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Lightroom Tutorial: Get Rid of Dust Spots in 4 Easy Steps

Dust spots and blobs are often an inevitable part of our travel images. They will inevitably appear even after the most thorough sensor cleaning as we change lenses or simply zoom in and out (check our previous article on how to clean your camera's sensor at home). Luckily, Lightroom 5 provides a great tool for getting rid of those "dust bunnies" from your best travel and landscape shots. In this tutorial we will guide you through 4 easy steps to make your images impeccably clean with the help of Lightroom's Spot Removal tool.

For this tutorial, I have selected a landscape image of an equestrian statue and the Eiffel tower as seen from Bir Hakeim bridge in Paris. The photo was taken on a bright sunny day at aperture f/13 for a higher depth of field, and thus all the dust specks that were on the camera sensor also became visible.

Spot 01

1. Inspect your image at 100% zoom

Unnoticed "dust bunnies" never enhance even the most stunning travel photograph. If you spot a few blobs in your image, enlarge it to 100% for a thorough inspection, especially if you are planning to use a high resolution file or making large prints. In the enlarged image below I highlighted only a few of them, but there are more, many more!

Spot 02

2. Adjust The Spot Removal Tool

After inspection, take your image to the Develop module and click on the Spot Removal tool in the upper right corner underneath the histogram, or simply hit the Q key on your keyboard. This will open the Spot Removal tab. For cleaning up dust specks, make sure that Heal option is selected, as it usually does a better job than the Clone option by blending the pixels together instead of simply copying them.

Spot 03

In this tab you can also adjust:

  • Brush size - it can vary according to the spot you are removing. Make sure the brush covers the spot, but is not too large for it. Brush size can also be easily adjusted by hitting square brackets [ or ] on your keyboard or simply scrolling the mouse wheel.
  • Feather - controls hardness or softness of the brush edges. For dust removal, feather of 15 to 20 usually works well. If brush edges are too soft, they become semi-transparent and the blob you are trying to clean up may still show.
  • Opacity - controls the transparency of the brush. For dust specks, 100% opacity usually works well.

3. Clean your image

Now you are ready for the actual dust removal. Click on any dust spot in your image: two circles with a little arrow between them will appear. One is a target area to be repaired (A), and another one shows where the cloned material is coming from (B). Lightroom automatically determines the most suitable source spot, blends the pixels together for better result and repairs the spot in no time!

Spot 04

For longer specks or scratches, instead of selecting a larger brush to cover the whole speck, select a brush of smaller size and drag it along the speck following its shape. This technique usually produces more accurate results. If you are not happy with Lightroom's choice of source material for covering the speck, click the source patch (B) and drag it into a more appropriate area in the photo.

Spot 05

To delete patches that did not work well, click on the patch in question to highlight it and hit the Delete button on your keyboard. You can come back to any patches you made during the editing.

Use the Visualise Spots feature

As you can see, dust removal is a pretty easy, albeit the tedious task. As you keep cloning the specks out, you will notice that some of them are less visible than others and you may find yourself struggling to see whether everything has been properly cleaned. For such cases, the Visualise Spots feature tends to be very helpful. It can be found in the bottom toolbar (if you don't see the toolbar, hit the T button on the keyboard to make it visible). Tick the Visualise Spots box and Lightroom will apply a special black-and-white filter that helps to see even the finest details of the image. You can also choose the contrast level by dragging the Sensitivity slider in the toolbar. By turning even the slightest dust specks into bright white dots, this visualisation makes them more obvious and thus speeds up the cleaning process. Do not worry, this is only a temporary filter that does not harm your image.

4. Final Check

Switch back from the Visualisation Spots mode to your image a few times to make sure you are on the right track. After you are done cloning all the "dust bunnies" out, click Close on the Spot Removal tab or simply hit the Q button on your keyboard and enjoy your properly clean photograph with none of those distracting blobs! Here is our resulting image:

Let us know how this works for you and share your results with us!

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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.