Lightroom Ultimate Guide – Lens Corrections

Lightroom Lens Corrections

The Lens Corrections panel in Lightroom is definitely not one of the most talked-about features in the Lightroom ecosystem. However, there are a few features within the panel which are really useful during digital image post-processing.

Lightroom Lens Corrections panel is all about adjusting your image to take into account lens distortion from the lens you used to capture your digital image. Before we describe what the Lightroom Lens Correction panel does, its worth to understand what lens distortion is, why it occurs, and therefore why it is often desirable to correct it in our digital images.

Contents

Lens Distortion

Most commercially available camera lenses are made up of several pieces of glass which bend light entering at the front of the lens onto the cameras sensor (or film for non-digital cameras). The glass used is slightly spherical. In fact, the wider angle the lens is, the more spherical the glass needs to be; in order to reflect and bend light from a much broader field of view.

The different distortions that this creates we will cover in a moment. Firstly though, it is worth to understand that:

  • Because lenses by design need to use spherical glass, it means that when you point your lens at an object, the objects at the centre of the lens are slightly closer to the glass than the objects at the edges of the glass.

This difference in distance is of course only very small, but it is enough to cause optical aberrations in your images. Namely that the image that the camera’s sensor sees and records, is more magnified in the centre than it is at the edges. Hence the image appears to have a slight curvature.

Generally speaking, expensive prime lenses are less prone to distortion effects than their cheaper cousins. However, there are specialist lenses such as a Fish-Eye, which deliberately use the distortion effect.

Barrel Distortion

Following the principles above, the most basic type of distortion you will get in your images is barrel distortion. i.e. The centre of the image is more magnified than the edges of the image. You will typically notice this type of distortion with wide-angle lenses. But, it also happens in telephoto lenses at the wider focal lengths. e.g. a 100-400mm lens may have noticeable barrel distortion at 100mm, and no distortion at 400mm.

Barrel Distortion

Pincushion Distortion

Pincushion distortion is the opposite of barrel distortion, whereby the portions at the edges appear more magnified at the edges. This phenomenon is prevalent in telephoto lenses at the longer focal lengths.

You may also notice the effect if you are a binoculars user.

Pincushion Distortion

Moustache Distortion

Moustache distortion is rare in modern lenses, but not so rare that you will never see it. It is a complex mixture of both pincushion and barrel distortion, and starts as a barrel distortion at the edges of the image and gradually turns into pincushion distortion in the centre of the image.

Moustache Distortion

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberrations are a form of optical distortion caused by a failure of the lens to focus all of the colours to the same point. It can either be caused because:

  • The wavelengths of light are focussed at different positions in the focal plane, due to the optical distortions and/or magnifications present in the lens by design.
  • The wavelengths of light are focused at different distances from the lens, due to focus shifts. 

In either case, whilst it can occur anywhere in an image, it is often most prominent in high contrast areas, e.g. between the sky and trees, or between a building at the sky. Typically, you cannot see chromatic aberrations until you zoom right into the image at magnifications greater than 100%. You can identify it as fringes of colour; often green or magenta.

Chromatic Aberration

Cheaper lenses are often more prone to chromatic aberrations than their more expensive counterparts. Here is an example magnified to 800%. You can see a green border between the edge of the building and the sky.

Vignetting

Vignetting is a reduction in an image saturation and/or brightness towards the edges of the image, as compared to the centre of the image. In photography, we often use vignetting for aesthetic effect. However, the vignetting that occurs naturally in-camera, tend to be a little harsh and therefore non-aesthetic. There are three causes of vignetting:

  • Optical Vignette: Because a lens is made up of lots of lens elements, the elements at the rear of the lens are shaded by the ones at the front.
  • Natural Vignette: There is a natural illumination drop-off as light refracts through the lens, and is more prominent at the fringes of the lens elements.
  • Mechanical Vignette: Due to the interruption of light into the lens. e.g. screw-in filters added to the front of the lens and blocking light at the fringes of wide aperture shots.

Note that, Lightroom cannot automatically correct mechanical vignetting, as this is something introduced by the photographer and not a function of the lens itself.

Lightroom Lens Corrections

Lightroom Lens Corrections

The Lightroom Lens Corrections panel sits towards the bottom of the Develop module.

There are multiple functions to play around with within this panel. But, for 99.9% of people, there are only really two radio buttons that you would normally need to worry about.

