What is chromatic aberration?

Published:
by David Em
Last updated:

Portraits Refined may earn a commission on purchases made from links on this page. For more information, read Affiliate Disclosure.

In your photos, have you noticed blurring on the edges or colors that aren’t natural? That’s chromatic aberration, and it’s important to minimize it.

Diagram showing how chromatic aberration occurs.
Diagram by David Em/Portraits Refined showing how chromatic aberration occurs.

Understanding chromatic aberration

Chromatic aberration (CA) is also known as chromatic distortion, color fringing, and dispersion. It’s a common problem that most photographers face. So, if you’re dealing with it, you’re not alone.

Related: How to take better outdoor portraits

Here’s how it occurs. Your lens is like a prism, and light passes through it. As it goes through, light is bent, and the color wavelengths become separated. At times, imperfections in your lens or the glass, cause light to bend incorrectly, and wavelengths to change their speed or angle.

Wavelengths are colors, and at a given time, many different colors are hitting your lens. With chromatic aberration, you’ll notice that the edges of your subject are blurry or discolored with purple or green.

Related: High-quality and budget-friendly full-frame cameras

Knowing how chromatic aberration works is the first step. Next, you’ll learn how to minimize and fix it. Before we dive into that, let’s talk about the different types that you’ll encounter.

Types of chromatic aberration

There are two types of chromatic aberration, longitudinal and lateral. The following are what they both mean and do:

1. Longitudinal. Also known as LoCA, axial chromatic aberration, and bokeh fringing. This type is common at long focal lengths and wide apertures. It occurs when each different color focuses at a different distance from the lens.

They also don’t converge at the same point after it passes through the lens, which makes color fringing visible all over the image.

2. Lateral. It’s known as TCA and transverse chromatic aberration. This type occurs when the different colors pass through the lens at an angle. It focuses at different points while being on the same plane.

It also is seen at the edges, instead of the entire image. On wide-angle lenses that aren’t high-quality, you’ll notice blue or purple fringing.

Unlike axial chromatic aberration, using a smaller aperture won’t fix the issue. However, you can fix it in post-processing.

Ways to minimize it

Reducing or eliminating chromatic aberration will improve your photos. Take the following steps to minimize its effects in your images:

1. Shoot in RAW. When you shoot in RAW, the images are untouched and uncompressed. It’ll retain all of the image data, whereas a JPEG will process everything in-camera. In post-processing, you’ll be able to fix issues with ease.

2. Avoid high-contrast. When there is a lot of contrast, chromatic aberration will be more visible. It’s commonly seen in backlit photos or headshots against a white background. However, if the photo you envision requires a high amount of contrast, don’t let chromatic aberration stop you. Instead, minimize it in post-processing.

3. Use a smaller aperture. Shooting wide open is one of the most common ways to make lens defects visible, which results in CA. To avoid the effects, use smaller apertures. You may only need to stop down your aperture by 1 or 2 stops.

4. Be careful with zoom lenses. When you’re shooting with a zoom lens, avoid using the shortest and longest focal distance. These two focal lengths in a zoom lens are common culprits of CA.

5. Black and white photography. One of the easiest ways to remove chromatic aberration is to shoot in monochrome mode or edit your image to black and white.

6. Center your subject. CA is more visible when your subject isn’t at the center of the frame. Your subject’s position is important, and when it’s possible, bring your subject closer to the middle.

How to fix it in post-processing

If you shoot in RAW, post-processing is an effective way to fix this issue. Although you should do your best to minimize issues and not rely on post-processing, there are times where you’ll need it.

Related: Grayscale vs. monochrome photography: What are the differences?

Software such as Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom allows you to fix chromatic aberration.

In Lightroom, there are two ways to fix chromatic aberration. One is done with the click of a button, and the other requires a little bit of manual work. The following are the two ways to fix it:

Automatic correction

With automatic correction, all you need to do is press a button. Take the following steps to correct any chromatic aberration:

Step 1: Import your image into Lightroom and on the right-side panel, locate Lens Corrections.

Screenshot of an image in Lightroom with a circle around the right panel.
Lens Corrections is in the right-side panel.

Step 2: Click Lens Corrections.

Screenshot of an image in Lightroom with the Lens Corrections panel expanded.
The Lens Corrections panel expands.

Step 3: Click Remove Chromatic Aberration.

Screenshot of an image in Lightroom with the Remove Chromatic Aberration box checked.
Check the box and you’re finished.

Manual correction

To do it manually, import the image, and you’ll use a different tab in the right-side panel. Take the following steps to correct the image after you’re in the Lens Corrections panel:

Step 1: Click Manual.

Screenshot of an image in Lightroom with a circle around Manual.
Manual is right next to Profile.

Step 2: Click on the eyedropper tool.

Screenshot of an image with a circle around the eyedropper tool in Lightroom.

Step 3: Use the eyedropper to select the purple and green fringe colors.

Photo of the eyedropper tool in Lightroom.
Purple fringing.

Step 4: Click on the areas to correct the fringing.

Conclusion

Reducing or eliminating chromatic aberration will instantly improve your photos. There are ways to combat it while you shoot, and if your photos still have it, you can fix it in post-processing.

Chromatic aberration is more common with wide apertures. Therefore, using smaller apertures can help reduce it. Knowing the solutions to this common issue will help you take better photos.

Become a better portrait photographer with the Portraits Refined Masterclass. Gain access to exclusive video lessons, worksheets, and members-only community.

More resources:

Featured image by David Em/Portraits Refined.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.

Connect