How to Remove Sensor Dust With Lightroom - Digital Photography School

How to Remove Sensor Dust With Lightroom

One of the annoyances most photographers encounter from time to time is sensor dust. This is dust that you get on the camera’s sensor and which shows up in your images as dark marks or flaws on your photos. Most often you’ll see this in the sky but it can appear anywhere in an image and it will appear in the same place in all your images – the tell tale sign that you have problems.

remove-sensor-dust-lightroom-before-after.jpg

Of course, the only way to get rid of the dust is to clean your camera either using its dust removal option or by physically cleaning it. However, chances are that the reason you know you have a dust problem is that you see it on your photos. For these images, at least, cleaning the camera won’t help. Instead, digital removal is required.

If you’re faced with a series of photos that have dust problems, Lightroom can simplify the process of fixing them. Its Spot Removal tool can be used to fix sensor dust and, the benefit of doing the work in Lightroom rather than Photoshop, for example, is that once you have one image fixed, you can automatically fix most of the others.

remove-sensor-dust-lightroom-step1.jpg

To get started, locate one image in the sequence that has sensor dust issues. Switch to Develop move and select the Spot Removal tool. Set it to Heal (the other option is Clone). Set the brush size to something large enough to cover the problem area and set its Opacity to 100 percent.

remove-sensor-dust-lightroom-step2.jpg

Click on the dust to set the location for the fix. You’ll see two circles appear on the image; one over the problem area (the spot circle) and the second over the area used to fix it (the sample circle). You can tell which circle is which as the arrow between them points from the sample circle towards the spot circle.

You can drag to reposition either circle and you can drag on one circle when the mouse pointer shows as a double headed arrow to resize the pair.

remove-sensor-dust-lightroom-step3.jpg

You can add multiple fixes to one image and, if you make too many, right click on the one to delete and choose Delete from the menu.

You can also use the right click menu to change from Heal to Clone to see if you get a better fix with this setting.

remove-sensor-dust-lightroom-step4.jpg

Once you have fixed the spots on the current image, you can copy these to other images. To do this, click the Close button to close the Spot Removal Tool drawer.

Right click the image and choose Settings > Copy Settings and when the dialog appears, select Spot Removal, disable all other options and click Copy.

remove-sensor-dust-lightroom-step5.jpg

Select one or more images in the sequence that you shot and that need the fix applied to them. These do not have to share the same aspect ratio as Lightroom can fix portrait and landscape images at the one time.

Right click and choose Settings > Paste Settings. This will paste the fix onto the other images. Alternately you can select the fixed image and one or more other images, click Sync and select Spot Removal.

remove-sensor-dust-lightroom-step6.jpg

Check each fixed image in turn. Some images may have image content under the sample circle that doesn’t provide a suitable match for the problem area so you will need to move the sample circle to adjust the fix.

However, the entire process should be quicker than performing the fix to each image individually in Photoshop, for example.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • Richard Skoonberg

    Excellent!!

  • http://www.thedigitalcameraexperts.com Perry

    Great tutorial. Very relevant considering everyone has a dSLR these days.

    But with the new, Micro 3/4th cameras, will tutorials like this still be needed? Will digital photographers not have to worry about sensor dust anymore?

    Top Ten Compact Digital Cameras

  • Chris

    Micro 4/3 cameras still have image sensors that, when the lens is removed, are exposed. You might be thinking of the Ricoh GXR.

  • Chris

    And what kind of top 10 list is that?!

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason Collin Photography

    You could also take your camera to an authorized dealer and have the sensor actually cleaned! Then save yourself the trouble of having to do it in post. Or clean your sensor yourself if you have the courage (I still don’t).

    I just use the healing brush in Photoshop CS4, one quick option click to choose a sample area, another quick click on the spot, done.

  • http://jpa365.com Jesse

    I’ve been wondering the best approach to doing this. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  • http://www.capturedconcept.com/blog Ron Gibson

    Great post.

    This is the method I use for removing spots. And definitely go back over each image and readjust each spot. The software will choose the same location for both the healed spot and the ‘gathered’ spot used to heal. This is rarely the best mix, and as the tutorial show, sometimes a very poor placement.

    If your images have more than a couple dust spots it’s definitely time to get your sensor cleaned.

    @Perry- all camera’s have sensors that have the ability to have dust particles land on them. And while the Ricoh is a closed lens/sensor unit, even our lenses develop dust spots over time (inside). The lens dust is less important, but still something that should be recognized- dust gets into everything. Even a camera that has a single lens mounted on it.

    To test your sensor I like to shoot a lit piece of ultra white paper and examine the photo on my computer. This may not be the best method, but it does work for me. It’s surprising how quickly dust collects on a sensor.

    You should pick up a decent lens cleaning kit. It’s not that scary. The sensor is covered by a piece of glass (don’t get all huffy when I call it glass), there is a protective layer that you are able to clean. Just follow the directions and be gentle. I clean my sensor about once a month (shooting indoors) and sometimes after a single shoot depending on the weather when shooting outdoors. This might seem excessive to some but I am shooting with fixed lenses so I will frequently switch from one lens to the next throughout a shoot depending on the shot I’m seeking.

    If you don’t want to chance scratching the sensor then take it to a shop, but it is very costly for a very simple fix especially at $50-100 a cleaning. If you do it yourself it will probably end up costing only a few dollars per cleaning over the course of a year.

