Chromatic Aberration in Photography in Simple Words
In your journey with photography, you might notice that some of your images don’t look as you intend. While it is often a problem with exposure or composition, there are also some mistakes your own gear can make. One of them is chromatic aberration, which messes up color reproduction and sharpness within an image.If you already searched the web to learn about chromatic aberration, you might have noticed that many photography blogs and websites use highly complicated technical language to explain chromatic aberration. The effect is complicated as it is, which is why such explanations rarely help. In our guide, you will learn everything you need to know about chromatic aberration in simple language so that even a beginner photographer can understand and avoid it.
What is chromatic aberration?
Chromatic aberration is an error or a problem with color perception that happens in your lens. When light travels through your lens and exposes your sensors, there might be something about the lens design that leads to colors being refracted incorrectly.You might see mismatched colors or details that don’t combine in some parts of your image. Chromatic aberration usually looks like fringing around a subject, which is why it is also called color fringing or purple fringing. Some photographers also call it ‘color dispersion’ since the effect happens when your lens disperses light in the wrong way.
Why chromatic aberration happens in your shots
To dive deeper, light is actually a bunch of wavelengths, and each of them has a different color. Together, they make up the white light as we see it. In order to capture colors correctly, different wavelengths of light should hit the sensor all at once when they come through your lens.Chromatic aberration happens because lenses work like a prism. Inside, there are several glasses, which refract light several times. As light is traveling through a lens, a delay in the ‘arrival’ of a certain wavelength to the sensor might occur. This means your camera won’t render the overall info it receives through the lens correctly.
How to avoid chromatic aberration in your photography
Although photography gear manufacturers try to do everything to make their lenses resistant to different types of aberrations and errors, there is no such thing as the perfect lens. Even the most expensive and professional lenses might show some defects at certain focal ranges, exposures, and lighting conditions.No worries – there are actually some working tips you can use to avoid chromatic aberration in your pictures. You can do this straight away when you are still shooting, and there are also techniques to fix images when you edit them.
Tip #1: Reframe the scene
Chromatic aberration often happens closer to the edges of your frame. It’s easier for a lens to capture light correctly at the center of the shot, but the top and bottom, or side parts of your image might have color fringing. To avoid it, you can reframe the scene, place your subject more in the center, and crop the edges when you’re post-processing.
Tip #2: Mind tonal contrast
Another situation when you might face chromatic aberration is when you shoot highly contrasting scenes. We’re talking about tonal contrast, not color contrast (read our guide on the contrast in photography to learn more about its types). For example, when you shoot a dark subject on a very sunny day, you might receive color fringing.In general, shooting your subject with a very bright light source behind them or using a white backdrop might lead to chromatic aberration. You should be very careful with contrast within your frame and change the background if you need to.
Tip #3: Use a smaller aperture
Some gear might capture color dispersion when you shoot with the widest aperture possible. It can be fixed by making your aperture narrower (setting a higher f-number). Remember that you’ll have to choose a faster shutter speed or higher ISO to compensate for the lack of light that comes through your lens when you reduce the aperture.
Tip #4: Be careful with a focal length
Some might argue that a prime or a fixed lens is the best choice for a photographer because they make fewer errors than zoom lenses. Nevertheless, zoom lenses are much more convenient, and many opt for them to shoot a variety of genres. If you need to avoid chromatic aberrations made by your zoom lens, be careful when you use minimum and maximum focal lengths of your lens.
Tip #5: Shoot in RAW to fix mistakes in post-processing
If you absolutely can’t compromise your settings and framing, you can also edit photos to get rid of color fringing. You need to shoot in RAW for more flexibility during post-processing to fix the lighting. This format is not compressed, unlike JPEG. You can fix chromatic aberration both manually and automatically in Lightroom, Photoshop, and other editing software.
You can’t avoid all the technical issues you may encounter in your photography workflow even if you have the most expensive gear. That’s why you need to understand how to control aberrations and defects caused by your equipment, whether you decide to work with them on-the-go or during the editing stage.