How to remove lens distortion

THE MISSION

To correct lens-created errors in Lightroom

Time: Five minutes

Skill level: Beginner

Kit needed: Lightroom 5 or later

What you see with the naked eye isn’t always what you get in a photo. When shooting with a wide-angle lens, for example, the edges of the frame can become distorted, with lines appearing curved instead of straight. This barrel (outward) or pincushion (inward) distortion is especially noticeable when looking at architectural photos.

Cheaper lenses can also add colour-related artefacts to a subject. When faced with a high-contrast edge (such as a white swan against a dark blue lake), you may find fringes of purple at the edges of your subject. This chromatic aberration, as it’s known, is caused by the lens’s inability to focus different wavelengths of light onto the same spot on your camera’s sensor. 

Also, when you zoom out with your lens to capture a wider view of a landscape, the frame can become darker at the edges and corners. You’ll also notice darker edge colours and tones when using a wider aperture. This vignetting effect occurs because different amounts of light are entering the edge of the lens compared to the centre, causing the corners of the image to become incorrectly exposed.

Fortunately, Lightroom’s Lens Corrections panel has all the tools you need to counteract barrel and pincushion distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting. Thanks to its collection of Lens Profiles, Lightroom can counteract these problems automatically, so that your photos will look more like the scene did when you saw it with the naked eye.

STEP BY STEP: Correctional facility

1 ADD A GRID

Import TYLR16.dng into Lightroom’s Library. To see if lines are distorted, it can be handy to summon a grid. Go to View>Loupe Overlay and click Grid. Hold down Cmd/Ctrl and click and drag on the Size and Opacity options to customise your grid to suit the photo.

2 READ THE METADATA

Toggle open the Metadata panel. You can see that a 20-35mm f/2.8 lens was used to take this photo with a focal length was 22mm. Lightroom can use this data to work out where the distortions will occur, and then counteract them.

WHERE'S MY LENS?

Adobe releases software updates, including profiles for popular new lenses, periodically (check www.adobe.com/downloads/updates.html), but only supports recent versions of its programs. If you have an old version of Elements, Lightroom or Photoshop but a very new camera or lenses, your software probably won't be able to download profiles for your kit.

3 SET UP A LENS PROFILE

Click on the Develop module. Open Lens Corrections. You could go to Manual and drag the sliders to correct distorted lines, but for quicker, more precise corrections click on Profile, tick Enable Profile Corrections, and in Lens Profile, click on Make and pick your camera.

4 COMPARE VERSIONS

The Lens Profile command reads the photo’s metadata and then automatically selects the appropriate lens from Lightroom’s list of lens profiles. Toggle the Enable Profile Corrections box on and off to see how the profile counteracts the original photo’s distorted lines.

5 REMOVE VIGNETTING

You can fine-tune the results by dragging the Distortion slider, although the profile should do a good job. Toggle the correction on and off and you’ll also notice that the original corners are slightly dark. The profile lightens them to match the rest of the scene.

6 REMOVE FRINGING

If you go to the Color tab you can turn on Remove Chromatic Aberration. This counteracts colour fringing around high-contrast objects with a click. Fine-tune the results by using the eyedropper to sample unwanted fringe colours, then adjusting the Amount slider.