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New Software Streamlines Specifying Outdoor Landscape Fixtures

By William & Patti Feldman, Freelance writers from Chappaqua, N.Y.

Whether the aim is to enhance usability of the outdoor environment, boost safety and security, or provide aesthetically pleasing illumination of softscapes and hardscapes through islands of light and shadow, landscape lighting is often an important component of a new landscape design. Its specification and design should be part of the landscape architect's scope of work, rather than outsourced.

Fortunately, you needn't be an expert in landscape lighting to perform like one (and even market yourself as one) - you just need to have user-friendly software loaded into your computer that can help you deliver that service to your clients.

Though many powerful lighting software solutions can deliver accurate results, most (but not all) require the know-how to build a model and then apply the appropriate calculations. This can be a daunting task because the programs often have a steep learning curve.

Non-cutoff fixture illustrates the typical light output of a non-cutoff classified, non-shielded decorative fixture using a glass refractor.

Non-cutoff fixture, relative intensity Illustrates the thermal image output of a non-cutoff classified, non-shielded decorative fixture using a glass refractor. Notice the hot spot shown in red.

Non-cut-off fixture, absolute intensity illustrates the footcandle output at a user-specified distance of a non-cutoff classified, non-shielded decorative fixture using a glass refractor.

Enter 3dOP (3d Outdoor Photometrics) Version 1.2, an easy-to-navigate three-dimensional outdoor lighting visualization program for PC and Mac users. This program was developed by Allscape(R) (, a manufacturer of outdoor lighting fixtures, for landscape architects, engineers and specifiers who do not have special knowledge of landscape lighting calculations. The free downloadable software streamlines the selection and specification of any landscape lighting fixture for which type C Illuminating Engineering Society of North America files are available. (The files are offered by most outdoor fixture manufacturers for many of their fixtures, usually available on their web sites.)

IESNA files identify the manufacturer and define the lighting characteristics of the fixture, including the light intensity in all directions away from the fixture. They also include data on the lamp wattage and ballast used and usually other useful information such as the type of lens, type of reflector and housing size and shape.

Up-lighting of the statue of a basketball player at the top of his game, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, adds dramatic nighttime panache to the entrance.

The 3dOP uses data from the files to project the light levels from the fixture onto one of three selectable planes. Select one, two or three landscape lighting fixtures, set the variables - setback, height and tilt - and click for immediate onscreen results: 3D renderings of fixture light distribution patterns on a wall, the ground or a surface. Changing any variable generates new results immediately, making it simple and quick to experiment with different fixtures and placements. The program can handle files for in-ground fixtures, step-lights, building mount fixtures, floodlights, bollards and pole mount fixtures.

Utilizing the software can facilitate easy determination of such decisions as the ideal setback from a wall for an inground fixture; the number of spots, uplights or downlights to light a sign, statue or wall and how far apart they should be; the height a wall or pole mounted fixture should be to achieve a goal; and the height step lights should be mounted in a wall for optimal coverage. To help hone in on best results, 3dOP can be used to analyze the performance of one fixture against another or one set of variables for a specific fixture or group of fixtures against another.

Software Friendly to Dark Sky Considerations

An innovative Dark Sky module enables the user to ensure that an installation can satisfy local lighting ordinances, eliminating or at least minimizing glare, spill light and light trespass.

In Dark Sky mode, 3dOP shows 360-degree displays of fixture illumination (single product only in this mode), with user-defined glare angles included. The light is projected onto each internal face of a transparent cube. Trespass light above 90 degrees vertical (defaulted range) shows red; light in the 80-90 degrees vertical glare zone is blue; and light between 0-80 degree vertical (i.e. "good light") shows green. The intensity of the light is also projected inside the cube walls. The landscape architect has the ability to set and experiment with initial lumen and footcandle levels and light loss factors.

It is also possible to view light output as thermal images to detect unwanted design and installation hot spots, using the relative intensity screen, which bands the intensity information into 10 percent increments.

The absolute intensity display shows the actual footcandle levels on the cube walls for a user-defined distance to the center of the cube, providing still another way to determine if up-light or glare are real problems.

In-ground lighting illuminates the landscape, trees and walls of a Palm Springs, Calif. home.

Photorealism Made Easy

A special photo rendering module provides a clear visual (almost photographic) output onto the grid simulating what the fixtures would do in that particular set-up. Though the program can set the light level automatically for best results, users can also set the level manually, to test out what-ifs for different lighting effects.

Statistical Calculations the Easy Way

The software also calculates the maximum, minimum, average and max./min. footcandle/lux of projected light based on any rectangular or circular area placed on the lighting grid, with a change in any parameter reflected immediately.

In-ground fixtures lighting the palm trees and landscape areas around the sidewalks at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas.

Computer-Assisted Marketing

You can use 3dOP as a marketing tool on a laptop as a value-added way to present easy-to-grasp lighting information to your client, perhaps incorporating various sets of results into a short PowerPoint slide presentation that starts with a digital photo of the fixture, graphically shows how it performs (courtesy 3dOP), and follows up with an application photo furnished either by the manufacturer or from one of your own completed projects.

The same process can be used to compare existing aging lighting (if IESNA files are still available) against a new installation of more energy-efficient, better-looking, better-aimed fixtures and lamps.

For clients truly constricted by budget, you can prepare comparisons of good, better, and best fixture selection informed by performance and pricing data.

If you haven't yet attempted outdoor lighting because of the complexity of calculations or have historically subbed out or used a consultant on all the design aspects, 3dOP could open the door to adding this potentially profitable revenue source to your in-house repertoire for a fair share of upcoming projects. The program is downloadable free from


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October 15, 2019, 10:35 pm PDT

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