Stop Shooting Auto! is intended as a set of lessons for helping you to understand the basics of exposure, and to help you learn to use your dSLR more effectively. I’ve deliberately avoided any discussions of post-processing, because I believe that a good image is the result of solid technical fundamentals, and that post-processing should focus on minor corrections more than repairing bad shots.
On the other hand, sensor dust is the bane of the dSLR photographer’s existence. No matter how thoroughly you clean your sensor, you’ll wind up with at least a few dust spots on your image if you shoot at smaller apertures. I’ve cleaned lots of sensors in my time, and while it’s easy to reduce the amount of dust on your sensor I think it’s impossible to completely eliminate it. In case you’ve missed these entries, you might want to review Why are there spots on my picture? and How To Clean Your Sensor for information on what sensor dust looks like and simple instructions for cleaning most of the dust off of your sensor.
Maybe it’s because you forgot to clean your sensor, or maybe you didn’t get all of the dust off, but eventually you’ll wind up with an image that has visible and annoying dust spots. They’ll be most visible when you have smooth gradients, like the orange tulip image that accompanies this entry. As it turns out, dust spots are fairly easy to remove. Every major image editing program should have a spot removal or spot healing tool available to you. Here are some valuable links for how to use them. Also, you want to read all the way to the end of this article, because it contains a tip that may save you from feeling like a complete idiot someday.
For all of these tools, the process is approximately the same.
- Select the tool.
- Select a brush size that’s slightly bigger than the dust spots that you want to remove– you may have to do this with trial and error, but it’s pretty easy.
- Scroll through your image looking for dust spots. When you find one, click it and the software should remove the dust spot and heal it using information from nearby areas of your photo. For slightly larger spots, you can paint over them with the spot healing brush.
There are other ways that you can do this, and occasionally one will work better. You can use a clone stamp, but that can be a pain in the butt. In Photoshop, I’ve recently started using content-aware fill for spots where the healing brush doesn’t quite give me the effect that I want. It’s a little bit more work than the healing brush, but sometimes the results are better. I’ve included a before-and-after photo from the orange tulip photo so that you can see how nicely spots can be removed. This one was probably a tiny little piece of lint on the sensor, judging by the shape of it.
Incidentally, these techniques work well for things other than dust spots– if you shot a portrait and the model has a zit right in the middle of his or her forehead, spot healing is a miracle drug that would put the pharmaceutical industry to shame.
There’s one thing that none of these tutorials tell you, though, and it’s an important thing. In fact, the words I’m about to write may save you a whole lot of frustration and annoyance if you remember them. Are you ready? Here we go.
Before you start removing dust from your photos, clean the dust off of your monitor! It’s such a simple thing, and yet I always find myself clicking on a dust spot over and over like a crazed monkey, wondering why it won’t go away.