Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Seeing spots

If you're a photography geek like me and have been reading the notes I put under my rollover photos, you've likely seen this phrase way too many times:
1. Removed sensor dust spots with patch tool.

Yesterday, Estorbo's mom asked, "Do you just live with your dust spots and Photoshop them out all the time? I have two that are driving me around. the. bend."

Time out. Have you all met Estorbo, the beeg, blag, Dominican cad (big, black, Dominican cat)? His blog is too stinkin' funny for words. He writes in his heavily accented native tongue (think Ricky Ricardo). Half the fun of reading about his life dayeen and dayoud is trying to figure out what he is saying. That he looks exactly like Deets and has just as much...ok more...attitude, makes it all the better.

Anyway, back to Estorbo's mom's question. Let's talk about sensor dust spots. If you use a point-and-shoot camera, you may want to just come back tomorrow as you shouldn't have this problem. But if you use a DSLR and change lenses, you can probably relate.

See all the black spots in the photo below? I wish I could tell you they were flies or tiny birds, but they are specks of dust on my camera sensor.

Very ugly. As careful as I am when I change lenses, dust invariably finds its way into the camera and attaches itself to the sensor. The spots are most obvious when using a very small lens opening. The picture above was taken with the aperture set at f/22.

The picture below was taken with a wider aperture – f/11. The spots are less noticeable, but they are still there.

The picture below was taken with the aperture set at f/3.5. Look! No spots!

Most of the time, I prefer photos with a blurry background so that the subject of the image pops out - in geek speak, this is known as a shallow depth of field. Blurry backgrounds are best achieved with the aperture open as far as it will go – f/1.8 or f/3.5 depending on the lens I'm using. This is commonly referred to as "shooting with the lens wide open." When I shoot with the lens wide open, I do not see spots.

But sometimes, like when I'm shooting a landscape with the boys in the foreground and the mountains in the background, I'll want everything to be in focus. In that case, I'll change the aperture to something smaller, like f/11 or f/16. And then the spots come out. And then I have to use Photoshop to get rid of them. And then I'm reminded of how dusty the inside of my camera must be. And then I start chastising myself for not taking care of my camera and the snowball starts rolling down the hill from there. I would need therapy if I always shot at f/11 and above.

My options for dealing with the dust spots are thus:
1. Avoidance: Shoot with the lens wide open at all times.
2. Denial: Shoot with the aperture wherever I damn well please and Photoshop the hell out of the spots.
3. Confrontation: Pack up my camera and ship it off to an authorized Nikon repair facility and let them clean the dust off the sensor. Rumor has it that this is a 3- to 6-week process. Let's see...3 to 6 weeks without a camera...3 to 6 weeks without a blog post. NOT AN OPTION.
4. DIY: My go-to guy for all things camera, Ken Rockwell, advises so strongly against this that I will not even consider trying to clean the sensor myself.
5. Extravagence: Buy a new camera body, then ship the D80 off to Nikon to be cleaned.

Logic says that since so much of my life revolves around photography, I should have a backup camera and I should bite the bullet and go for option 5, but practicality says stick with option 1 and when all else fails,
1. Remove sensor dust spots with patch tool.


  1. Your pix always look great.

    I can tell I have successfully made the transition from graphic artist to writer: I just don't care enough to get that bent about my photos. I have a little P&S. I do have a full version of PS, but don't have any filter pkgs. Or maybe I'm just lazy. That could be it.

  2. Very interesting post ... this early in the morning I can say I've already learned something new today!

    Gotta go check out that blog.

  3. I have a dust spot that drives me crazy. I don't want to be without my camera either.

  4. You use Ken Rockwell? Wow, so do I. His blog is my go-to for this beginning photographer.

  5. As much as I would love to own and use a DSLR, I think it's beyond me. As soon as I read "f/..." my brain went to disconnect. Sad. I just can't process the bigger-is-smaller theory of camera operation, etc.
    I think your pictures are gorgeous all the time, so whatever you're doing, keep doing it. :-)

  6. I needed to see this today. I don't often shoot wide open because of my subject. I have 2 spots that drive me crazy as hell. I tried to clean the lenses without luck. Good to know it's my sensor and I need professional help. Thanks Linda.

