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Correcting and Preventing Chromatic Aberration

When examining their photos closely, almost every photographer has come across a situation in which a colored halo (usually purple, green or red) is apparent around certain elements of a scene. This sort of optic anomaly, more commonly known as color fringing, is known as chromatic aberration. In this article we'll understand its causes and learn ways to easily avoid it both while shooting and in post-production.

What is chromatic aberration?

Chromatic aberration is an optical phenomenon in which the camera lens is unable to focus the different wavelengths of light on the same plane (in this case the image sensor) in order to produce a correct image, resulting in a halo or fringe around objects.

This is especially noticeable in high contrast situations and when shooting at wide apertures. Such a situation is presented below, where the hands of a statue were shot against a bright sky, resulting in a bad case of purple fringing.

Example of CA
Image taken by Mike Baird

It should be noted that color fringes may also be caused by other factors such as lens flare or the camera's sensitivity to the different wavelengths of light but since chromatic aberration is the most common cause it will be the main subject of this article.

I’m no Einstein!

I should state that I am a photographer, not a physicist, so some parts of this article may not be entirely correct from a scientific point of view but I believe they're helpful constructs to understand these concepts. With that being said, let's get started. :)

The (somewhat) simple physics

As you might imagine, DSLR lenses are a complex piece of equipment but for the sake of simplicity, let's consider them as a single piece of glass.
When light hits the lens it is refracted, ie, it changes direction. As most people probably know just by looking at the rainbow, visible light is comprised of different wavelengths which are perceived as different colors. What happens in this situation is that the different wavelengths are bent differently by the lens, causing them to diverge (a phenomenon known as dispersion) and hit different planes, as shown in the following diagram:

How chromatic aberrations Work

This will cause the sensor to pick up "misplaced" colors at certain spots, resulting in the familiar chromatic aberrations.

Go to the corner!

Chromatic aberration is usually more or less controlled in the center of the frame. It’s at the image corners that it is more troublesome.

Camera lenses and chromatic aberrations

In order to correct this problem, lens makers came up with ways to minimize the divergence of light waves. The cheapest solution is usually used in consumer level optics like the common 18-55mm kit lenses and is known as an achromatic lens design. It uses a second lens that has a different dispersion than the main lens and tries to converge the light rays in order to try to correct both spherical and chromatic aberrations that light suffers when passing through the first lens. However, this isn't a perfect process and small imperfections are still present.

Achromatic lens design
A simplified diagram demonstrating how achromatic lenses work

What is used in higher end lenses is an apochromatic lens design, in which a third element is added, correcting even further the aberrations.

Achromatic lens design
A simplified diagram demonstrating how apochromatic lenses work

In addition to this design, lenses like the Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS (and all other L lenses, for that matter) contain super-low dispersion glass, which as the name implies, doesn't disperse the different wavelengths as much, minimizing this problem. Because low dispersion materials like fluorite are usually used, the final lens cost is driven up quite a bit, which partly explains why they cost so much in the first place.

How to avoid it on the field

Avoid high contrast situations

This might seem like a no-brainer but it really helps to downplay the optic design imperfections, especially if using consumer level lenses like most of us do. Common suspects include fences, tree branches and shooting a subject against a bright sunny sky.

Stop down your aperture

While it is very tempting to use a wide aperture to get nice bokeh, if you get some fringing try to stop down the aperture at least one stop. This will greatly help minimize the visible aberrations.

Avoid the extremes of your zoom lens

Not only in life but also in photographic lenses it is said that virtue is in the middle. Zoom lenses usually perform better when using its middle focal lengths. For example, when using a 70-200mm zoom, shooting at 135mm will usually wield better results than at 200mm.

Avoid super zoom lenses

Unless you don't want to carry extra weight, like when going on vacations, avoid super zooms at all costs. They have terrible chromatic aberrations on the wide end. Alternatively, get some prime lenses, as they are generally optimized to reduce these optical artifacts and are relatively cheaper and lighter.

How to correct it in Photoshop

After opening your image in Photoshop, go to Filter -> Distort -> Lens Correction…

On the right side panel you should find a set of controls named Chromatic Aberration.

Depending on your image, you should try to correct the fringing in the best way you can by adjusting the sliders. To do this in an optimal way make sure you are viewing the image at a magnification of 100% or more.

You might have to move only one or both sliders: it all depends on the image you’re dealing with. In this case, I had to move both.

Moving the Fix Red/Cyan Fringe slider to the left will correct red fringes, while sliding to the right will conversely correct the cyan fringes. The Fix Blue/Yellow Fringe slider works in a similar fashion.

Don’t crop just yet!

If you recall from earlier on, chromatic aberration is more prevalent on corners. Photoshop’s algorithm takes this into account so make sure you are editing the image in its original aspect ratio or else you’ll get weird results in some areas of the image. Correct first the aberrations and you can always crop later.

The Before and After Using Photoshop

Chromatic Aberration Fixed

36 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point

    thanks for this article going to help me in Canon SX30IS CA.

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  2. Add point Subtract point
    Chris Lock (4 Points) January 31, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Great article – clearly explained and concise – many thanks!

