How a Lens Works

The best way to understand the behavior of light through a curved lens is to relate it to a prism. A prism is thicker at one end, and light passing through it is bent (refracted) toward the thickest portion. See the diagram below.

A lens can be thought of as two rounded prisms joined together. Light passing through the lens is always bent toward the thickest part of the prisms. To make a minus lens (above on the left), the thickest part, the base, of the prisms is on the outer edges and the thinnest part, the apex, is in the middle. This spreads the light away from the center of the lens and moves the focal point forward. The stronger the lens, the farther the focal point is from the lens.

To make a plus lens (above on the right), the thickest part of the lens is in the middle and the thinnest part on the outer edges. The light is bent toward the center and the focal point moves back. The stronger the lens, the closer the focal point is to the lens.

Placing the correct type and power of lens in front of the eye will adjust the focal point to compensate for the eye's inability to focus the image on the retina.