Easy-to-follow video tutorials help you learn software, creative, and business skills.Become a member
Landscape photography, of course, comes with its hazards, falling in lakes and that kind of thing. But one of the biggest troubles you're going to run into, out in the field with your camera, is sensor dust. It may not happen all the time, but with an SLR, if you're out in the wilds, and you're changing lenses a lot, there's a very good chance that dust is going to get in the camera. When that happens, you're going to see spots and smudges and things on your images, and we talk about how to get that off, but I want to talk now about how to clean the camera once it happens. A lot of people are afraid of sensor cleaning, and with good reason; you can damage the camera if you clean your sensor incorrectly.
What I have got here is a collection of gear designed specifically for sensor cleaning, and we are going to look at how this works, and try to give you an idea of what cleaning your sensor entails, so you can decide if you want to invest in this kind of gear, and do it yourself, or send the camera in to have it cleaned when you run into a sensor dust problem. This is a Canon 40D, and like a lot of cameras these days, it's got a self-cleaning sensor mechanism, and what it is is right in front of the sensor there is a small glass plate that protects the sensor. That can vibrate very quickly, and by default, when you turn the camera on, it vibrates very quickly.
The idea being it will shake off any dust, and there is a little pad of something sticky down at the bottom that will trap the dust. Some cameras do it every time you turn it on, and every time you turn it off. There's usually a preference, so that if you don't want it to clean when you turn the camera on - because it does take a moment - you can deactivate that, so it only cleans when you turn it off. It helps you ensure that the camera will be ready to shoot as quickly as possible. Those mechanisms work very well. There's a definite difference, I've experienced, between cameras that have it and don't. I don't feel like I have the sensor dust problems that I used to, now that I'm using a Canon camera that's a self-cleaning.
But no matter how careful you are with keeping your lenses clean, with having a self-cleaning sensor, there will be times that you need to get dust off your sensor. Here is how it works. First thing, obviously, you got to take the lens off the camera, which merely means you're more prone to dust. But it is probably not a problem if you're in a clean spot. Ideally, you would want lens cap to put over your lens. I am going to just set it like this for right now, to keep the lens clean. Now inside here is the mirror chamber. The mirror, of course, flips up every time I press the shutter button. It flips up, behind there is the shutter, the shutter opens and behind there is the sensor.
So to be able to get to the sensor to clean it, I need to get the mirror out of the way, and I need to get the shutter open. Your camera should have a cleaning mode that you can activate. For this to work, you need to either have the camera plugged into a power outlet, running off the wall, or you need to be sure that you have a fully charged battery. The reason being, when the mirror is up, and the shutter is open, and you're digging around in there with tools, you don't want the battery to die, because if it does, the shutter will close, and the mirror will come down. If you got it, some kind of implement in there, it could jam up the whole mechanism, and you could have real problem with a torn shutter, or a screwed up mirror, or something like that.
So somewhere in your camera's menu should be an option for cleaning mode, which will flip up the mirror and open the shutter. I am going to activate that now, and on this particular camera, when I activate sensor cleaning, it gives me an option for clean now, which means that will trigger the camera's cleaning mechanism, or I have to clean manually which means that I press the button and now my mirror is up, my shutter is open, and I can see the sensor.
So I've already spotted some spots on an image. That's why I know that I need to clean my sensor. Next thing is to figure out where exactly the dust is - a couple of ways of doing that. One is to take an image of an empty sky or an evenly-lit, white wall, put your camera in aperture priority, set the aperture as wide as you can. That means the largest number. Defocus your shot and take a picture. Then take that picture into Photoshop. Increase the contrast, and you'll be able to see where the dust is.
An easier way is to get an actual sensor magnifying glass. This is called a sensor loop. This is made by the VisibleDust Company. All of the sensor cleaning gear that I'm using here it is made by VisibleDust, and I'm very, very pleased with their equipment. It has worked very well for me and all of my cameras. This is the company that for years has been making products designed specifically for cleaning optical equipments: microscopes and other fine pieces of optical gear. So they really do know what they're doing. What this is is a magnifying glass with lights inside it.
So when I put that over here, I can look inside and see exactly where the dust is on the sensor, and I can see here that I have got about 5 or 6 spots of really bad dust. Now that I have a better idea of where they are, I know where to look. And now there are series of steps that I go through to try to get the sensor clean. I will set this aside for the moment, and I am going to go to the first step, which is to simply blow air into the sensor chamber. Never ever, ever put a can of compressed air to your camera. Compressed air has a liquid propellant in it that can get on your sensor, and then you're going to be in really big trouble.
What I got here is just a blower bulb, the kind of thing you can buy in a photo store. Holding the camera upside down because I want gravity working in my favor here, and I'm not sticking this way up in there, because I don't want to bump in anything, and I am just giving it some good blasts of air here, and I am hoping that I am dislodging whatever is in there. Now there are different kinds of dust. There is just dried particulate matter that can stick to the sensor. There are drops of moisture that can stick to the sensor, and then there is the perfect storm of sensor dust, which is a piece of dry particulate matter sticking to a spot of moisture on your sensor.
