Food Photography Lighting: Specular Highlights & Falloff

The sole purpose of food photography is to make food appear mouthwatering. Professional food photographer Joanie Simon shares her go to lighting techniques to make your food photography look more delicious:

Specular Highlights

Specular highlights are the result of direct reflection. They’re formed when the light bouncing off the subject is bright and not diffused. While you’ll want to avoid specular highlights on silverware and utensils(they can get very distracting), try to add some specular highlights on the food to make them appear more appetizing.

specular highlights in food photography

“You don’t want your food to start looking greasy or oily. So there’s a certain art and nuance to the application of specular highlights to your food.”

The key is to make sure that the light hits your food so the direct reflections are bounced back.


“Falloff is where the light is transitioning from light to dark on a particular surface. It’s especially cool to apply it on a background.”

The concept of adding a fall-off to the background is particularly interesting because it adds a sense of depth and dimension to the image. It also adds atmosphere and gives a perception that the image was shot in a real room rather than a studio. Here’s how you can create fall-off:

  • Make sure that there’s ample space between the background and the surface where you’re shooting.
  • Pay attention to how the light is hitting the background. If you’re working with a fake wall, move it away from the light source. If you’re working with a real wall, use curtains or cardboard to block off light hitting the wall. This will create a gradient effect on the wall.
  • If you work with artificial light, have it placed closer to the surface with your food setup and away from the wall. Then, turn it so you get darker tones in the background and lighter tones on the food setup.
fall off in food photography

The fall-off in the image on the right adds depth.

These are easy yet effective lighting tips to take your food photography to the next level. Make sure to give them a try and see for yourself!

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