Lightroom Spot Removal Tool

Dust and spots can appear on camera sensors at any time causing photographers a real headache. Lightroom provides a some well thought out tools to help tackle the problems caused by a dirty sensor. This tutorial explains how to make the most of the Lightroom Spot Removal tools.

Let’s start by examining a simple landscape image damaged by the presence of sensor spots and dirt.

Starting image showing dust spots and oil smears

Starting image showing dust spots and oil smears

The image was captured using a Sony A7r camera and as you can see features some severe dust spots in the sky. But in addition there is also a rather ugly smear to the right of the spots that’s not quite as well defined. Had the image not featured a clear blue sky, the problem might not have been so easily identifiable. The smear is actually oil from an earlier camera that found its way onto my sensor cleaning brush. I hadn’t noticed these problems until after the trip when I downloaded the images.

The Lightroom Spot Removal Tool

The Spot Removal Tool has gone through something of a redevelopment over the last few iterations of Lightroom and now offers much better functionality than it did in version 4 or earlier. For this tutorial I am using Lightroom Creative Cloud 2015 so the functionality in your version may differ.

The Spot Removal tool is found in the Develop module where you perform your image editing. It’s located in the row of tool icons just below histogram as can be seen in the following screenshot.

Location of the Lightroom Spot Removal tool

Location of the Lightroom Spot Removal tool

To select the Spot Removal tool either click the icon or press Q on your keyboard. This will expand the tool to reveal a panel where you can control the brush settings used to make the spot repair. You can see an example below.

Brush settings for the Spot Removal tool

Brush settings for the Spot Removal tool

We will return to the brush settings in this panel shortly, but for now you should notice there are two options in the top right; Clone and Heal. Both tools are very similar in that they will copy part of the image from a source location and use this to make a repair covering the target. The difference between the two brushes is that Heal will attempt to blend the repair to the surrounding area where Clone makes an exact copy.

Finding Dust Spots

One frustrating problem with dust and spots in photographs is that you often don’t find the problem until after you have finished making your adjustments. The workflow I now recommend is to check and spot an image both before and after editing. Contrast adjustments especially can often reveal spots that were initially missed.

A nice feature introduced in Lightroom 5 (I think it was that version) is the “Visualize Spots” option. This is located to the bottom left of the interface, just below the image and is indicated in the screenshot below.

Visualize Spots feature

Visualize Spots feature

When checked, it highlights contrast changes in your image which appear in black and white as seen in the example below.

Contrast edges highlighted by the Visualize Spots feature

Contrast edges highlighted by the Visualize Spots feature

Here the mountain shows up as a mass of white but you can also see the dust spots highlighted in the sky as circles. If you were to push the slider control to the left, the detection becomes less sensitive and to the right the sensitivity is increased as in the following example.

Increasing the sensitivity of the Visualize Spots feature

Increasing the sensitivity of the Visualize Spots feature

Notice now that the faint oil smears are also now being highlighted and the true extent of the problem can be seen.

Fixing the Spots

To fix the problem, zoom in to the affected area identified and then turn off the Visualize Spot detection. This helps better assess the damage and decide how to fix it. Sometimes the fix is better made with the Clone tool, especially if you are trying to remove an object. But for sensor dust spots such as these I would tend to use the Heal option.

First place the brush over the area to be repaired in order to check the size of the brush.

Checking and adjusting the Spot Removal brush size

Checking and adjusting the Spot Removal brush size

If you find the brush is the wrong size, you should change it so that the inner circle is just a little larger than the area you are trying to cover. Rather than keep moving the mouse to the interface in order to use the Size slider, it’s much better to use the keyboard shortcuts. Use the [ key to reduce the size of the brush and the ] key to increase it.

You should also notice that the brush has both and inner and outer circle. The outer circle represents the total extent of the area being repaired. The area between the two circles is controlled by the Feather slider. Sometimes you will need a large feather to hide the adjustment.

The final adjustment brush control is the Opacity slider. This controls the opacity level of the repair being made. The default is 100 so that the area under the repair is completely hidden. When the slider is moved to the left to reduce the Opacity the area under any repairs begins to show through and become visible.

The above adjustments can only be made before the repair is attempted to you need to adjust them first.

Having adjusted your brush, click on the area to be repaired. You will then see two circles and an arrow appear as shown below.

Spot Removal repair

Spot Removal repair

The circle with the arrow coming out of it is the area selected for copying. The other circle is the area being covered by the repair. The area of the image to be used for the repair is selected automatically by Lightroom based on what it calculates will produce and good fix. Sometimes this isn’t always the case.

If you find the repair isn’t very good, don’t worry. You can easily click on the source circle and drag it to a new location for the repair to be made. As you do this you will see the area being repaired change, reflecting the new source and helping you make a good selection.

Fixing the Oil Smear

In earlier versions of Lightroom it was only possible to repair a single point with the Spot Removal tool. If you wanted repair a larger area, you needed to make multiple clicks with the brush. With later versions of Lightroom the ability to click and drag was introduced allowing us to cover larger, irregular areas. This is useful for dealing with the large oil smear in the sky.

This is how the large repair in the image below was produced.

Selecting a larger area with the Spot Removal tool

Selecting a larger area with the Spot Removal tool

Whilst this repair is largely good, the repair has picked up one of the other dust spots. There are a couple of choices to correct this. We could remove all the dust spots before attempting the oil fix. Alternatively, we could reposition the sample area.

There is however a third way. We could accept the large fix which corrects the dust spot and then use the Heal brush again to remove the new dust spot. If you try this yourself, you might notice a problem. The moment your brush passes over the area of the repair, the cursor changes to a hand and forces you to reposition the repair. It’s not possible to add a further fix over an area that’s been repaired.

This can become annoying if you have a lot of fixes in a relatively small area. The solution is to press the H key on your keyboard to hide the repair area overlay before attempting to remove the spot. You are then able to click on the new dust spot to remove it.


The Lightroom Spot Removal tool has undergone a significant amount of redevelopment over recent years. It’s now much more flexible and easy to use than the earlier tools you might have learned to hate (I know that I did). As with Photoshop, to achieve the best results you will need to practice however once mastered they can save you a significant amount of time.

More Lightroom Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Lightroom Tutorials page.

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