Tips how to set up outdoor motion lights.

The Best Way To Set Up Outdoor Motion Lights

Motion Sensor Pattern and Alignment

Best motion light sensor direction for sensitivity

First, you must understand that the sensor on motion lights work best when movement occurs across the field of view rather than towards it.

It WILL work when moving towards the motion sensor however the movement will need to be closer in order to trigger the sensor.

Ideally you will want to install the motion light in a location that will trigger best for movement across it. This is not always possible, but if you understand the principle then it will help you decide where best to put it.

I will interject here and recommend a particular motion sensor light that has an approximate 60 foot range and is ‘the best there is’ for home security outdoor motion sensor lighting. I’ve written several articles on this product. Here’s one:

Best Outdoor Motion Lights For Home Security

Tip: Do you see those lobes in the diagram above? Well, if your motion sensor is mounted above a pathway (objects move towards the sensor) and you feel that there’s a sensitivity issue (even after turning up the sensor gain), try moving the sensor head about 1/4″ one way or the other – just a little bit. Why? Because maybe the pathway happens to be slightly in-between one of those sensing lobes.

Motion Sensor Level

Level the motion sensor for  best sensing.

Look at the image above. If the motion sensor is not level with the ground, then sensing will be uneven. Both sides of the pattern will have poor sensing because one end will be looking high while the other is looking low.

Mount the sensor head so that it is level with the ground.

Motion Sensor Mounting Height

It’s best to mount the sensor between 6 and 10 feet off the ground.

Below 6 feet and above 10 feet you will lose sensing range on the ground.

Ideally, in my experience, I mount my motion light sensors at least 8 feet high, though I find the sweet spot to be about 9 feet for maximum range while not giving up nearby range.

When mounting higher up, the motion light will still work. But you will have to point / aim the sensor down towards the area of interest. You just won’t get as much range (which may not be an issue for you, depending).

A good thing about mounting higher is better security for the motion light – keeping it out of reach from the ground. 9 feet is pretty safe for that.

Sensor vs. Light Fixture Position

The orientation of the motion light mounting plate should position the light fixture ABOVE the sensor head.

Why? Because heat rises, and the radiated heat from the light will not interfere with the sensor (which could keep it turned on).

Note: The sensor works by Infrared (heat waves).

Walk the Motion Sensor Perimeter

The RAB Stealth (and some other motion lights) have a TEST mode.

Switching to TEST mode will operate the motion light whether it’s day or night, turning on the light for a few seconds when motion is detected – then off again. This makes it convenient for testing and adjustments.

Start outside the pattern and walk ACROSS the sensing perimeter to discover the extent of the pattern.

Note, as distance from the sensor increases, it will take more
movement to be detected.

Make adjustments to the sensor range gain and physical alignment to optimize.

Home security and outdoor motion lights go hand in hand. I do not go ‘cheap’ when it comes to home security. I have no doubt whatsoever that the following product is the best there is in this category:

RAB Super Stealth (bronze)

RAB Super Stealth (white)

Continue reading: LED Flood Light Replacement for Motion Lights


  1. Sensors work off of near infrared, not thermal IR (those are longer wavelengths). That’s a common misunderstanding. When someone says infrared, it doesn’t always mean heat. Your TV remote works on the same principal; it’s not shooting a ray of heat at the TV ;)

    1. Did some research, and it turns out some motion sensors do actually work off of heat. I stand corrected; game cameras use near IR so I had assumed motion activated lights worked the same.

      1. ‘Heat’ really is a relative term. IR covers a relatively wide spectrum.

        1. Ken;
          Not sure how you can say “heat is a relative thing”????
          Obviously you have not met my “relatives”, ice comes to mind LOLOL

        2. Yep, I work with imagery for a living, just didn’t know which frequency these worked in. As sensors go though, near IR isn’t the same as heat, so they’re not the same. Heat is emitted by the body, near IR is reflected energy with the source being either the sun or an IR bulb on the camera or light.

          It’s good to know the difference because this also applies to night vision devices (things I’ve seen confused and misunderstood by some on this blog).

        3. Paul – That is among the most practical and useful bits of education I’ve come across in some time. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. We do not have electricity where this type of light can be installed, so we went with the LED solar lights. Some are more sensitive than others I have noticed.
    Thank you Ken for giving me the missing data of why one of my lights does not respond, it is not up high enough for sensing motion. Will have to find a new location for that area of coverage we need along the drive way.

  3. Like my Rab which is mounted high up but does give adequate coverage of the area I want covered. It complements another light that was mounted low. I noted that the low one wasn’t working and found that the sensor which was in easy reach had been moved to point up. Obviously somebody had been thinking about coming by at night. A smile you are on camera sign was added and so far nobody has been caught on camera nor have we been robbed.

  4. Some folks are uncomfortable wiring in lights. For those and super simple install, try MR. Beams battery sensor lights. Works well and D batteries last more than a year. On Amazon. I stuck up a dozen in an afternoon.

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