Lighting Comparison: High Mast Lighting vs Flood Lighting

Issue Time:2022/07/13
Choosing the most suitable type of LED fixture for a large outdoor lighting project can be difficult. Two common options for outdoor lighting applications include pole lighting and flood lighting. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but in reality, they do offer different capabilities, specs, and solutions. 

What is the main difference between tall mast lighting and flood lighting?

Pole lights are similar to floodlights in that they have the ability to illuminate large areas. However, there are also many differences in light distribution patterns, installation, vibration resistance, surge protection, dark night compliance, and more.

One of the most notable differences is that the poles of tall mast lights are usually much higher than flood lights. The larger the area you want to illuminate, the higher your lights will need to be installed (if you want to keep the total number of poles to a minimum). Therefore, tall mast lights are often preferred when illuminating large areas.

We'll dive into the more notable differences below. But first, we will define tall mast lighting and floodlighting, because many times these words are often used interchangeably or together when in reality, they are two different applications and provide solutions to different problems. 

Definition of exterior lighting

High mast lighting is often used to illuminate large areas from very high installation heights, usually on poles ranging in height from 50 feet to 150 feet, and mounted to these poles by retaining rings or lowering devices. There are usually 3 to 12 fixtures on each post. Tall mast lights are ideal when you want to illuminate a large area with fewer poles. 

High Mast Lighting Applications: This type of outdoor lighting is commonly used by industrial, commercial, and municipal organizations for large parking lots, railway yards, ports, highways, airports, etc.

Floodlights are also used for exterior lighting and are usually mounted on utility poles or buildings to provide directional lighting for various areas. Luminaires on floodlights can be mounted at various angles, thereby distributing the light accordingly.

Flood Lighting Applications: This type of lighting is typically used to illuminate safety areas, areas of vehicular and pedestrian use, and for sports events and other large areas that require targeted outdoor lighting. 

Tall mast lights & floodlights

Due to the high installation height and multiple luminaire configurations, LED tall mast lights are currently the most cost-effective and efficient way to provide uniform and controlled lighting for large outdoor areas.

Other identifiable aspects that differentiate LED high mast products from LED floodlight products include (click to jump to any section):

Light distribution pattern


IDA dark sky compliance

Vibration resistance/rating

Surge protection

Light distribution pattern

High mast lighting

Most tall mast luminaires use the IESNA light distribution pattern. The IESNA distribution pattern produces overlapping light patterns for high application efficiency, excellent uniformity, and glare control, all of which result in excellent visibility for large outdoor spaces. When functional visibility is a priority on-site, high mast lighting is often chosen over floodlights.


Floodlights are directional light fixtures with various beam spreads and projection distances. Floodlights have a wide beam spread or beam angle that measures the spread (beam width) of light from a reflected light source. A wide beam spread means that light is coming from a smaller angle, resulting in light that becomes more spread out further away. So as the light moves away from the reflected light source, it spreads out and becomes less intense. Floodlights typically have beam spreads in excess of 45 degrees and as high as 120 degrees. Especially with floodlights, the mounting angle must be looked at when discussing light modes.


Another difference between tall masts and floodlights is the type of installation. Floodlights can be mounted in a variety of adjustable mounting types to vary the lighting angle, while tall mast lights will always be mounted via a rigid horizontal tenon.

Installation type

High mast lighting

Rigid Horizontal Tenon - This installation ensures that the fixture points downwards (IDA compliant). Not only does the high mast light mount via a horizontal tenon, but it also utilizes a 4-bolt mounting system to secure the fixtures securely.


Knuckle mount - This mount attaches to the building with a ½” thread and has the ability to orient the fixture at one of several fixed angles.

Adjustable slip fitter – most common due to its versatility. This mount allows the angle of the fixture to be adjusted from 90 degrees to 180 degrees, enabling directional aiming of the light output.

Trunnion mount - This convenient mount attaches easily to flat surfaces (buildings or utility poles) and enables the clamp to be directionally aimed at one of several fixed angles.

For floodlights, the adjustable mounting of the floodlight causes the light pattern on the ground to change. For example, a wide beam spread means that as the fixture is tilted "up", the light will become more dispersed. So as the light moves away from the target surface, it spreads out and becomes less intense. Imagine you point your flashlight directly at the ground. Then imagine (or remember) how the beam changes when you turn on the flash until it points straight ahead.

Installation height

Mounting height plays an important role in the effectiveness of the light in its intended target area. Determining the ideal light distribution pattern for your fixtures requires knowing the distance between where the lights are installed and the area you plan to light. For applications with multiple light fixtures per pole, you need to consider the distance between the poles in order to most efficiently illuminate a given area. 

