Lightroom Tips & Tricks - Removing Dust Spots

Lightroom Tips & Tricks - How to quickly and easily remove dust and dirt spots from your images

Continuing on with my new series of Lightroom Tips & Tricks, in this post I will be discussing and demonstrating how you can quickly and easily remove unwanted and unsightly blemishes from your images.

As you photograph more and more and you utilize your camera equipment more often, overtime you will start to notice that your images may end up with some unwanted and undesired blemishes. These blemishes can be caused by dirt and dust on your camera sensor, your camera lens or even the filters that you might be attaching to your lenses.

Why is dirt in my images a problem?

There are several answers to this question and all are valid in my opinion.

  • Dirt spots can be very obvious in certain images
  • Dirt spots can takeaway from the overall quality of an image
  • Dirt spots can ruin a print of the image
  • Dirt spots can show the photographer's lack of attention to detail or shortcomings when it comes to their processing skills

The presence of dirt spots in images uploaded online by photographers is somewhat of an epidemic. You don't have too look very hard or very far before you will come across images that had the potential to be good but they are let down by these unsightly spots of dirt.

It is something that I personally see all of the time when browsing photography groups and photos uploaded by people on Facebook. I don't know whether it is due to (1) people not being able to identify the dirt in their image, (2) people not being able to remove the dirt in their images or (3) people simply not caring about dirt being in their images. The first two reasons are perfectly understandable as everyone needs to start somewhere on their photographic journey and we don't know everything right from the start. Skills have to be learned and developed through training and practice. However the third reason is what really boils my blood. Anyone calling themselves "a photographer" should care about the final quality of their image!

As an avid outdoors photographer (Landscapes, Seascapes, Nature, Macro, etc..) I know all too well about the photographer's plague that is dust and dirt spots in images and so with this post it is not my intention to judge anyone for having dirt in their image but instead I am hoping to pass on some of the knowledge and skills that I have developed over the past few years with respect to this absolutely essential step in the image processing workflow and hopefully you will be able to take something from this and improve your own photography through it.

Identify The Dirt

Before you can go and start cleaning up your image of these unwanted dirt spots, first you will need to be able to identify them. Removing the dirt is the easy part as the software will do that for you anyway. The hard part is in the actual identification of the dirt in the first place.

When you start off on your photographic journey you will more than likely not notice them. However with time, practice and training, you will then start to see these unsightly blemishes in not only all of your own images but also in every other images that is posted by other people on the internet, in some magazine or even on a printed image!


Red boxes highlight some areas of dirt within my image. Dirt is always more noticeable in the sections of your image that consists of singular tones and simple structures such as the sky or water surfaces.

You will notice dirt more easily in areas of the image which consist of singular tones or simple structures such as the sky region or on water surfaces.

The image on the left shows some areas of dirt within one my Seascape images. The dirt has been highlighted and pointed out for your benefit by the red boxes.

When shooting Landscape images that consist of elements such as fields, grass, roads, pathways, etc.. you may find that sometimes that any such dirt that may have been present at the time of shooting has blended into its surroundings and may go generally unnoticed. Perhaps the only area in your image where you might be able to identify the dirt is in the sky region where the data structures are less complicated.

Unfortunately with Seascape images and the fact that the scenes that you are shooting generally consist of less complicated data structures and singular colour tones such as plain bodies of water, sky, sand, etc... the dirt is usually a lot more noticeable and thus will require you to clean up the image.

There are two main methods which I apply within Adobe Lightroom in order to identify unsightly dirt in my own images.

The first method (and more obvious) involves using the Clone/Heal Tool and the second method involves using the Tone Curve Tool.

Let's address the first method first!


Identifying Dirt using the Clone/Heal Tool

Clone/Heal Tool in Adobe Lightroom 6

Adobe Lightroom provides a Clone/Heal Tool in the Develop Module which can be used for not only identifying dirt in your images but also to remove that same dirt from your images.

To find this tool, simply click into the Develop Module using the tabbed menu system along the top of Lightroom and then you should see a panel along the right hand side. In this panel there will be a button/icon located second from the left (next to the crop tool) and it will look like a circle with an arrow pointing away from it.

When you click on this button/icon you will then see the settings for the Clone/Heal Tool appear. You can switch between the Clone or a Heal modes of operation.

What is the difference?

Well the Clone mode will simply copy the data (pixels) as they are from the clone source area, whereas the Heal mode will not only copy the pixels from the heal source area but will also attempt to blend those pixels into the area that the pixels are being applied to by sampling the surrounding pixels. I find myself using mostly the Heal Mode and will only use the Clone mode if the situation calls for it. But for more complicated cloning operations, I usually bring the image into Photoshop anyway.

You also have the option to adjust the size, the feathering and the opacity of the Clone/Heal tool. The size can be adjusted to suit your needs on a case-by-case basis and I tend to leave the feathering at values between 0-40 but you may find values that better suit your own needs and again it vary on a case-by-case basis. The opacity is best left at 100 for the majority of situations.


The "Visualize Spots" feature is great for identifying unwanted dirt in your images!

Regardless of which mode you use, the Clone/Heal Tool comes with a very useful feature that allows you to visualize the dirt spots and this feature is aptly called "Visualize Spots".

In the image on the left, I have zoomed in on the image and I have also enabled the Visualize Spots feature (highlighted in the orange box) and this feature then allows you to see the areas of the image where spots are present.

The red box then shows what happens when you click on a particular spot to remove. You will see the source area from where the tool will grab the pixels from in order to replace the pixels of the area that you want to remove.



Identifying Dirt using the Tone Curve Tool


Adjusting the Tone Curve in Lightroom will make your image look weird but is great for identifying dirt.

The second method that I use for identifying dirt actually involves using the Tone Curve and this method is actually really good for clearly seeing the dirt in areas of the image that may consist of more complicated data structures.

I must admit that I did not discover this method on my own. In fact I first saw it being applied by Matt Kloskowski in one of his blog posts/videos here. After I discovered this method of identifying dirt in Lightroom my first thought was "where have you been all of my life!!!". I absolutely loved this method ever since I first saw it and use it religiously when cleaning up my images.

The image on the right shows the "S" shaped curve that I created as a Preset (under the instructions available in Matt's video noted above).

This Tonal Curve will make your image look really weird but it is great for identifying and visualizing the dirt.

When using this method I simply applies the following workflow:

  1. Select the "Spot Removal" Preset that I created in the Tone Curve tool
  2. Scan through the entire image for spots and zooming in if/when needed
  3. Adjust the Exposure Slider in the Basic panel in order to change the tonal properties of the image in order to find some spots which may be more tricky to see
  4. Apply the Clone/Heal tool to any spots that were identified
  5. Reset the Exposure Slider back to what it was previously set at
  6. Change the Tone Curve back to the "Linear" preset or one of the other standard presets such as "Medium" or "Strong"

All dirt gone, image is clean and everyone is happy!

Hopefully the above information was helpful and educational for you and now your images should be looking cleaner and better than they ever did before!

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