think about what you want your outdoor lighting to do. Common uses include emphasizing landscape formations, shedding light on walkway areas and adding security.
Look out your windows and visualize what areas need to be lit. Walk around your yard with a flashlight to experiment with how lighting would look in your yard. Determine where lights should be positioned and how many you need. All of these variables will create different moods and effects, so consider the possibilities.
You can light up dark walkways or paths by placing lights close to each other so that the illumination from each overlaps. Accent lighting near walls or underneath trees can create great highlighting effects. Placing lights in front of trees or statues and other features can create dramatic shadows on fences and walls.
To add interest to your lighting plan, think about mixing up spacing and patterns.
Remember that less is more. Don't add so many lights that they end up competing with each other.
Be careful not to choose lighting locations that will get in the way of lawnmowers or foot traffic. Make sure your lighting won't beam directly into your home or, even worse, into your neighbor's.
Try to plan your light installation when you're landscaping your yard or garden. When it comes to planning, it's much easier to do both tasks at the same time.
Once you have some landscape lighting ideas in mind, drawing a plan will help you visualize the results. Using a scale of 1/8" for every foot, include the location of your home's exterior outlets, trees, shrubbery, walkways, fountains, deck or patio, as well as any areas you want to light for safety. Don't worry if you're not an artist—even a rough sketch will do the trick.
Check with your local municipality to determine if building codes will allow you to do what you want. Depending on what you have in mind, you may need a permit.