Don’t let chromatic aberration ruin your shots! Discover everything you need to know about pesky fringing and learn how to banish it from your photos.
Chromatic aberration is a huge image-quality killer, but many photographers don’t know what it is and how it can be prevented.
But fear not! In this article, we’ll delve into the realm of chromatic aberration. I’ll explore its causes, and I’ll equip you with practical strategies to avoid it like a pro.
Specifically, I explain:
- What chromatic aberration is
- Why CA happens
- Seven powerful strategies to minimize its effects and keep your photos fring-free!
So without further ado, let’s discuss how to deal with that pesky chromatic aberration once and for all.
What is chromatic aberration?
Chromatic aberration is when a lens doesn’t focus all light wavelengths at the same point, resulting in unnatural colors in your photos. Because these colors are often visible along high-contrast edges, this problem is known as fringing.
To help you understand chromatic aberration a bit better, remember that the focal plane is your sensor’s point of focus, where all the light from your lens should join together to be correctly captured and recorded. But depending on the construction of your lens and your chosen focal length, certain wavelengths (colors) may converge at points in front of or behind the focal plane; wavelengths can also converge at a point that’s off-center.
When different wavelengths converge at different points, the individual colors become visible, resulting in unpleasant chromatic aberration effects. Take a look at the diagram below. Do you see how the red, green, and blue light hits the sensor in different spots? That’s chromatic aberration at work.
CA doesn’t look so great, and it can also reduce image sharpness. Therefore, photographers often funnel significant time and money into avoiding or removing chromatic aberration in their images. Fortunately, as I discuss below, there are a handful of ways of dealing with CA – though they’re not all equally effective, so it’s important to make careful choices both in the field and in the editing room for the best results.
Longitudinal vs lateral chromatic aberration
While many photographers are familiar with chromatic aberration as color fringing, it’s important to understand that there are actually two types: longitudinal (axial) chromatic aberration and lateral (transverse) chromatic aberration. Both types involve the focusing of different wavelengths at different points, but their key distinction lies in the direction of the differential focusing.
Longitudinal chromatic aberration occurs when different colors focus in front of and behind one another. This type is commonly observed in telephoto lenses and less common when using wide-angle glass. The manifestation of longitudinal chromatic aberration is seen as unnatural colors across the entire image, rather than just at the edges.
On the other hand, lateral chromatic aberration occurs when different colors focus at different points along the same plane, next to one another. This type is commonly observed in wide-angle lenses. Lateral chromatic aberration manifests as unnatural colors along high-contrast edges in the image.
The difference between these two types of chromatic aberration might seem trivial, but identifying which type is causing the issue can be helpful in finding the most effective solution.
What causes chromatic aberration?
Chromatic aberration happens because your lens acts as a prism. It bends light, and the colors passing through the lens are split at different angles.
Here, it’s important to remember that light is actually made up of several different wavelengths (colors). So for your camera’s sensor to capture the combined color of light, your lens needs to make all wavelengths of that particular ray hit the exact same point on your sensor.
It may sound simple, but various wavelengths (and thus various colors) strike your lens all at once, and each of these wavelengths will behave slightly differently depending on the lens glass that it is passing through.
The feat of engineering required to correctly align all of these different light rays is generally achieved by the manufacturer’s use of a lens array (rather than a single lens element). In fact, if you were to pull your favorite camera lens apart, you’d probably find upward of 16 lens elements – all designed to correct for various things along the light’s journey between your lens and your sensor.
Unfortunately, this is also where chromatic aberration tends to rear its ugly head. Hidden within the design of these lens elements are defects – either in the glass or the design of the lens itself – which, under specific conditions, may cause your photos to exhibit CA.
Now, I’m not saying you need a pro-level lens. In fact, a key point is that all lenses suffer from chromatic aberration in one form or another, no matter the cost. What matters is whether or not your lens exhibits visible chromatic aberration, and whether the amount of visible CA is a dealbreaker for your particular needs.
Is chromatic aberration a major problem?
Chromatic aberration can have a significant impact on the quality of your photographs if you don’t take steps to avoid it. This optical phenomenon can make your images look imperfect and even amateurish. While a small amount of chromatic aberration may go unnoticed, once it becomes noticeable, it will distract the viewer and diminish the overall unity of the photo.
Unfortunately, chromatic aberration is sometimes unavoidable, especially when using certain lenses. In such cases, you’ll need to employ post-processing techniques to minimize or eliminate its effects. Many photo-editing programs offer tools to address chromatic aberration, although they may not always provide a perfect solution.
How to avoid chromatic aberration defects: 7 powerful strategies
Chromatic aberration is a major problem, especially on cheap lenses. But the good news is that, if you are stuck working with a lens that exhibits some form of visible chromatic aberration, there are several easy-to-understand strategies to remove or minimize its effect on your photos.
1. Avoid high-contrast scenes
Chromatic aberration tends to flare up when shooting high-contrast scenes. Particularly problematic are darker subjects surrounded by white backdrops, landscapes against a bright sunrise, or – as in the example of the cheetah above – heavily backlit subjects.
There’s no easy in-camera method of avoiding contrast. So there’s often nothing you can do here except adjust your composition. Swap your backdrop out to something that more closely matches your subject’s tones, or simply wait for more favorable lighting conditions.
