Removing Spots and Other Nasty Junk in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3
If you’ve got spots, dust, specks, and other nasty junk on your lens or on your camera’s sensor, it’s going to show up on your photos, in the same exact place on every single photo. Luckily, a lot of simple dust and spot removal chores can be done right within Lightroom (if they’re tricky, then you’ll have to head over to Photoshop). However, the advantage of doing it here is once you remove the spots from one photo, you can automatically fix all the other photos from that shoot based on the one you fixed.
If you find a photo that has visible dust, spots, or any other artifacts (stuff we call “nasty junk”), then head to the Develop module, because there’s a tool there that can help. In the photo shown here, there are a number of different spots visible in the sky, and they’re caused by dust on my digital camera’s sensor (I’m really bad about keeping my sensor clean). Of course, as I pointed out above, if they’re on this photo, then those spots are in the same place on every photo from this shoot. I’ve circled some of the most obvious spots in this photo in red, just so you can see what we have to deal with.
The first step in getting rid of these artifacts is to zoom in tight, so you can really see what you’re working on (and so you don’t create a new problem—really obvious retouching). To zoom in, just double-click on the image, or you could click the 1:1 button at the top of the Navigator panel, or press Command-+ (PC: Ctrl-+) a couple of times until you’re zoomed in nice and tight (as seen here, where I zoomed in to a 1:1 [100%] view). It doesn’t matter how you get zoomed in—just get there. Now you can really see those spots. Yeech!
Click on the Spot Removal tool in the toolbox right below the histogram at the top of the right side Panels area, and the options for this tool will pop down below it. There are two choices for how this tool fixes your spots—Clone or Heal—but you get the best results by leaving it set on Heal. The only reason ever to switch it to Clone is if the spot you’re trying to remove is either on, or very near, the edge of something (like the edge of a building, or a car, etc.), or it’s near the outside edge of the image itself. The reason is the Heal function doesn’t like edges and it will often smudge, rather than hide, the spot, so if that happens, I switch to Clone and try again. Other than that, I’m a healer (so to speak).
Now, take the Spot Removal tool and move it directly over the spot you want to remove. Use the Size slider to make the round brush cursor just a little larger than the spot itself. You can also use the Left and Right Bracket keys, found to the immediate right of the letter P on your keyboard, to change the size. Each time you press the Right Bracket (]) key, it makes the circle larger; the Left Bracket ([) key makes it smaller. Now don’t paint with this tool, just click it once and it will quickly search for a clean nearby area, then it samples that area to make your fix (and it’s pretty darn clever about choosing the right area—it’s not perfect, but it does a surprisingly good job).
When you click with this tool, you’ll see two circles appear: (1) a thinner one that shows the area being fixed, and (2) a thicker one that shows the clean area that the tool is sampling from to make the repair. If your background is pretty simple, like the one shown here, this one-click-and-you’re-done method works pretty well, because Lightroom can find lots of open areas nearby. But, if you don’t like the place it sampled from (you see an obvious change in tone or texture), you can click-and-drag that thicker sampling circle to a new spot, and as you drag, you’ll see the area inside the first circle update live, so you can find a clean spot that will work pretty quickly. Also, if you think Lightroom will have a hard time finding a clean area nearby, you can lead it there—instead of just clicking once, click over the spot, hold, and drag your cursor to the area you’d like to have it sample from. When you first start dragging, a line connects both circles, and as you move further away, an arrow appears that points back to the area you’re repairing.
To remove more spots, either click directly over them, or if they’re in trickier locations, move the Spot Removal tool over the spot, click, hold, and drag out your sampler, and when you release the mouse button, the fix is in! I used that trick from the previous tutorial to make sure I didn’t miss any spots in my image. You can see all the little repair circles here (I’ve really got to get that sensor cleaned!).
Back in the first step, I mentioned that the dust on my camera’s sensor created these annoying spots in the exact same position in every shot from that shoot. If that’s the case (and with spots like this, it often is), then once you’ve removed all the spots, click the Copy button at the bottom of the left side Panels area. This brings up the Copy Settings dialog, shown here. First, click the Check None button, so everything it would copy from your photo is unchecked. Then, turn on just the checkbox for Spot Removal (as shown here) and click the Copy button.
Now, go to the Filmstrip (or the Library module’s Grid view) and select all the horizontal photos (photos in the same orientation) from that shoot, then click the Paste button at the bottom of the left side Panels area, and it applies that same spot removal you did to the first photo, to all these selected photos—all at once (as shown here). To see these fixes applied, click on the Spot Removal tool again. I also recommend you take a quick look at the fixed photos, because depending on the subject of your other shots, the fixes could look more obvious than on the photo you just fixed. If you see a photo with a spot repair problem, just click on that particular circle, hit the Delete (PC: Backspace) key on your keyboard to remove it, then use the Spot Removal tool to redo that one spot repair manually.