The Practicing Photographer
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The Practicing Photographer

with Ben Long

Video: Understanding how to clean sensor dust

- The great thing about a camera with interchangeable lenses is that, you can change the lenses, so you've got a lot of flexibility about lens choice for the focal lengths that you want, zooms versus prime, image quality, weight, size, all that stuff. One of the downsides to a camera with interchangeable lenses is that you can take the lens off, and when you do that, there is a chance that dust will get inside the sensor and leave spots all over your image. Spots that look like these. This is one particular kind of dust, there are many kinds, and we're gonna talk about that. But if you're seeing these kinds of spots on your images, there's a very good chance you've got a dust problem.
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  1. 10m 27s
    1. Understanding how to clean sensor dust NEW
      10m 27s
  2. 1m 35s
    1. Introducing The Practicing Photographer
      1m 35s
  3. 10h 19m
    1. Choosing a camera
      5m 27s
    2. Looking at light as a subject
      2m 22s
    3. Using a small reflector to add fill light
      5m 45s
    4. Editing photo metadata with PhotosInfo Pro for iPad
      6m 30s
    5. Let your lens reshape you
      7m 26s
    6. Compositing street photography images with Photoshop
      7m 44s
    7. Expand your filter options with step-up and step-down rings
      3m 56s
    8. Shooting without a memory card
      3m 6s
    9. Give yourself a year-long assignment
      5m 28s
    10. Working with reflections
      1m 26s
    11. Exploring mirrorless cameras
      7m 25s
    12. Batch processing photos with the Adobe Image Processor
      7m 30s
    13. Limiting yourself to a fixed-focal-length lens
      2m 13s
    14. Creating tiny worlds: Shooting technique
      4m 15s
    15. Creating tiny worlds: Post-processing techniques
      11m 41s
    16. Shooting macro shots on an iPhone
      3m 18s
    17. Using a tripod
      3m 33s
    18. Wildlife and staying present
      5m 58s
    19. Batch exposure adjustments on raw files
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    20. Why Shoot Polaroid
      11m 12s
    21. Seizing an opportunity
      4m 4s
    22. Four photographers do a light-as-subject exercise
      12m 24s
    23. Shooting macro bug photos with a reversed lens
      4m 54s
    24. Varnishing a photo for a painterly effect
      13m 36s
    25. Shooting wildlife
      7m 24s
    26. Discussion on how to shoot architecture
      12m 27s
    27. Using a lens hood
      4m 48s
    28. Working with themes
      2m 48s
    29. Setting up an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    30. Processing an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    31. Two perspectives on travel photography
      12m 28s
    32. Scanning Photos
      5m 37s
    33. Photo assignment: shooting an egg
      3m 13s
    34. Reviewing the egg shot images
      6m 47s
    35. Shooting in your own backyard
      4m 38s
    36. Jpeg iPad import process
      3m 17s
    37. Shooting a product shot in open shade
      9m 34s
    38. Reviewing the product shot images
      4m 5s
    39. Warming up
      3m 26s
    40. Taking a panning action shot
      10m 17s
    41. Scanning polaroid negatives and processing in Photoshop
      8m 17s
    42. Shooting a silhouette
      3m 9s
    43. Going with an ultra-light gear configuration
      5m 29s
    44. Working with masks and calculations in Photoshop
      12m 38s
    45. Working with flash for macro photography