  • Bill

    Great tutorial, and everyone will get spots from sensor crud sooner or later, but another useful tutorial is one on how to clean your sensor glass. There are many, I use the method described at copperhill.com. Nothing hard about it.

  • http://juanjoge.wordpress.com/ Juan Gutierrez

    Excelent!!

    I just want to Puerto Rico take severla photos at the end, when I retunr to home I found this problem, this tutorial help me a lot

  • http://davidspickett.co.uk/ David Spickett

    Great post, I knew about using the heal but had never thought to copy them from image to image.

  • David Pinales

    I just ordered Lightroom 2 and can’t wait to get it. I had the privilige to work with somone this past weekend and he used Lightroom. I was totally amazed with this program and ordered it first thing Monday. I am a very poor reader but I have to say, this teaching tool has helped me break out of this. I can’t seem to read enough about photography. I am just sorry I did not get into this long ago. I do want to ask how is the best way to master Lightroom? I am wondering if there is a section somewhere here that gives more info on various Lightroom techniques. Thanks again for all these photo tips.

  • http://www.pennpix.com Matt

    many thanks – just returned from a trip to Europe with rather a few too many spots ! – i’ll see how I go with this tip – kind regards … Matt

  • Caleb Alan

    Thanks!

Some older comments

  • Matt

    October 19, 2010 06:29 am

    many thanks - just returned from a trip to Europe with rather a few too many spots ! - i'll see how I go with this tip - kind regards ... Matt

  • David Pinales

    April 1, 2010 02:33 pm

    I just ordered Lightroom 2 and can't wait to get it. I had the privilige to work with somone this past weekend and he used Lightroom. I was totally amazed with this program and ordered it first thing Monday. I am a very poor reader but I have to say, this teaching tool has helped me break out of this. I can't seem to read enough about photography. I am just sorry I did not get into this long ago. I do want to ask how is the best way to master Lightroom? I am wondering if there is a section somewhere here that gives more info on various Lightroom techniques. Thanks again for all these photo tips.

  • David Spickett

    March 28, 2010 03:29 am

    Great post, I knew about using the heal but had never thought to copy them from image to image.

  • Juan Gutierrez

    March 27, 2010 06:47 am

    Excelent!!

    I just want to Puerto Rico take severla photos at the end, when I retunr to home I found this problem, this tutorial help me a lot

  • Bill

    March 24, 2010 03:40 am

    Great tutorial, and everyone will get spots from sensor crud sooner or later, but another useful tutorial is one on how to clean your sensor glass. There are many, I use the method described at copperhill.com. Nothing hard about it.

  • Ron Gibson

    March 24, 2010 02:52 am

    Great post.

    This is the method I use for removing spots. And definitely go back over each image and readjust each spot. The software will choose the same location for both the healed spot and the 'gathered' spot used to heal. This is rarely the best mix, and as the tutorial show, sometimes a very poor placement.

    If your images have more than a couple dust spots it's definitely time to get your sensor cleaned.

    @Perry- all camera's have sensors that have the ability to have dust particles land on them. And while the Ricoh is a closed lens/sensor unit, even our lenses develop dust spots over time (inside). The lens dust is less important, but still something that should be recognized- dust gets into everything. Even a camera that has a single lens mounted on it.

    To test your sensor I like to shoot a lit piece of ultra white paper and examine the photo on my computer. This may not be the best method, but it does work for me. It's surprising how quickly dust collects on a sensor.

    You should pick up a decent lens cleaning kit. It's not that scary. The sensor is covered by a piece of glass (don't get all huffy when I call it glass), there is a protective layer that you are able to clean. Just follow the directions and be gentle. I clean my sensor about once a month (shooting indoors) and sometimes after a single shoot depending on the weather when shooting outdoors. This might seem excessive to some but I am shooting with fixed lenses so I will frequently switch from one lens to the next throughout a shoot depending on the shot I'm seeking.

    If you don't want to chance scratching the sensor then take it to a shop, but it is very costly for a very simple fix especially at $50-100 a cleaning. If you do it yourself it will probably end up costing only a few dollars per cleaning over the course of a year.

  • Jesse

    March 23, 2010 11:21 pm

    I've been wondering the best approach to doing this. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  • Jason Collin Photography

    March 23, 2010 02:14 pm

    You could also take your camera to an authorized dealer and have the sensor actually cleaned! Then save yourself the trouble of having to do it in post. Or clean your sensor yourself if you have the courage (I still don't).

    I just use the healing brush in Photoshop CS4, one quick option click to choose a sample area, another quick click on the spot, done.

  • Chris

    March 23, 2010 02:02 pm

    And what kind of top 10 list is that?!

  • Chris

    March 23, 2010 02:01 pm

    Micro 4/3 cameras still have image sensors that, when the lens is removed, are exposed. You might be thinking of the Ricoh GXR.

  • Perry

    March 23, 2010 08:26 am

    Great tutorial. Very relevant considering everyone has a dSLR these days.

    But with the new, Micro 3/4th cameras, will tutorials like this still be needed? Will digital photographers not have to worry about sensor dust anymore?

    Top Ten Compact Digital Cameras

  • Richard Skoonberg

    March 23, 2010 06:52 am

    Excellent!!

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