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How to Deal with Barrel Lens Distortion in Photography

Posted by Jacob Hawthorne on

How to Deal with Barrel Lens Distortion in Photography

Have you ever taken a photo and noticed that the straight lines bow out and become curved at the edge of the frame? This is what’s known as barrel edge distortion. It typically occurs when you are shooting with a wide-angle lens. 

While this effect can be appealing in some cases, particularly with artsy photos, it is usually unwanted, especially if you are taking pictures of architecture or other objects that feature straight, clean lines. Fortunately, there are ways to correct barrel lens distortion. This article will discuss why the effect occurs and what you can do about it. 

What is Barrel Lens Distortion?

Barrel lens distortion causes the image in your photo to spherize so the edges of the photo look curved and bowed. It occurs because the magnification of the image decreases the farther the object is from the optical axis of the lens. 

Wide angle lenses include curved pieces of glass that make the sides of the images more likely to become skewed and appear to be curved making for an effect that’s similar to what’s achieved with a fisheye lens. 

How to Fix Barrel Lens Distortion 

Barrel lens distortion is usually not a desirable effect, but it can be fixed in Photoshop and other editing programs via the lens distortion correction filter. If you use automatic correction in the program, it will default to your camera profile. If you use manual correction, you will need to enter your specific camera settings. 

Another option is to use a ‘tilt and shift’ lens which was specially designed for architectural photography. However, these can be quite expensive. 

You can also try and prevent distortion as you are taking the photo. Here are some techniques to integrate:

  • Avoid shooting buildings and other objects that have straight, clean lines with a wide-angle lens. If you need to get more of the image, try backing up instead. 

  • Keep straight lines in the image close to the center of the lens where curving is less likely to occur. 

  • Take several photos of the same subject using various zoom lens magnification levels. The distortion will be less evident in certain zoom levels.

  • Shoot in RAW. This will allow you to use automatic corrections in photo editing programs. 

What is Pincushion Distortion?

Pincushion distortion is the opposite of barrel lens distortion. Instead of causing round lines toward the edge of an image, it will produce a pinching effect in the center of the image. It is likely to occur when you are using a telephoto lens. Like barrel lens distortion, it can also be remedied with a lens correction filter that can be found in photo editing programs like Photoshop or Lightroom. 

Barrel lens distortion happens. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent it from occurring and to fix it in editing programs. How do you keep it from ruining your shots? 

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