What is chromatic aberration in photography
and how do you fix it?

Learn about colour fringing, preventing chromatic aberration while shooting, and how to edit it out in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Simple graphic that explains how the eye translates colour

What is chromatic aberration in photography?

Chromatic aberration, also known as colour fringing, is a colour distortion that creates an outline of unwanted colour along the edges of objects in a photograph. Often, it appears along metallic surfaces or where there is a high contrast between light and dark objects – such as a black wall in front of a bright blue sky.

 

Each type of aberration causes different colours of outlines along an object’s edge. The failure of a camera lens to focus each of white light’s different wavelengths onto the same focal point may lead to blue-yellow, red-green or magenta-purple fringing.

 

This is due to the refractive index of glass. Various wavelengths of light travel through the lens at different speeds, making it difficult for some lenses to focus each hue on the same focal plane.

Correcting chromatic aberration in an image of a carousel

How is chromatic aberration corrected.

You can prevent chromatic aberration during your shoot by:
 

  • Avoiding high contrast scenes
  • Centring your subject
  • Shooting at a narrower aperture
  • Optimising the focal plane
     

You can also learn to automatically or manually correct the four different types of chromatic aberration in Lightroom.
 

“It’s the sort of adjustment that someone who doesn’t look at photos very much might never notice, but removing it can make your work look much more true to life,” says photographer and videographer Nick Mendez.

 

Stop colour fringing before it happens.

Prevent chromatic aberration while shooting by using a high-quality lens, avoiding wide-angle lenses and shooting at a narrower aperture when you can. “The best way to go about fixing it is to shoot it correctly in camera the first time,” says fashion photographer Adam Rindy.

camera in aperture

Avoid high contrast.

High-contrast scenes can lead to chromatic aberration. Try to avoid shooting subjects in front of a:
 

  • White backdrop
  • Bright sunrise
  • Light source
     

Where possible, reframe the photo or switch the backdrop to something more suited to the subject’s primary colours.
 

For example: when shooting in natural surroundings, you often have little control over the background. However, you can either wait until the natural light improves or prepare for touch-up work in Lightroom post-shoot.

caterpillar in focal plane

Centre your subject.

Generally, chromatic aberration occurs around the edge of the frame due to the curvature of the lenses within the barrel. While it may go against the rule of thirds, reframing your shots with the subject in the centre can reduce or even eliminate these problems.
 

Consider different angles before you shoot and experiment with framing so you can compare the results. In some cases, you may still have to crop your images afterwards in Lightroom to get the frame you want.

Three Indian aubergines on a wooden table

Shoot at a narrower aperture.

Photographer and educator Adam Long recommends shooting at a higher f-stop — which narrows your aperture — to avoid colour distortion, especially when using a cheaper lens. “If you shoot a low-gradient lens wide open, at a 1.8 aperture for example, your chances of seeing chromatic aberration go way up. But if you use a smaller aperture, like 5.6, you’re less likely to see it,” he explains. Try upping your ISO, using a flash or slowing your shutter speed when shooting at a narrower aperture to make up for the loss of light.

Young person in field with the wind blowing through their hair

Optimise the focal plane.

Wide-angle lenses with shorter focal lengths are more prone to colour fringing. “If you’re shooting at 18 millimetres, you’re way more likely to encounter chromatic aberration because you’re using the extremities of the glass,” says Long.

Shooting at a medium focal length of around 30 millimetres when using an 18 to 55-millimetre lens for example, should help.

How can I fix colour distortions in Adobe Lightroom?

If you notice colour distortion in your shots, it’s easy to fix chromatic aberration in Adobe Lightroom without damaging the image quality. Open the cloud-based photo editor and load the images you want to amend.
 

1. Scroll down to Lens Correction

2. Check the Remove Chromatic Aberration box (it’s under the Colour section of the Lens Corrections panelUse the Defringe controls and sliders to find and remove any colour distortion left behind along high-contrast edges
 

This may do a satisfactory job of removing fringing. However, if the image requires further work, continue with these steps:

3. Click the Defringe icon under the Optics panel and use the Fringe Selector to sample the green or purple distortion

4. Use the slider to remove the fringe

5. Remove purple or green hues with the Defringe slider in the local adjustment Brush, Linear Gradient or Radial Gradient panels.

6. Depending on the type of chromatic aberration, you may need Lightroom Classic, Lightroom 4.1 or later to correct it and the colour fringing.

 

Video: How to remove chromatic aberration in Lightroom.

Highlighting chromatic aberration in a nature photograph of a waterfall
Checking the "Remove Chromatic Aberration" tick box in Adobe Lightroom
Showing that the chromatic aberration has been removed in a nature photography of a waterfall

Lateral or transverse, chromatic aberration.

Lateral chromatic aberration, also called transverse chromatic aberration, is the blue-yellow or red-green fringing that occurs when different wavelengths of light focus at varying distances from the lens. It can be automatically removed using the Remove Chromatic Aberration checkbox in Lightroom Classic.

 

Axial or longitudinal, chromatic aberration.

Axial chromatic aberration, also called longitudinal chromatic aberration, often occurs in images made with wide apertures (low f-stop numbers) and where long focal lengths have been used. You can correct it using the Defringe sliders in Lightroom 4.1 and later.

 

Add chromatic aberration for a unique look.

Experiment with applying chromatic aberration on purpose to videos or photos in Adobe Photoshop, Premiere Pro or After Effects. You can take an image or film clip from average to artistic by playing with a bit of colour fringing or separating the Red, Green and Blue channels (RGB splitting). “Chromatic aberration could add a certain type of unsteadiness or psychological space within an image,” says Long.

Green, pink and yellow chromatic aberration creates a cool colour fringing effect

Colour fringing as a photo effect.

Try adding a bit of colour fringing to an image in Photoshop for a 3D or retro feel similar to this architecture poster by Fabio Rahmani or these RGB split portraits by Patryk Pawlak.

Rainbow colour fringing used on an image of bubbles

Artwork by Rus Khasanov

 

Colour fringing as a video effect.

Apply colour fringing or an RGB split to a video in Premiere Pro and After Effects to achieve a psychedelic look like these trippy oil and paint films by Rus Khasanov.

Unless you’re going for a stylised mood with intentional RGB splitting, removing chromatic aberration is a simple way to improve your image quality and eliminate an unrealistic edge of colour that some beginner photographers may not even notice.

 

“Looking back through old photos, I notice fringing and I am horrified that it’s been in there the entire time,” says Mendez. See if you can spot chromatic aberration in your work and try removing it with Lightroom.

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