Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic Aberration: What is it and How to Avoid it

Chromatic aberration is a common optical problem of a photographic camera, also known as “color fringing” or “purple fringing”. This occurs when a lens is either unable to bring all wavelengths of color to the same focal plane. It can happen too when wavelengths of color are focused at different positions in the focal plane.

Chromatic Aberration: What is it and How to Avoid it
Chromatic aberration” by Stan Zurek from Wikipedia. License CC BY-SA 3.0 vía Wikimedia Commons.

In this post you learn what is chromatic aberration and when appears. But also how to avoid chromatic aberration with simple tips and how to fix chromatic aberration in Lightroom or Camera Raw in 5 easy steps.

What is chromatic aberration in lenses?

Trying to explain simple, is a phenomenon in which light rays passing through a lens focus, and the colors incorrectly refract by the lens at the sensor. It results in a mismatch at the sensor, where the colors make a wrong combination.

Remember that the sensor of your camera (or focal plane), its where your sensor’s point should collect all ray lights. This problem appears, when the construction of your lens, or/and any special focal length of the lens, and even the aperture that you’ve used cause that the colors (or wavelengths) arrive at different points to the final destination that is your sensor.

How chromatic aberrations occur in a lens and sensor

If this happens, your final photo will show a telltale color fringing around edges in your photograph. This happens more often that we can think, this way almost all photographers recommend always activate the option in Lightroom or Camera Raw to remove it.

But if we can avoid this problem at the moment of taking pics, the result will be much more better and we will avoid problems in the future. At the end of this post, you will find a tutorial on how to fix it in Lightroom, but continue reading to avoid this step for every single photo you will take.

Why does chromatic aberration occur?

Even with the best cameras and lenses, the chromatic aberration can happen because your lens acts as a prism. Thanks to Pink Floyd, the triangle of how light reacts when passing through the glass. In our lens, the light must pass different glasses to come to our sensor. So it will depend on the properties and quality of the glasses, that chromatic aberration occurs.

triangle of light colors through a glass chromatic aberration

Light is made of various wavelengths (colors), this way we need that our camera sensor receives at the same point all wavelengths. At the moment that our glass separates these wavelengths, the rays not will hit the exact point.

Can sound easy, but remember that all the wavelengths will be crossing our lens at the same time. And every one of these rays will be passing from a different area of our lens, it means that can be affecting different from our lens.

This is one of the points, that make your lens the most important gear of your photo equipment. Your lens must be able to correct & align all these rays, and any small fault here will ruin our photo. This way, all manufacturers spend millions to develop the best possible lens.

The engineering inside your lens includes up to 16 lens elements designed to correct the light journey between your lens and the sensor of your camera.

Interior view of a photographic lens cutted by the half

It’s easy to understand, that behind all these elements can appear defects. There errors can be directly in the design of the lens or can appear according to specific conditions. At the moment that one of these elements have a defect in the glass, your photos will be showing this type of aberration.

All this doesn’t mean, that you need to get a pro-level lens to avoid it. All lenses suffer in one way or another chromatic aberration. The key is to control when your lens is showing this chromatic aberration, in which situation appears if your lens its ok, or repair your lens if you have a hit and start to appear chromatic aberration in your pics.

How to avoid chromatic aberration

There are several tips to avoid the chromatic aberration, but in most cases, you can easily remove in post-processing simply shooting in RAW. But before know how to fix chromatic aberration in post-processing, let’s see some tips during the moment of capture your photo.

The best way to avoid this problem is following these easy steps, so you will be saving time and improve the quality of your photos directly in the camera.

Even if you have a camera that has problems with chromatic aberration, these tips can help you to reduce the visibility of this mistake. Following these strategies, you will minify the effect in your photos and can save you a visit to the technical service for a problem with hard fix.

Avoid high contrast scenes

For travel photography, it’s one of the best tips. High contrast scenes will make that your lens suffer more to control the wavelengths and chromatic aberration will easily appear. Try to avoid the scenes where you have high contrast lights and wait for better light conditions. Another solution is to measure the light for shadows or lights, and don’t try to capture all the dynamic range.