      4m 56s
    46. Colorizing a black and white photo in Photoshop
      5m 10s
    47. Using duct tape and zip ties in the field
      4m 14s
    48. When the on camera flash is casting a shadow
      3m 4s
    49. Using Lightroom on the road
      6m 28s
    50. Listening to your camera to get good exposure
      2m 20s
    51. Shooting a successful self portrait with a phone
      7m 18s
    52. Switching to Lightroom from another application
      9m 48s
    53. Photographing animals in wildlife refuges
      6m 41s
    54. Shooting level
      2m 42s
    55. Photoshop and Automator
      8m 54s
    56. Shooting when the light is flat
      3m 23s
    57. Discussing the business of stock photography
      9m 48s
    58. Shooting tethered to a monitor
      3m 21s
    59. Making a 360 degree panorama on the iPhone
      4m 45s
    60. Understanding the three flash setup
      3m 34s
    61. Shooting a three flash portrait
      4m 6s
    62. Understanding the differences with third party lenses
      4m 43s
    63. Understanding why files look different on depending on device
      5m 25s
    64. Working with a geotagging app on the iPhone
      4m 43s
    65. Using high speed flash sync to dim ambient light
      7m 29s
    66. Using your iPad as a second monitor
      5m 46s
    67. Understanding exposure with a leaf shutter camera
      3m 28s
    68. Photography practice through mimicry
      8m 8s
    69. Canon wireless flash with built in radio control
      5m 59s
    70. Posing and shooting pairs of people
      5m 35s
    71. Shooting with a shape in mind
      3m 15s
    72. Shooting tethered to a laptop
      4m 40s
    73. Softboxes vs. umbrellas
      2m 55s
    74. Getting your project out into the world
      6m 25s
    75. Exploring how to think about shooting a new environment
      3m 56s
    76. Discussing the book "The Passionate Photographer" with Steve Simon
      6m 4s
    77. Highlighting iOS 8 updates on the iPhone5S
      10m 46s
    78. Exploring manual controls with iOS 8 and ProCamera
      5m 30s
    79. Understanding how to compose with an empty sky
      4m 54s
    80. Using an iPhone to make a print in the darkroom
      7m 16s
    81. How to use glycerin as a photography tool
      2m 16s
    82. Understanding micro focus adjustment and Lens Align
      11m 19s
    83. Working with hair in post
      3m 28s
    84. Taking a quick portrait and directing a subject
      5m 50s
    85. Getting inspired through the work of others
      11m 22s
    86. Taking a flattering portrait with flash
      4m 21s
    87. Creating an unaligned HDR image
      3m 3s
    88. Exploring how to use Bokeh
      5m 38s
    89. Shooting stills from a drone
      6m 57s
    90. Using a monitor to get a first person view of the aerial camera
      8m 0s
    91. Understanding lens profile correction
      5m 33s
    92. Working with models
      2m 40s
    93. Understanding the labels on SD cards
      10m 32s
    94. Setting up a macro time lapse of a flower
      6m 18s
    95. Taking a portrait that's tightly cropped or slightly obscured
      3m 24s
    96. Tips for shooting panoramas
      7m 16s
    97. Carrying a point-and-shoot camera
      4m 44s
    98. Adjusting the color of shadows in an image
      5m 35s
    99. Evaluating camera-strap options
      4m 42s
    100. The 100th Practicing Photographer
      3m 31s
    101. Using light-pollution maps for planning night shoots
      3m 26s
    102. Shooting a series of star shots for a stack
      8m 32s
    103. Stitching together stacks of stars
      8m 59s