If you absolutely must capture an image as-is, then shoot in RAW and prepare for a touch-up in post-production.
2. Adjust your focal length
Although it’s nice to have access to a wide range of focal lengths, the fact is that most zoom lenses exhibit chromatic aberration at their focal length extremes. So setting the focal length toward the middle of your lens’s range will usually help remove the offending CA.
Note that using a zoom lens at its widest will usually introduce various other defects in your image. So if you’re set on a wide-angle perspective, choose a prime wide-angle lens to handle the job, or make a panorama at a longer focal length, then join the photos in post-processing.
3. Stop down your aperture
Although the result will depend on the type of lens you are using, stopping down your aperture helps minimize most lens defects, including chromatic aberration.
So instead of using an f/2.8 or f/4 aperture, try going to f/8 or f/11 – then take a few test shots to see if the chromatic aberration has disappeared. Of course, you’ll need to consider reducing the shutter speed or boosting the ISO to compensate for the light loss.
(Note: A narrower aperture will specifically reduce longitudinal chromatic aberration but won’t affect lateral chromatic aberration, so if you’re not seeing the results you want, try one of the other options on this list.)
4. Reframe with your subject at the center of the image
Chromatic aberration is often more noticeable toward the edges of the frame, not the center. (This is generally due to the curvature of the lens elements.)
Therefore, if you reframe your shot but put your main subject closer to the middle, you’ll often end up with little-to-no chromatic aberration on your subject.
Of course, you may still have noticeable CA around the edges of the frame, but you do have the option to crop this away. It’s not ideal if you need to retain every pixel in your photo (e.g., for large prints), in which case you should consider one of the other preventative measures discussed above. But if you’re creating small prints or you plan to distribute your photo online, cropping shouldn’t be a big issue.
5. Remove the chromatic aberration in post-processing
If you come across a photo with noticeable chromatic aberration or find yourself in a situation where it can’t be avoided, post-processing can be a game-changer. Fortunately, popular editing software like Lightroom, Luminar, and Capture One offer straightforward tools for chromatic aberration removal. The process is usually as simple as clicking a button or selecting a checkbox, although you may have the option to fine-tune the results manually.
To begin, import the problematic image into your preferred editing software and locate the chromatic aberration removal tool. Typically, you can find it under the lens correction panel. Activate the tool and let the software do its thing; then take a look at the Before and After views, if available. Assess whether the chromatic aberration is completely eliminated or at least significantly reduced.
If the results are satisfactory, you can proceed with your usual editing process. However, if the chromatic aberration persists, you might consider trying manual adjustments within the software or experimenting with a different editing program.
6. Convert to black and white
If you’re finding it challenging to effectively remove chromatic aberration using the dedicated tools in your photo editing software, there’s another straightforward option at your disposal: converting the image to black and white. While not every photo looks as striking in black and white as it does in color, this quick conversion can be a powerful technique for dealing with those unsightly color fringes.
It’s important to note that converting an image to black and white won’t magically eliminate the blur caused by chromatic aberration. So, even if you plan to shoot in black and white, it’s still worth mastering the art of avoiding chromatic aberration in the field. However, when faced with persistent fringing that’s difficult to remove through other means, this method can provide an effective solution.
7. Purchase a better lens
When aiming to minimize chromatic aberration, it’s essential to consider the quality of your lens. Different lenses exhibit varying levels of fringing, which can be attributed to factors like focal length and lens design. By investing in a lens with limited chromatic aberration, you can significantly reduce the occurrence of color fringing in your images.
Higher-quality lenses, although often pricier, offer a range of benefits beyond minimizing chromatic aberration. These lenses boast superior optics for better image quality overall as well as fast focusing, a robust build, and smooth handling.
To find low-CA lenses, seek out models with low-dispersion elements; they’re specifically designed to handle chromatic aberration!
Chromatic aberration: final words
Well, that’s it: All the chromatic aberration essentials, including what it is and how to avoid it. Now armed with knowledge and strategies, you’re ready to conquer this pesky foe and unlock the full potential of your images.
That said, don’t be disheartened if you encounter a hint of color fringing in your shots. With the right techniques, you can minimize or even eliminate the problem.
Now you know how to keep your images free of CA, and you know how to capture stunning photos – even with cheaper lenses.
Over to you:
Are you struggling with chromatic aberration in your photos? Have you tried any of the measures discussed above? Share your thoughts (and images) in the comments below.
Chromatic aberration FAQ
Chromatic aberration is caused by the inability of a lens to focus all colors of light at the same point, resulting in color fringing in your photos.
Fixing chromatic aberration can vary in difficulty depending on the severity and type. While some photo editing software provides tools to remove it, complete elimination may require more manual adjustments or using higher-quality lenses.
To eliminate chromatic aberration, you can use post-processing techniques in editing software that offer chromatic aberration removal tools. Additionally, using lenses with low-dispersion elements can significantly reduce or eliminate the issue.
The appearance of purple color in your photos is a common manifestation of chromatic aberration, particularly when high-contrast areas are present. It occurs when different wavelengths of light are focused at different points, causing a purple fringing effect.