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May 2018

The reflection of light: What is Specular Reflection?

Specular reflection, also known as veiling reflection, is light reflection from an object or task that obscures details. It is a vital concept in the field of lighting.

The reflection of light

A beam of light that comes to rest on a surface may be reflected in several ways. The beam alters its course once it hits certain types of surfaces. The reflection of light exists in many types indeed. However, the lighting layout designer must always consider specular reflection.

What is Specular Reflection?

Specular reflection is a type of surface reflectance often described as a mirror-like reflection of light from the surface. In specular reflection, the incident light is reflected into a single outgoing direction.

Light reflects on a surface known as specular surface (similar to that of a mirror) at the angle of incidence. It is further reflected at a similar angle.

The type of surface on which it is reflected, as well as the position of the light source, affect the secondary beam. For instance, consider when light falls on an uneven or irregular surface such as an unpolished or ragged surface. The absorption effect is higher because it reduces the reflected light beam’s strength. To produce specular reflection, surface irregularities need to be smaller than the length of the beam’s radiation, such as in the case of polished metal, glass, plastic or transparent liquid surfaces. On a “perfect” surface, the angle of beam radiation is equivalent to that of the incident radiation.

Specular reflection rarely occurs in nature, but rather in man-made spaces. Still waters are an example of nature’s ability to produce this type of reflection.

The Effect of Specular Reflection

Specular reflection exerts an effect on our perception of objects. In fact, the beam that shoots through the specular reflection penetrates the surface it touched by barely half a wavelength. Along this course, the color of the reflected beam is identical to that of the incident beam.

However, when a ray of light meets an object, its beams do not all go through the occurrence of specular reflection at a reflection angle that is equal to the incident beam. A number of these beams randomly reflect in multiple directions. This is what is known as diffuse reflection of light.

Thus, a counter crafted from a material that reflects a large number of incident beams might reflect the light source almost perfectly and create a form of blinding ‘spot’ lighting effect. On the other hand, a dull or matte finish that absorbs most light beams, or an irregular surface that reflects light beams in an irregular fashion, might diffuse light. This light would lose its brightness, however.

How to Manage Specular Reflection?

There is no set formula to eliminate the veiling effect on a shiny surface. We can, however, change or improve the angle in order to obtain the desired effect in terms of reflection of light.

Let us look at under-counter lighting in a kitchen that illuminates a shiny surface. When taking the type of surface as well as the backsplash into account, lighting experts recommend that the light source be placed at the front of the cupboard, angled toward the back wall in order to create more diffuse and greater illumination of the work surface.


When the light source is installed at the back of the cupboard, the work space does not receive as much light. The angle of incidence is far more evident.


Specular reflection depends on the type of surface used. To manage veiling reflections appropriately, install luminaires in a strategic fashion. Go through a trial-and-error process before finding the perfect location to improve the reflection of light.

If you would like to learn more about specular reflection or veiling reflections, don’t hesitate to contact one of our experts!