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Watch the Online Video Course The Practicing Photographer
10h 31m Appropriate for all May 16, 2013 Updated Apr 23, 2015

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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.

Ben Long

Understanding how to clean sensor dust

- The great thing about a camera with interchangeable lenses is that, you can change the lenses, so you've got a lot of flexibility about lens choice for the focal lengths that you want, zooms versus prime, image quality, weight, size, all that stuff. One of the downsides to a camera with interchangeable lenses is that you can take the lens off, and when you do that, there is a chance that dust will get inside the sensor and leave spots all over your image. Spots that look like these. This is one particular kind of dust, there are many kinds, and we're gonna talk about that. But if you're seeing these kinds of spots on your images, there's a very good chance you've got a dust problem.

A lot of people think, "Oh, my lens needs to be cleaned." Most of the time, if there's something on the end of your lens, you're focusing past it and it's not visible. One of the ways you can easily tell if you've got a sensor dust problem is if the dust is showing up in the exact same spot of the frame very time. That means little bits of something have actually gotten inside the camera and stuck themselves to the front of your sensor, and at that point, you need to get your sensor cleaned. Or, you need to clean it yourself, and that's what we're gonna talk about here for a while. Before we get to cleaning the sensor, let's talk about what you can do about the dust that's on the images you've already taken.

Obviously, this stuff can be taken out in an image editor, Photoshop's Spot Healing Brush tool is a great, really quick way for getting rid of little spots like this. Both Lightroom and Camera Raw also have very good spot-removal tools, and what's cool about those tools is you can set them on one image, and then copy and paste them to other images, and batch-clean your files that way. Some cameras can take a dust-map. Canon cameras call this "Dust Delete Data", Nikon cameras, I think call it a "Dust Map".

What that is, is basically a picture of the dust that's on the sensor. If you use Canon and Nikon's image processing software, it can read this dust map data to automatically clone the dust of your images. That's another way to deal with dust that has gotten onto your final shots. What I want to talk about now, is actually addressing the problem at the source and getting the sensor clean. Static electricity is necessary for your image sensor to work. Every time you turn the camera on, before you take a shot, in between every shot, the camera charges the surface of the sensor with static, or with an electrical charge.

That's part of how a CMOS or CCD sensor works. The problem is, that status attracts dust, so if there's anything loose in the sensor chamber, dust from the outside world, dust from particulate matter flaking off of the internal components of the camera, or small blobs of grease and liquids that are used for lubricants inside the camera. All of that stuff could be floating around in there, and the static charge can mean that it's gonna just adhere right to the sensor. There are a couple of different kinds of dust. There's just the straight, particulate matter that's stuck there that you can blow away or brush off.

Or, there are liquids, and those either come, again, from inside the camera, it's own lubricants and things, or from the outside if you try to clean your sensor by blowing into the camera or something like that. Those can get in there, and sometimes they can combine. You could have a piece of liquid with some dust in it. These things all require different types of cleaning. I'm gonna start with the simplest type of cleaning, which is, well actually, I'm gonna start by addressing the dust on this specific camera and let you see what we've got here. You've seen those images. One way to tell if you've got dust and where it is is to do a very simple test with a white wall.

Set your camera to f/22, de-focus it, and take a shot of the wall. When you bring it into your computer, you should be able to very easily see the dust, as you can here. That's nice, except I gotta do some thinking to figure out what I'm cleaning. Which corner in the image equates to which corner of the sensor, so that can be a little bit confusing if there's a particular area that I feel really needs work. Another way to go is with a sensor-cleaning loupe. This is a product from Visible Dust,

This is their Quasar PLUS Sensor Loupe. It is a very beefy magnifying glass with built-in LEDs, and with it I can very easily examine my camera's sensor. First thing that happens when I take the lens off and I go to look, here, is I see a big mirror there. That's the mirror that makes the viewfinder work. I need to get that out of the way. Mirror lock-up will not do it because mirror lock-up leaves the shutter closed, so I can't actually see the sensor that's sitting behind it. Instead, I need to activate the actual sensor-cleaning mode, here.

When I do that, the mirror pops up, the shutter opens, and now the sensor is exposed. Now, I'm just gonna leave this open while I talk for a while, because this is Jacob's camera, not mine. The sensor itself is not directly exposed to the outside world. Sitting in front of it is a low-pass filter, that is a filter that's cutting out some infrared and doing some other things that are necessary for the sensor to be able to calculate color data and all that kind of stuff.

My sensor is actually protected from the outside world. Nevertheless, that filter is fragile, I don't want to just go poking things in there, I want to be careful. But also, the filter is coated with a special substance that conducts static away. It should be doing a pretty good job of keeping material off. Nevertheless, dust can get on there. With my sensor loupe on, I'm gonna look in here and oh my goodness, there's all sorts of things. There's dust, and missing car keys, and some other stuff. One of the things that's difficult when you are looking at the sensor like this, is that the surface of the sensor is kind of holographic.

