Controlling Specular Highlights


A question that is often asked is now one goes about shooting shiny objects.  The biggest problem with photographing highly reflective object is learning to control the specular highlights.  Controls for the specular are size of light, intensity, and control of the transition areas.   Specular highlights are nothing more than reflections of the light source in the object you are lighting.   The main property of  the specular highlight is it allows the viewer to discern the surface quality of the object being photographed.  In other words a shiny object isn’t shiny if it doesn’t shine.  Below are two red balls the left one looks shiny because of the highlight added to the right side.

Red BallRed Ball with Specular

In this first set of images the Sliver Trophy has been lit with a bare flash head.  This creates a specular that is very small, bright, and very intense.


 The simplest way to control the specular highlight is to increase the size of the light source.  In the second set of images I place the flash head in a large soft box.  This creates a much more pleasing reflection, but I still find it too bright in its intensity.  The more serious problem for me  is that the edges of the specular are way to hard and defined.

To modify the transition area between the specular and diffused highlight I placed a light panel between the soft box and the trophy.  By moving the soft box very closes to the panel I can  create light fall off at the edges of the light panel.  You can see on the image on the right side the effect of moving the soft box to within a few inchs of the panel.


By placing a panel between subject and main light source I am able to totally control the amount of light fall off in the specular.  In the finale image I moved the soft box back away from the panel to get back a slightly harder edge.


So here is the finale image, you can find more of my images over here.

2 Responses to “Controlling Specular Highlights”
  1. iamivar says:

    Nice read, I’m a big fan of short, well written tutorials!

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