How to detect sensor spots in Photoshop and Lightroom

This photo was the last photo after about an hour of photography in Milford Sound in New Zealand. This boat is the first boat, one of many that will sail tourist around in the magnificent Milford Sound. Photo by: Jacob Surland,

This photo was the last photo after about an hour of photography in Milford Sound in New Zealand. This boat is the first boat early in the morning, one of many that will sail tourists around in the magnificent Milford Sound.

Unfortunately, one of the major drawbacks of cameras with interchangeable lenses, is that they collect dust, when you change from one lens to another. You can take a lot of precautions, like holding the camera downwards, when unscrewing the lens and make a quick switch. No doubt precaution works, but there is still no way around it, you end up with dust inside your camera, and some of that dust places itself on the sensor.

I have my Rocket Air Blaster in my camera bag, and uses it frequently. By far the best “get the dust out of my camera” blower I have used so far. But still I get dust spots on my photos.

Spots also get more visible the smaller the aperture (larger number!) is. If you are on f/2.8, only large spots will be visible, while if on f/22 you will see every little dust spot.

On top of that, I own the Nikon D600, which is known for it’s sensor spots. The problem is more or less gone now. And my D800 was pretty bad too. Both seems to do better now. Nikon have had both in for cleaning more than once, and apparently they have done something to improve the problem.

Anyway, I get dust spots on my images, and how do I remove them?

How to remove Dust Spots in Lightroom

Lightroom has a healing brush. What it does, is to do clone some other part into the image into the area you want to heal. It’s not an exact clone, it tries to match the tones. An exact clone is possible too.

Lightroom’s Healing Brush works perfectly in skies and other fairly even areas. But if the spot sits near or in some texture, etc. I find that the Lightroom Healing Brush is not good enough, and then I prefer to use Photoshop. Photoshop has got much stronger healing tools, the downside is, that Photoshop does not have the Visualize Spots tool. If I need to clone something out, Photoshop is also the only tool good enough of the two.

The Healing Brush is located in the Development Module of Lightroom.

Lightroom step 1 - Healing brush

The Healing Brush samples from somewhere in the image. Sometimes it picks something ridiculous, and you need to move the sample point to somewhere else.

Some spots are very easy to see, but others are more difficult see. In Lightroom, there is a cool tool, to visualize spots. When the Healing Brush is active, there is a Toolbar (try hitting T if it’s not there, sometimes I accidently hits T, which instantly hides the toolbar). Click on the checkbox and move the slider all the way to the right.

Lightroom step 2 - Visualize Spots

Now the spots get really easy to see. And if I didn’t know better, I would have thought this photo below, was a starry sky. Unfortunately, it’s dust spots on my sensor (oh dear a dirty sensor). It is a sort of an inverted image, that enhances the dust spots.

Lightroom step 3 - Visualize Spots overview

The spots in the sky Lightroom can fairly easy handle. The only problem is that there is a ton of dust spots in this photo. Lightroom will most likely use samples including other dust spots, and spots close to each other are difficult to remove, because you can make two healings very close to each other.

It’s more problematic in the lake. Here I can see dust spots in the plants. And this Lightroom really handles bad. This I would fix in Photoshop everytime.

Lightroom step 4 - Problematic spots

How to detect dust spots in Photoshop

In Photoshop, there is a couple of tools I use a lot for spot removal. For many things, in non-problematic areas I just use the Spot Healing Brush (#1).

Photoshop - Step 1 Healing Brushes

But if things get difficult, and I have to be precise, I start using the Healing Brush Tool (#2) or Clone Stamp (#3).

Photoshop - Step 2 Healing Brushes

These tools are not too difficult to use and I will not cover their differences in this tutorial.

How to heal images in Photoshop non-destructively

Recently I learned how to do healing and cloning in Photoshop in a non-destructive way, and I like to work non-destructive. That makes it possible to go back and fix stuff, which I missed earlier.

First I add an empty layer:

Step 1 Remove spots in photoshop

It will be on this new layer I will be doing the healing. The next thing I do, is to add a temporary Curves Adjustment Layer. I will only use it for detecting the spots. When my spots are gone, I will delete it again.

Step 2 Remove spots in photoshop

Then I make a really wild curve. The curve will be slightly different for each image. I work the curve until I can see the spots. The colors go wild, but that doesn’t matter, because I will remove the curves, when I am done cleaning up.

Step 3 Remove spots in photoshop


The spots in this image were difficult to spot, and I missed them at first.

To heal the spots, I select the Healing Brush and make sure Sample All Layers is checked. This way I can do the healing on the empty layer, and not on the image itself.

step 4 Remove spots in photoshop


The curves layer is very effective in detecting irregularities, and the healed spots may still be slightly visible. But do rest at peace, Photoshop cleaned it away. If you are in doubt, click on the Eyeball of the curves layer, to hide it. This way you can verify your work.

When I am done cleaning the spots away, I just delete the curves adjustments layer, and my image is clean.


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