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“Specular Highlight” is easily one of the most misunderstood in all of photography. Traditionally specular highlights are taught to be the brightest part of a photograph. 

Sunlight glinting off ripples in the ocean

or the sun reflected in the chrome siren of an antique fire engine are examples.

Sometimes it’s the catchlight in a someone’s eyes.

The baffling thing is that specular highlights aren’t always the brightest part of a photograph.

I was really confused by these highlights. So I looked up “specular” in the dictionary. It’s an adjective (Sorry. Mom was an English teacher) and it’s defined as “having the properties of a mirror.” MIRROR! Wow! Specular means mirror. A specular highlight is a mirror image of the source of light in the subject! That makes total sense.

Here, the sun and its specular highlight are mirrored in this scene reflected in a rear view mirror. The specular highlights are the orange glows in the pavers and the ones on the side and windows of the car.

Photographs are happy to tell you how they were lit. Those secrets lie in the specular highlights and the shadow edges (unless of course someone has been mucking about in Photoshop.)

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  1. what do u meter off and what is the best merering modw? I shoot with a canon 50d