High mast lighting

Tall mast lights typically have a higher installation height (50+ feet), and due to their large height relative to their cross-sectional dimensions, these poles can be flexible and sensitive to wind loads. The higher mounting height also allows for fewer poles due to optimized light coverage.


Floodlights typically have installation heights of about 15 feet to 35 feet, however, in some applications, their pole heights may be greater than the typical maximum (although rarely reach the height of high mast lighting). Closer distances don't require a long narrow beam, so a wider flood beam is better. To illuminate more distant areas, narrower, farther beams are required.

It's important to note that when installing light poles for a new project, you also need to consider the distance between the light sources and the radius of the beam to avoid excessive overlap of lighting (or no overlap at all, which is also bad).

IDA dark sky compliance and BUG ratings

Dark Sky compliance requirements help prevent light pollution. Dark Sky compliant outdoor lighting blocks light sources to minimize glare and promote improved night vision.

Some features of Dark Sky Compliance include:

Lights up only when needed (using dimmer, timer, or photo controls)

The light just illuminates the area that needs it

Lights no brighter than necessary or safe

For this topic, the most important thing is that the lamp must use optics or shielding to prevent "lighting up"

High mast lighting will always be mounted with a horizontal tenon (with the luminaire's optics facing down) ensuring that any IDA compliance rating is maintained. Keep in mind that you may see images of extremely high masts that look like tall mast lights, but when the optics of tall mast lights are not pointing down, they are not installed properly and most of the light is wasted. 

By contrast, because floodlights use adjustable angles with mounting brackets, they lose any IDA compliance rating when they are no longer at a 90-degree angle to the light pole. Once the floodlights are tilted, the effectiveness of the luminaires in producing uniform illumination on the ground is reduced.


Certain spaces, especially industrial spaces, require special lighting specifications to offset possible damage from working conditions and environmental factors.

Light poles will always vibrate under certain conditions, and while this is rare, violent vibrations can be very unsafe. External forces that can cause a pole to vibrate include wind, bridges, traffic-induced vibration, wind shock from large trucks, heavy industrial activity, and more.

Since luminaires mounted on high poles increase the risk of exposure to wind and vibration (due to the higher mounting height), luminaires often need to be designed to operate in harsh environments, more resistant to vibration than other "every day" exterior lights and impact clamp options. High mast lighting is designed for the safety and stability of components within the luminaire to withstand vibration.

It is important to consider vibration in retrofit projects, as pole vibration can cause premature failure of light fixtures and fixtures. Luminaire vibration testing is included in the ANSI standard, which provides minimum vibration capabilities and vibration testing methods for road luminaires. To ensure the luminaire can withstand the proper vibration conditions, look for "Vibration Tested to 3g Class per ANSI C136.31-2018" on the product specification sheet.

Surge protection

Higher surge protection is available for tall mast lights and floodlights. However, the higher 20kv is more standard on tall mast lights for two reasons:

1. Taller poles increase the risk of lightning strikes, and because they are installed so high, it is much more expensive to replace the fixtures (labor), so you want to reduce the chance of the fixtures failing.

2. Robust surge protection devices cost more, and standard floodlights usually don't offer this feature.

Descending device

Lowering equipment uses manual or motorized controls, enabling the light fixture to be lowered and raised for maintenance. Lowering equipment may add higher upfront costs, however, they inevitably reduce maintenance costs and provide safer maintenance. Since tall mast lights are mounted very high (thus requiring fewer poles), lowering units are ideal for tall mast lighting.

In a retrofit project, you're unlikely to install a drop on a pole that doesn't have a drop (the pole must be built first to accommodate one). In retrofit projects, it is also important to ensure that the LED luminaires under consideration are compatible with your existing lowering equipment. In addition, when choosing a lowering device, it is necessary to ensure that the fixing device can withstand wind resistance. 

While floodlights can be mounted on tall poles, they are usually not mounted on descenders, as the floodlight's adjustable-angle mounts can alter its wind profile and can cause the descender to be unbalanced, leading to the potential safe questions. 

In conclusion, there are many differences between tall mast lights and floodlights, and there are many factors that go into choosing the type of product that is best for your project. If you're not sure what landscape light you need, or you already have a judgment, feel free to contact us.

TFB Lighting is a professional custom outdoor landscape lights manufacturer. The company covers an area of more than 8,000 square meters and has large scissors, folding equipment, automatic spraying lines, welding production lines, lathes, drilling machines, milling machines, planers, punching machines, and machining production lines, etc. The company mainly produces all kinds of garden lamps, floor lamps, lawn lamps, wall lamps, underwater lamps, wall lamps, spot lamps, street lamps, solar energy and landscape lighting, and other products. There are many varieties and high quality and are widely used in decorative lighting in various roads, squares, parks, villas, pedestrian streets, garden communities, and other places.
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