How To Remove Dust Spots From Multiple Photos in 4 Steps

How To Remove Dust Spots From Multiple Photos in 4 Steps


dustDust. The eternal enemy of a digital camera. When you shoot pictures with a digital SLR camera long enough, you will come to know the pain that dust can cause. For some it’s a minor annoyance. For others, it costs time and money attempting to salvage vital images.

In this post Peter Carey shares some tips on how to remove dust spots from multiple photos.

With advancements in DLSRs has also come advancements in Photoshop tools to remove dust. My favorite for dust removal, partially because of its price, is Photoshop Lightroom. While it is a scaled down version of the full blown Photoshop, it is perfectly suited to remove 90% of the dust I encounter.

Why is dust such a problem? Take a look at the picture on the left. Do you notice the small black spots in the sky and one big spot on the left side in the mountain? Those are not UFOs and that is not a mining tunnel. It was dust adhered to the sensor, casting a black shadow on the sensor when the shutter was activated. You can’t get back the data that is covered over by the shadow, but you can get creative and repair the damage depending on the dust location. When those dust spots are in the same location on each image, you’re in luck as there is a fairly easy method for multiple photo dust spot removal. (Note: the instructions are given using a PC version of Lightroom 1.4. Mac instructions vary only slightly if using a single button mouse)

Step 1 – Pick your worst image

Your worst image will have the most obvious spots. Often these images have a lot of sky showing as in this example.


Step 2 – Start Healing

Chose the Develop Module. Then pick the Remove Spots tool below the photograph and select “Heal”. With this tool selected, center your pointer over an offending dust spot and left click.


Presto! Through the magic that is Photoshop Lightroom, a location to use as the heal spot is automatically chosen for you. If you don’t like the selection, just drag the circle around until the best candidate is lined up. I have found more times than not, the automatic location works quite well. Repeat on any other spots visible.

Step 3 – Reproduce

Once all the spots have been selected and healed, you’re ready to apply these changes to any other photos you like. With the edited image selected, highlight the other images you wish to correct in the slider bar at the bottom. Holding Ctrl will help select individual images. With all images selected, click Develop and then Sync Settings from the menu bar.


Step 4 – Click and Sit Back

Check the box for “Dust Removal” only on the Synchronize Settings screen and click Synchronize. Depending on the number of images, spots and speed of your computer, Lightroom will take from a few minutes to a lot longer to removal all the dust spots.

Depending on which location you initially selected to heal from, there may be some small edits you need to make. Luckily, Lightroom is very forgiving in this regard. As you click through images and once again select the Remove Spots tool, you are given the option of moving the heal location at will. No need to create a new heal, just adjust its location. Quite handy!

Peter is an avid photographer who enjoys travel, portraiture and wildlife photography. A travel related blog of his past and current shenanigans can be found at The Carey Adventures. All photographs in this post were taken by his wife, Kim, during a trip to Nepal. More photos, without spots, can be found at Hidden Creek Photography.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Aaron November 20, 2010 08:41 am

    I am having 100s of old Tri-X negs scanned at 4000 DPI for a book.
    The images are fantastic, but there are far too many dust
    spots to clean up individually. I'd love to be able to get rid of them en masse.
    So far, I like the cloning tool best. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
    The company doing the scanning offers something called ICE which cleans up color negs, but
    not B&W.

  • Mike Behnken November 13, 2010 06:54 pm

    I was actually looking for a tool that can automatically clean all the dust spots in a photo? This is not for typical sensor dust, but I dropped the lens in the dirt and took the high F22 shots, happened to be one of the best photos I've ever taken unfortunately covered in literally thousands of spots.

  • Adam Parker November 30, 2008 06:27 am

    While dust is usually not a show stopper, it sure can be a pain in the neck and a big waster of time. This is a great way to save pain in post processing as long as you have a way to automate your cleanup. The whole photoshop suite is great for dust cleanup.

    There are also a lot of other steps to take to remove or reduce the impact of dust on your sensor. I put together a summary here:

    Thanks again for the tip. When I pick up my copy of lightroom, I'll sure be taking advantage of better automation.

  • Ricky August 27, 2008 12:42 pm

    Great job, other then lighting, dust maybe my worst enemy when it come to photography.

  • Arkashka August 4, 2008 11:42 pm

    The very good and detailed description, I was simply read and could not come off.

  • Jen July 31, 2008 04:01 am

    Cathy----I only have elements, but have used the clone tool to remove dust spots before. It's pretty easy. You just alt click on the "good" area which will be cloned over the top of the dust spot, but make sure the opacity is set to a low percentage (I usually set mine around 15%), otherwise you'll end up seeing the circle around it. If you play with it, you'll see what I'm saying. I wish I could be more graphic, but I'm at my "real" work right now and can't recall specifically the steps I have used before.

  • Cathy July 30, 2008 11:25 pm

    You won't believe this, but I used the end of a vacuum attachment the other day to remove dust from the sensor. It seems to have worked. A friend told me about it. You take the end of the hose and put duck tape on it. Then you cut a hole in the center with a screw or something. Very carefully hold the end up to the camera. I had my husband hold the vacuum, I held the camera. So far so good. I have never used anything to remove them in the picture if they were there, I don't have Lightroom. Does Elements remove spots. I just didn't use the photo. I am not a Photoshop girl.

  • Photochick July 30, 2008 05:25 pm

    Wow - that's pretty nifty to be able to remove spots from multiple pictures! Excellent tutorial - many thanks!

  • Stephen July 30, 2008 05:11 pm

    I never knew about the Reproduce option - that should come in handy in the future, thanks :)

  • Markus Jais July 30, 2008 04:49 pm

    Now that I have found the first dust spots on my EOS 40D (after almost one year of usage) I will try this tonight. Thanks for the great tutorial.

  • Rosh July 30, 2008 02:46 pm

    I know a photographer that would use scotch tape to remove all the dust off his sensor. He swears is works great! I get shivers down my spine every time I think about it.


  • Jim Talkington July 30, 2008 02:36 pm

    That one feature alone makes Lightroom worth the cost, even cameras with dust removal systems show an occasional spot. What a time savings. Now with 2.0 released I guess it's time I finally buy it.

  • Wild Adventures Girl July 30, 2008 07:07 am

    I used to work in a photographic lab many many moons ago. In those days Photo shop wasn't invented yet. Air brush specialists would spend hours retouching photos.

    Thanks for the great tip.

  • PpChKn July 30, 2008 03:46 am

    It happen to me yesterday that i clean some photos in lightroom... and the removal tool was to much obvious (the circle was darn obvious) so, photoshop for me.

  • bangbouh July 30, 2008 12:58 am

    Great tutorial on removing dust spots. Thanks!

  • Nick July 30, 2008 12:38 am

    A similar technique can be used in aperture but instead of the sync settings use the lift and stamp tool…