Tips and Tricks for Lightroom’s Spot Removal Tool – by JJ Michael

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Anyone using Adobe Lightroom most likely knows about the spot removal tool, but there are a few features and some tricks for using this powerful tool that many photographers don’t know about.  The spot removal tool can be found just above the Basic palette in the Develop module.  You can also toggle the tool on and off by pressing Q.

spot removal tool
Lightroom’s spot removal tool, found in the Develop module.


The Basics

Before I get into some of the newer and possibly unknown features let me quickly go over the basics.  To use the tool you simply turn it on by clicking on the icon below the histogram or by pressing Q, and then click on a dust spot in your image.  Lightroom will automatically choose a target area that it will use to remove the dust spot. If you don’t like the target area that was chosen you can drag it around your image to a better position.

Within the tool there are two modes you can choose from, clone and heal.  The clone mode will copy the target area pixel for pixel onto the dust spot. The heal mode will use the texture of the target area combined with the tone and color of the area around the dust spot to remove the spot.  There are times when the clone mode is necessary, but I find that the heal mode typically works best for removing dust spots and so I will almost always work in this mode.

You can adjust the size, feather and opacity of the selection point using the sliders as seen above.  There are also a few handy shortcuts:

  • To change the size, use the left and right bracket keys, [ or ].  You can also scroll up and down using a trackpad or mouse wheel.
  • To change the feather, or softness of the selection point, hold SHIFT while pressing the bracket keys or while scrolling up and down using the trackpad or mouse wheel.
  • I don’t know of any shortcut for changing the opacity, but if anyone else out there knows a shortcut please mention it in the comments.


Deleting Spot Removal Points

If you want to delete any spot removal points you’ve added to your image you can simply hold ALT (Windows) or OPTION (Mac) so that the cursor will change to a scissors icon and then you simply delete any spot removal points by clicking on them.  Alternatively you can hold ALT or OPTION and then click and drag over an area to delete all spot removal points in that area.


An Easier Way to Find Dust Spots

Sometimes dust spots are very easy to see, but in some images they may not be that easy to find.  Lightroom 5 has added a very useful tool to help identify these hard to see spots.  If you look at the image below there are some dust spots that can be seen in the clouds but not all of them are that easy to find at first glance. I’ve only circled a few of them.

dust spots
Some of the dust spots found in this image.


The improved spot removal tool has a new feature called ‘visualize spots’. To find this you need to activate your toolbar by pressing T, then check the box next to ‘visualize spots’, as seen below.  The image will then become inverted with all of the edges highlighted making it very easy to see your dust spots.  Another way to toggle the visualize spots mode on and off is by pressing the A key while the spot removal tool is activated.

visualize spots
With the ‘Visualize Spots’ feature turned on, it is much easier to identify the dust spots in the image. Toggle this feature on and off by pressing A.


The visualize spots feature also has a slider which will lighten or darken the image. This is handy because sometimes the spots don’t always show up, as seen in the two screenshots below.

visualize spots default
With the default setting, even the visualize spots feature doesn’t identify any dust spots in the sky.


visualize spots slider
With the visualize spots slider moved all the way to the right, the image becomes brighter and the dust spots in the sky are now visible.


One Last Check

Once I’ve identified and corrected all of the dust spots in the image I still like to zoom in and inspect the image one last time to make sure I haven’t missed any spots.  The best way to do this is systematically, and once again Lightroom has provided an easy way to do this.  I usually zoom in to 200%, but 100% should also work fine.  After zooming in I will move to the top left of my image, as seen below.  From there you can press the PgDn key in Windows or hold FN and press the DOWN ARROW on a Mac. This will move your view area down the image one screen at a time.  Once you get to the bottom of your image if you hit PgDn or FN + DOWN ARROW once more, the view area will move to the right and to the top of your image.  You can continue moving through your image this way so that you see every part of your image from the top left corner to the bottom right corner.

By zooming in and pressing PgDn or FN + DOWN ARROW, you can systematically move through the image to identify any remaining dust spots.
By zooming in and pressing PgDn (Windows) or FN + DOWN ARROW (Mac), you can systematically move through the image to identify any remaining dust spots.



The Good Kind of Camera Shake

I’ve got one more trick for finding all of those hard to see dust spots. Sometimes, depending on the tonality or texture of the image, dust spots can be very subtle and difficult to see.  A trick I learned a while back is to hold the spacebar to activate the ‘hand’ tool while you’re zoomed in, and then click and quickly shake your mouse from side to side.  This will effectively shake your image from side to side and any dust spots become very apparent.


Using the Spot Removal Tool to Remove Lines

Finally, there’s another great way to use the spot removal tool to clean up an image.  Even if all the dust spots in an image have been cleaned up, there may be some objects in your image that you want to remove.  In the image below, there are a few windows with some bright lights showing through that I find a bit distracting.

removing lines - before
There are some distracting lights in a couple windows that I want to remove.


In order to remove these I zoomed in and activated the spot removal tool.  To remove a straight line you first click on one end of the line with the spot removal tool, and then while holding SHIFT click on the other end of the line.  As you can see this will create an elongated selection which will remove the object.  When removing lines this way, it is important that the target area is positioned in just the right place.

removing lines
First, with the spot removal tool activated select one end of the line that you want to remove.


removing lines
Second, hold SHIFT and select the other end of the line to create an elongated spot removal selection.


As you can see below, the bright lights have been easily removed from the image using the spot removal tool. Removing the bright area in the windows in the lower left would be too difficult using the spot removal tool in Lightroom and will need some extra work in Photoshop.

removing lines - after
Using the spot removal tool the bright lights in the windows have been removed.


Hopefully these tips help you clean up your images, and if there are any more tips or tricks out there for using the spot removal tool, please mention them in the comments.