If you are a landscape photographer, you will love to shoot directly to a bright sunrise. This is one of the situations when chromatic aberration can appear. In this particular case, one solution is to reframe your composition or try to reduce the effect with a bracketing.

After your shoot in a high contrast scene, even following this steps, you will need to work in the RAW file to reduce the effect of the chromatic aberration. But at least, you will get your shot more clean and will be easy to reduce the effect.

Check your focal lengths

Flare in a lens producing chromatic aberration by the light

The chromatic aberration usually appears in the extreme at the shorter and longes focal range. This way, it’s great to have a wide lens to have the possibility to correct this problem in the exterior of your photos. But, most of the lenses will exhibit some kind of aberration in these areas. So be careful always to understand how your lens works.

One good option to avoid this problem is make a panorama of your landscape. In this way, you will avoid the problem in the exterior of your focal range, but you will be able to keep the composition as you have in mind after merging the photos in post-production.

Stop down your aperture

photographic lens frontal view of Canon Zoom with white background

Another good tip if you have problems with chromatic aberration, is to don’t use apertures as f22. This way, you will reduce the time that the light is crossing your lens, reducing also the effect of the chromatic aberration. In this case, remember that you will need to readapt your shutter speed or increase the ISO to compensate for the loss of light.

Reframe your subject to the center of the image

As we explain before, chromatic aberrations usually occur more often at the exterior of your image. It happen as the curvature of the lens create the barrel effect, and it affect also to how the light enter in your lens.

So, one good tip, especially for travel photography, is to move your subject to the center of your composition. In this way, you will avoid or reduce the issue not only with chromatic aberration but also other defects of your lens.

If we think, what is the end result of your images, you will realize that most of your images finish in social media where resolutions are not as high as your RAW file. It means, that you can crop your image in post-production to correct the composition you had in mind at the moment of the shoot.

Now that you understand how chromatic aberration works, you will be able to avoid and reduce this common problem for landscape & travel photographers. Anyway, if you want to fix complete there its a complete tutorial to fix in post-production.

How to fix chromatic aberration in Adobe Lightroom

In 5 easy steps, you can learn how to fix chromatic aberration in Adobe Lightroom. The steps for Camera Raw are the same, so even if you are editing your RAW directly in Photoshop, you can easily remove the chromatic aberration.

Step 1. In Lightroom zoom in on a part of your image where you are more visible the chromatic aberrations.

Step 2. Go to the Develop mode and click on the Lens Correction panel.

Step 3. Turn it on the ‘Remove Chromatic Aberrations’ checkbox. Then select your ‘Lens profile’ if Lightroom doesn’t choose or select your specific model.

Profile Lens Correction panel in Adobe Lightroom

Once you complete these steps, zoom at your image and look if the problem is fixed. This simple process, will correct the chromatic aberration in the most images. You can also use same process in Camera Raw before open your image in Photoshop.

If still, some chromatic aberration is visible in your image after that, move to the next steps.

Step 4. Click on the ‘Manual’ tab in the ‘Lens Correction’ panel.

Step 5. Look again in your image and check the remaining color. If for example, you see a purple line around the edges, increase the ‘Amount’ slider of ‘Purple Hue’ till the fringe disappears. Follow the same steps for the ‘Green Hue’ in case the line around the edges is green.

Manual Lens Correction panel in Adobe Lightroom

Usually, only these sliders will be needed to eliminate fringing. But, if you need to make additional adjustments, you can use the range of each color (Purple and Green). Using these sliders will help you to increase the range of color to correct.

We hope that this post helps you to understand what is the chromatic aberration, but also how to avoid and how to fix it. If you have any doubts about it, you can write a comment below and we will be glad to help you.

During our photo tours, we will help you with technical problems like this, and to improve your landscape compositions or your travel photography.

Eduardo Fuster
About the author

Eduardo Fuster is a Spanish photographer based in Russia. Graduate in Art & Design and specialized in video & photography. More than 15 years of experience working for advertisement, tv, cinema, real estate & stock agencies.