Advanced Dust Correction in Lightroom

Advanced Dust Correction in Lightroom



This tutorial has been transcribed from the SLR Lounge Adobe Lightroom 4 DVD Guide, a 14 hour DVD featuring over 130 tutorials for mastering Lightroom.

As we all know, dust spots on our images can be quite a annoying little pests to deal with. Just when you think you have them all corrected, you print out a beautiful 20×30 print of your image and say, “oops, I missed one.” While there are basic tools we can use within Lightroom to remove these dust spot (i.e. the Spot Removal Tool), many times there are still dust specks on the image that are harder to spot. This article will cover an advanced dust correction technique using the tone curve panel, which allows you to see even the smallest dust spots on your image. We originally saw this technique in Photoshop User, which is a magazine we love and recommend. Now, while this technique may be a bit cumbersome to use on every image, it can prove very useful when preparing an image to be enlarged for print, or even when submitting to a competition or magazine.

Process the Image

As we mentioned, first we should select an image that you will want to be absolutely perfect for enlargement or just that image you want to look flawless. After the image is color corrected and has been edited with your basic adjustments, we will open up our Tone Curves Panel in the Develop Module.

Reset the Tone Curve Panel

When making adjustments on the Tone Curve Panel we want to reset the curve by selecting “Linear”. This gives us a straight line from which we can add points to create a custom tone curve. If you have a curve previously applied to your image, be sure to save it before clearing it out.

Next, we must make sure that the point curve is editable so that we can add and adjust custom points. To do so, click on the “edit point” icon on the bottom right of the tone curve panel (as shown above). When you mouse over it, it will say “Click to Edit Point Curve”. If you are seeing the highlight, lights, darks, and shadows sliders (as shown below) then your point curve is not editable.

Create a Dust Curve Preset

Now we will create a Tone Curve preset specifically for correcting dust. Once we have removed all of our dust spots, we will revert the image back to its standard tone curve. To create the Dust Correction Tone Curve we are going to create a point around the first vertical line on the graph and drag it to the top. This point should be set at 10% on the x axis and 100% on the y axis.

Continue to add a point at every at every ten percent, while alternating 100% and 0% on the Y axis, until your point curve matches the one below.

To adjust any point, simply hover over the point and you will see an up and down adjustment arrow, which you can click and move to adjust the point.

Now that we have completed our dust correction tone curve, we are going to save it as a Tone Curve preset. This way we will not have to recreate the dust curve every time we would like to employ this technique. To save the point curve we have created, simply mouse over the point curve options, click and select “save”.

A dialog box will appear where you will create a name for your preset. We have chosen to call it “DustCurve”.

With our Dust Curve applied to the image, you can see all of the dust spots that you may have missed before. Now we can select our Spot Removal tool by hitting Q on the key board or selecting it from the top of the right panel on the develop module.

To use the spot removal tool adjust your brush size to the smallest possible brush that will completley cover what you are trying to remove. The second circle, which is the sampling area, will appear and Lightroom will try and guess an area of the image that matches what you are attempting to remove. If Lightroom does not correctly place the sampling area, select an area of the image that most resembles the area you are trying to clone or replace.

While zoomed in continue to look for dust spots on the image. Best practice is to start from the top left and work your way down, then right across the image.

Once you have gone over the entire image and removed the dust spots, simply zoom out and REMEMBER – return your point curve back to linear or whatever curve you previously had (unless you enjoy pysychodelic vision). Your image should now be back to normal and completely dust free!

The SLR Lounge Lightroom 4 DVD Guide

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Post Production Pye I hate speaking of myself in the third person, haha. I am a Partner and professional photographer with Lin and Jirsa Los Angeles Wedding Photography, and the Senior Editor for SLR Lounge Photography Tutorials. I am passionate about photography as an art as well as my part as an educator in the industry. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel and feel free to hit me up with questions anytime on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • Peter on CA January 26, 2013 07:46 am

    Thank you for this tip! Have fixed or improved numerous older photos!

  • Rob B January 10, 2013 03:52 pm

    I use this all the time. It's fast, simple and amazingly thorough.

  • D M January 7, 2013 10:36 pm

    just wondering if you have found a way to save the dust tool placements? Sensor dust is always in the same spot so saving a profile to your sensor would be an easy way to remove dust in a batch job.

  • helil April 24, 2012 11:16 pm

    Can you tell us what's behind it? Why the accordion tone curve makes the dust spots pop?

  • Mark April 19, 2012 07:16 pm

    Only thought was - wish it was in bold that this does not apply to Lightroom 2 or 1!. Ended up making an action in Photoshop and it is a good way of finding those dust spots hiding in the dark!

  • Rob Bixby April 8, 2012 11:48 am

    Antony, When you complete it, save it as "Dust Removal". Then you just select it next time.

  • Antony April 7, 2012 09:55 pm

    Just one stupid question : how can i load the preset on a new picture ?

  • anotherphotographynoob April 6, 2012 03:08 pm

    Cool method - looking forward to try it out!

  • Rob Bixby April 6, 2012 08:08 am

    I've used this and it scared me how many dust spots popped out in places you wouldn't normally notice them. I also sold a print of an aircraft I left in this tone curve setup.

  • Alexx April 6, 2012 08:01 am

    Cool post!

  • Mike Nelson Pedde April 6, 2012 07:41 am

    Thanks for the Tone Curve idea! Could have used it here:

    Another suggestion for doing dust correction is to zoom into 100% at say the top left of the image, then use the Pg Up/Pg Down keys and LR will move through the image one 'screen' at a time from top to bottom, moving to the next 'column' when it gets to the bottom of the image. That way you can move through the entire image in a systematic fashion. Also, if you need more effect (on a particularly stubborn spot), you can create a second circle near the first one, allow LR to insert a replacement where it thinks is appropriate, then move the second circle you've added over top of the first, and move the replacement circle to somewhere more appropriate. It's impossible to place a second circle directly overtop of an existing one because clicking on any area inside the circle simply makes it active.


    P.S. To Rick, Lightroom and Photoshop are very different tools, but fortunately they play well together. You can read more here if you're interested:

  • Mark E Tisdale April 6, 2012 07:22 am

    Will have to try this sometime and see how it works, looking at the screen grab, it looks like it would actually be kind of hard to tell if the area you were sampling from to heal the dust spot was good or not...

    I'm not on LR4 yet, but in LR3 I've gotten into the habit of doing this using the sharpening tool. If I'm zoomed in and holding option key and mask only slightly, dust spots take on a very uniform round look that clearly differentiates them in the grayscale preview on-screen. It gives me a target to look for probably similar to the psychedelic one above.

  • Scott Frederick April 6, 2012 03:05 am

    Genius! Thank you!!!

  • Jim April 6, 2012 02:23 am

    Great article! Great addition to my workflow. Thanks!!

  • Pye April 6, 2012 02:06 am

    Last poll I saw significantly more people used Lightroom 3 over Photoshop CS5. It was something like 2-3 times more popular. But, almost every professional including our studio uses both applications in tandem. We process every photo in Lightroom, then take around 2-3% into Photoshop when needed.

  • Rick April 6, 2012 12:51 am

    I am curious to know how many prefer Lightroom 3.6 (64bit) vs: Photoshop CS5.1 (64bit). I have Lightroom but use Photoshop more frequently..