It's got depth to it, and so sometimes it's hard for your eyes to focus on the surface. You will focus deep into the sensor and not see dust. As you pull the focus of your eyes back, you can see it. In this case, it's pretty easy, because there's just so much stuff on the sensor. Now, it's time to try to get rid of it. I'm gonna start that with a blower brush. I have two different blower brushes here. The idea with these is, I'm gonna blow some air in with the hope of dislodging that dust and having it fall out of the camera.

Before we get to these, I want you to notice what's not sitting on the table here, right now, and that is a can of compressed air. There's not even one in the building anywhere. If we could get them out of the county, we would, because you do not ever, ever, under any circumstances want to blow compressed air inside your camera. The reason for that is, the propellant in that can is a liquid, and if you're not careful, some of that liquid will fly out, and stick to your sensor, and then you have a wet-cleaning problem, you've got an actual stain of some kind.

You want to stick with a blower brush, I have two different options, here. I have a regular blower brush, and then I have a Visible Dust blower brush. They differ in a few different ways. This is just a straight bulb, here, and it puts out a blast of air, and it works very well. This one is quite a bit more sophisticated. The rubber that this is made out of generates a charge that dissipates the static on the surface of the sensor, so the very act of blowing this in here is possibly going to help the dust dislodge, because I'm neutralizing the charge on the sensor.

Also, this is not in-taking air from the front, it's taking air in from the back, so while it's in there and I'm blowing, I'm not blowing, stirring up a bunch of dust and then sucking it into here, only to have it blow back out again. This is the Visible Dust Zeeion anti-static blower. This is a much more sophisticated set of materials, basically. What I'm gonna do is, hold the camera upside down, because as I blow the dust around, I want it to fall out. I'm gonna just stick this up here, I'm gonna be careful not to go in so far that I'm bumping into that filter, and I'm gonna blow.

Now, notice I'm not squeezing very often. Couple of reasons, it takes a while for this to slurp in more air but also, if I do that, what I'm doing is causing the air to move around more. As the molecules bump into each other, it's possible that they will build up a static charge again. I'm just being careful to manage the static in this situation as much as possible. I'm kind of pointing at the corners. I'm paying attention to where I thought I saw dust, and I'm trying to target some dust in there, I mean, some air in there.

Alright, let's get the Loupe back on. Okay, some is gone, some is not. some of it's very reflective, also, which is interesting. There are some things you can do to prevent getting into this situation in the first place. One of them is being very careful where you change lenses. If you're outside on a windy day, be sure you're doing your lens swap in a sheltered situation, if that's possible. Another thing is, when you take the cap off the camera and off the end of the lens, don't stick it in your pocket, because that's full of dust, and whatnot.

That will get all dusty, you'll put it back on your lens, your lens will then transfer that into the sensor chamber. Alright, we got rid of some more, but I also feel like all I've done is move some of the dust that's in there around. We'll give this one more try. When I'm done with this, all I do is power the camera off, that cancels cleaning mode, the mirror will come back down and the shutter will close. You want to be sure you're doing this with a fully-charged battery, or with it plugged into the wall, because you don't want the mirror to come down while the nozzle of that thing is inside there.

If you do, the mechanism could get jammed up and could break. No, I've gotten rid of some, but there's still a lot in there. It just, every time I clean my sensor, it makes me, from that point on, very diligent about being more cautious about sensor dust. Most of the dust that comes into your sensor chamber is transferred there by the end of your lens, so again, be very, very careful with keeping your lenses clean, and keeping the caps clean, because that's all gonna be transferred to your sensor, and that's how things are going to get dustier.

From here would be additional steps. Wiping with a special brush. If that doesn't work, going to a wet solution. This is not the end of the road, there are ways of cleaning this sensor. In the meantime, I know how to get my images clean, and I'm gonna be very careful about making sure that no more dust gets inside my camera.

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