By default, when you open the Lens Corrections panel, you are presented with a Profile view. Also, most of the information in the panel is greyed out until you click the radio button for Enable Profile. Firstly though, lets briefly cover the Remove Chromatic Aberrations radio button.

Chromatic Aberrations

Lightroom does a really good job of hunting down any nasty coloured fringes in your images. To this end, I typically check the Remove Chromatic Aberration radio button option for any image I am processing in Lightroom. There are exceptions, but for general landscapes, portraits, nature & travel shots; the Remove Chromatic Aberration option is a great little software function.

Lens Profiles

As alluded to above, when you check the Enable Profile Corrections, the section in the panel below it called Lens Profile becomes visible. At the same time, you may notice some changes occur in your image. This is Lightroom automatically correcting for any Lens Distortion.

The way Lightroom does this is that it has correction profiles for all of the different manufacturer’s lenses. When you import an image into Lightroom from your phone, it typically includes lens data, including lens type, focal length, aperture etc. This is all information Lightroom can use to correct your images.

Here is an example image with Enable Profile Corrections switched off and then on.

After
After
After
Before
Before

You can see that there are a few things that have been corrected in this.

  • The image was taken with a wide-angle lens, and consequently, there is some barrel distortion in the centre portion of the image.
  • There was a little optical vignetting at the four corners of the image.
  • There is a very slight adjustment in the image contrast.

If you keep Lightroom updated regularly, so that it has all the latest lens profiles available to it, and/or you are not using a really obscure lens or one that is completely new to the market. Then, for most users, this is as far as you would normally need to delve into the Light Correction Panel.

If you want to however, you can adjust the lens corrections yourself, or even make your own custom settings.

Advanced Settings

In the default Profile view, there are two further sliders. One covers distortion, and the other is vignetting. There may be some cases that you need to fine-tune the correction that Lightroom has done automatically. In these instances, you can use the distortion slider to adjust distortion to your liking.

The second slider can be used to introduce a lens vignette. I have deliberately used the term “lens vignette” here, as I personally find the effect you get from this is a little harsh, as it faithfully reproduces a vignette that you get from a lens. i.e. It tends to appear only in the corners. For this reason, I tend to recommend to people not to use this slider if they want a vignette, but instead to use the dedicated vignette effect in the Lightroom Effects panel. However, the slider is there for your use, if, for example, you find the profile correction for your lens was not quite to your liking.

Manual Settings

Lightroom Lens Corrections

The Manual Settings view is for those that want ultimate control over distortion, chromatic aberrations, and vignetting. It is split into three sections:

  • Distortion
  • Defringe
  • Vignetting

There may be some cases that you want your image to have some distortion for e.g. aesthetic effect. The Distortion slider allows you to introduce barrel distortion into your image by moving the slider to the left, and pincushion distortion to the right.

There is also a Constrain Crop radio button, which helps you handle how Lightroom implements distortion if you have/or intend to crop your image.

Defringe allows you to manual correct chromatic aberration. You get an eye-dropper, so that you can select any purple or green fringes in your image, and sliders to subsequently target purple and/or green fringes together with a slider to adjust the colour balance of the effect.

I have personally never had to use these settings, as Lightroom does such a good job. But for all the perfectionists out there, the controls are in Lightroom for you.

Vignetting allows you to add or remove a vignette from your image. I find that this function in the Lightroom ecosystem is not as harsh as the one in the manual view, but it is only really of use for corrections of vignettes, and not to add an aesthetic vignette. However, the functionality is there for you, with a vignette slider, and a separate slider to control where the mid-point is for the vignette in your image.

Reference Material

If you are interested in finding out more about lens distortion, including the science and mathematics behind it, here are some references you may find useful, and which were used as reference material in the construction of this article.

Distortion in Optics – Wikipedia
Chromatic Aberration – Wikipedia
Lens Vignetting – Wikipedia

If you enjoyed this article on Lightroom Lens Corrections, please check out some of our other Lightroom Articles and How-To Guides. Here are some which may interest you:

Lightroom Color Grading
Mastering Color Grading

The Color Grading panel is a great tool to perform targeted hue adjustments to Highlights, Shadows and Midtones.

Mastering HSL & Color

The HSL & Color Panels allow you to perform targeted adjustments to specific areas in your photograph for Hue, Saturation & Color optimisation.

Lightroom Details
Lightroom Details

The Details Panel in Lightroom allows you to sharpen and de-noise your digital images


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