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  3. Add point Subtract point

    Photoshop tutorials, from beginner to advanced. Including Photoshop text effect tutorials, photo manipulation tutorials, Drawing, Painting
    http://alophotoshop.co.cc

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  4. Add point Subtract point
    cut out people (1 Point) December 11, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Great tutorial. Simple steps make it easy to follow! Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Add point Subtract point
    55inchlcd (1 Point) December 3, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Great tutorial
    I love it

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  6. Add point Subtract point
    kropped (2 Points) November 24, 2010 at 7:45 am

    Great tutorial – I’ve often wondered how to remove that, and your steps make it very easy to follow.

    Thanks

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  7. Add point Subtract point
    Peter P Wilson (1 Point) November 22, 2010 at 4:16 am

    Remember that if you are shooting RAW, in PS RAW you have similar controls for removing fringing. which are VERY effective.

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  8. Add point Subtract point
    Margaret Waage (1 Point) November 14, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Love the information here. Thank you… easy to understand and have to bookmark this!

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  9. Add point Subtract point

    Thank you for sharing this tutorial. It is short and simple to understand. No mumbo, jumbo. I do not know how to use Photoshop much, with the screenshot, it just opened up the world of PS to me. Thank you.

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  10. Add point Subtract point

    nice article………..very simple…..

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    AJAY GK (0 Points) October 3, 2010 at 7:38 am

    hey it was good information, thanks. i want to learn photography. i am a beginner. i dont have camera. i want to buy a camera. pls tell name of good camera

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  12. Add point Subtract point
    John Paul (1 Point) September 1, 2010 at 3:55 am

    Well written mate ,to be honest Im not a professional photographer and I’ve always incounter things like this .Thanks for this article now I know how to prevent those wierd stroke .

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  13. Add point Subtract point
    DesignMango (1 Point) August 28, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    thanks, very helpful like always

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  14. Add point Subtract point
    roneybalack (0 Points) August 8, 2010 at 3:34 am

    In this photoshop tutorial we will learn to design a clean website layout. … This photoshop tutorial show you how to design a very beautiful and shining …
    thanks.. find more best tutorials here http://newsclub1.com

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  15. Add point Subtract point
    Penang Web Design (1 Point) August 4, 2010 at 5:59 am

    wow!!! nice post..thanks…

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  16. Add point Subtract point
    WebGuide4U (1 Point) July 21, 2010 at 12:20 am

    really a nice information you have provided thanks for this one

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  17. Add point Subtract point
    Alex Cican (2 Points) July 20, 2010 at 3:59 am

    Very nice article!
    Well explained and to the point!

    It’s a really easy correction to apply, but it improves the photo so much!

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  18. Add point Subtract point

    Very important topic in photo editing
    You should always watch you photos for CAs they are really annoying for the viewers

    In CS5 you can use lens profiles, the results are astonishing

    in cases when the lens correction doesn’t work well you can try to desaturate the CA’s color if necessary by using a mask

    Rob

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  19. Add point Subtract point
    Tsietsi Moralo (1 Point) July 14, 2010 at 6:51 am

    Wow, i had came across those type of photos so many times when preparing layout without any clue what to do points taken, thanks for hints

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  20. Add point Subtract point
    Warren Jerzyszek (1 Point) July 14, 2010 at 4:02 am

    I really look forward to your posts but I must agree with Matt that you should post more!

    As I’ve just started photography as a hobby I’ve not really come across this problem before, so haven’t really had an opportunity to see this issue in action. Its definitely going on my bookmark for future reference. Also, Nice Photoshop correction example! Keep up the quality posts.

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  21. Add point Subtract point
    BebopDesigner (1 Point) July 13, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks a million! this will save my life :D

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  22. Add point Subtract point

    ooohhhhh!!! so that’s why some of my pics had a weird stroke…. O.O° …..
    Thanks bro!

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  23. Add point Subtract point
    John Quigley (1 Point) July 13, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    The very best explanation of chromatic aberration I’ve ever seen and a great way to correct it – much appreciated – many thanks

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  24. Add point Subtract point
    James Scott (1 Point) July 13, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Wow, great article. Good to see people focusing on image correction in there blogs.

    Thanks.

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  25. Add point Subtract point
    Jaka Zulham (1 Point) July 13, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Nice tips…
    :D
    @jaka like this =D

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  26. Add point Subtract point
    azad dabirzadeh (1 Point) July 13, 2010 at 4:14 am

    You mention a good thing. The type of lens that I use, this is a problem I am facing lot.
    TNX FOR YOU!

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  27. Add point Subtract point
    Bilal KHETTAB (1 Point) July 12, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Nice Lesson ! Express dealing with rays and lenses and all that stuff …Well I Like It !

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  28. Add point Subtract point

    I love the quality of the articles on this site, but they just havn’t been frequent enough lately!!!! Keep ‘em coming :)

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  29. Add point Subtract point
    Jae Xavier (1 Point) July 12, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Aha!

    I always wondered why my photos have that color.

    Thanks!

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  30. Add point Subtract point
    Design Turd (1 Point) July 12, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Nice post. I noticed that you only post when
    http://www.blog.spoongraphics.co.uk/ dose. Quite annoying really.

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    Nastya (1 Point) July 12, 2010 at 9:14 am

    oh cool! This is very useful and clear article. Thnks!

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