  7. If only I had retained what I learned in that photography class in high school. Sigh.

  8. my nikon has a little vibration feature every time you turn it off it knocks the dust off the sensor. I quite like it though it still needs to be cleaned.

    What ever happened to Deets btw? :C

  9. I wish I could post this anonymously. Yesterday I noticed spots on the lens of my camera. Without even thinking, I licked my finger, wiped off the spots, and dried the lens on my shirt. I pushed away the guilt by thinking "this is how the cowgirls have always done it."

    They are probably warming up a spot for me in some amateur photographer's section of Hell, right now.

  10. It would drive me crazy to be PSing all those spots. My Canon does have a self cleaning sensor but I do sometimes get spots which are not on any lense.

    I am not a Rockwell fan so am unhampered by his opinion(s). Luminous Landscape is my "guy" - he has less ominous words on the subject. Actually, I don't know what Rockwell's are on this particular subject but your point made them sound ominous :)!


    I am not made of money or anything close but my other confession/caveat is that I don't tend to "baby" my camera - "baby" is probably not the right word, but I understand that I am willing to put my camera at some risk of weather, ground and/or my own handling on occasion ...both for my own convenience and for getting some shot I want. It is my personal thing - I hate worrying about anything too much and am willing to pay the consequence(s).

  11. My point and shoot gets spots too.

    I envy those that understand more complex cameras. I took photography in HS and once understood apertures and such. That was 25 years ago and I've forgotten.

  12. I bought a CanonPowerShot 10 months ago and just got the owner's manual. I'd completely missed the focus lever on the camera. Photos look better now. Next step..learn Photoshop.

  13. Estorbo, si! He's my cat-in-law! Yessir. (This is me bragging about being related to somebody famous :)

  14. I may just have to stick with my iphone. My eyes crossed twice while reading this one.

  15. Hey Linda

    Thanks so much for answering my question! It makes me feel so much better to know that you, too, have, er, spots! And I was curious about the sending-away-to-clean...

    Yes 'm, that's why I love P/shop. And the guilt is awful - should be more careful with camera, blablabla.

    That cat - to whom you have given valuable, free publicity (or is he paying you for that? - all he can send you is cicadas, I think, so don't be fooled)is getting a bit big for his boots, btw.

    Today he has posted opera on his blog. Who does he think he is? Apparently someone called him Fat, which made him think, perhaps, about sopranos?

    I don't know. I don't read his blog very often.

  16. Yeah...logic and common sense has prevailed....I think! Besides, if everything was perfect, how in the hell would WE learn anything here?

  17. That cat needs a translator. I had problems with Ricky Ricardo and his accent. LOL He is funny!!

    I miss Deets!!!

  18. Lol @ Marie.

    I love the fact you took (and posted) pictures just to show us your dust spots.

    And that was a very concise and clear explanation of f-stops. :)

  19. I'm going to stay out of this fancy camera conversation!

    I just noticed that you changed your Facebook photo. The crop looks just as good or even better than with Smooch in the picture! (Sorry Smooch. I will send you some blueberry pie...)

  20. June: If you can afford it, don't hesitate to yourself a DSLR!. My photography really took off when I got my Canon 350D because the results - even in Auto mode - inspire me to try new things.

    I have always cleaned my own sensors because I know too many people who've sent their camera's away to the official cleaners, waited 6-8 weeks and been presented with a camera that has more dust on the sensor than it did before! I can only speak for the the 350D but I have to say it really is only a 20 minute job and nothing to be scared of. Just make sure your battery is fully charged before you start and read all the steps thoroughly so you're confident when you begin. :)

  21. I don't know how close you are to a quality camera store, but my local hole-in-the-wall camera shop (a real camera store, not a Ritz Camera chain-type place) offers same-day sensor cleaning for $75. Not cheap, but I couldn't handle being w/o my camera either... :twitch: They've been in business for over 50 years, so I trust 'em. They did a good job, too.

    Now dust that creeps inside my lens... THAT will drive me around the bend.

    Oh, and you have another option--rent a camera body to replace yours. I highly swear by lensrentals.com--LOVE them, have used them many times for rentals as well as purchased three used lenses from them. Great customer service!!