There are different ways of getting all of those off. Obviously, just blowing air is not going to help with moisture or something that stuck to a moist spot on your sensor. I'm not sure what kind of dust I was facing there, and that got most of it, except for one or two pieces. Now sometimes when you're looking in here, you will also see other bits of dust around the camera. The entire sensor chamber can be a little bit dirty at times, and that may or may not be a problem. So I notice there was some dust up above, and I am going to try and blast that out.
I usually get the blower brush a couple of tries because this is the least invasive and the most benign form of sensor cleaning. So if I can do the job with the blower brush, I am in good shape, and now there is one piece that's really sticking in there. All right, so this means we go to kind of Defcon 2 of sensor cleaning, which is we are now going to have to brush the surface of the sensor with a brush. Now, you may think, oh I have got some really nice cotton balls. I am going to use those. No, cotton may feel soft to your skin, but bear in mind; we are talking about an image sensor that's about that big that has, in this case, 10-12 million pixels on it.
That means an individual pixel is very, very, very tiny. A single strand of cotton is much, much largerm and cotton can be abrasive on the surface that is that finally honed. You want to use brushes and tools specifically designed for sensor cleaning, and that's what these VisibleDust brushes are. You don't want to go 'I will just grab this makeup brush that I found that's really soft.' I want to use a special tool. What I've got here is a VisibleDust cleaning brush.
This is a slightly older model; they make newer ones. You can check on their web site; I think now they are called the Arctic Butterfly or something, and there are a few things that are significant about this brush. First of all, the brush itself is guaranteed, or at least finely-tuned, to not be abrasive. It stays very dry. I don't ever want to touch the brush. I don't want any oils from my fingers getting on it. I don't want it to be dusty itself, and the other thing about this brush is its got this fancy handle here with all these batteries in it. Now, here is the exciting part; when I push the little button, the brush spins around.
This does a couple of things. It throws off any dust that's on the brush, but more importantly than that, the spinning gives the brush a static charge. So there is a very good chance that the static charge alone is going to suck some stuff right off the sensor. So now, and this is the part that starts to feel little creepy if you've never done it before, I am going to stick this brush inside the camera. I don't twirl the brush while it's in there. All I am doing is brushing across the sensor, and I know that the spot that I was going for is at the bottom of the sensor.
So I am really focusing on that and sometimes, again, I am just hoping that the static charge will absorb it a little bit. Sometimes you end up just pushing the dust around. So I am going to take a quick look here in the loop. If you don't have one of these, what this means is after each step, you're going to put the lens back on the camera, take another test image and take a look, and that looks like I got it. I don't see it there anymore, which is good because I really didn't want to go on to the next level. So we are not going to demonstrate this for you, and it would probably just be far too suspenseful and unnerving for you to watch anyway.
The next level involves liquid and liquid in your camera just is always a scary combination. VisibleDust makes these VisibleDust sensor swabs. These are specially - just like at the end of the brush - they are a swab material that is designed to be safer for sensor and a special very benign cleaning fluid that you put on the swab, and you begin wiping it across the sensor, and that just feels awful because you're in there with a wet, high-tech Q-tip rubbing goo on your sensor, just, it's terrifying. You rub the stuff on, and then you get another one of these swabs and you dry it off.
And then you look and you hope that not only is the dust gone; you hope that you haven't left streaks of cleaning material of the cleaning fluid. If you have, you have to start over and do it again. So I believe that we've got this sensor cleaned now and as you can see, it was pretty painless. That said, I will say there is a risk to doing this. I have cleaned my sensor a lot on many different cameras; I had never ever had a problem. In each case, I have used gear, VisibleDust gear, designed specifically for sensor cleaning. Also, they have demo movies of how to use this stuff on their web site. They have PDFs.
I've poured over every word of it to be sure I knew what I was doing before I ever started. Also, just some common sense, you do it in a clean area and that kind of thing. And if you're having an allergy attack in the middle, you stop, that kind of thing. That said, I've never had a problem. If you are clumsy or not comfortable handling gear, or things like that, or you just really don't want to take the risk, you can send your camera back to the manufacturer, and they will clean it for you. Obviously, the problem with this is you're out of the camera for awhile, and I don't know what they charge for that kind of thing.
VisibleDust, there are some other companies out there. I am not as familiar with them, but I have been very impressed with this equipment. At the very least, get yourself a good blower bulb because, as I mentioned in another video, the best way to prevent sensor dust is prevention. So cleaning the end of your lens with your blower brush is a very good way to ensure that you're not going to have a dust problem. If it's too late, and you've already got dust on your images, we are going to see how to deal with that in other videos.
Get unlimited access to all courses for just $25/month.Become a member
164 Video lessons · 54623 Viewers
64 Video lessons · 86471 Viewers
86 Video lessons · 55840 Viewers
148 Video lessons · 93187 Viewers
Access exercise files from a button right under the course name.
Search within course videos and transcripts, and jump right to the results.
Remove icons showing you already watched videos if you want to start over.
Make the video wide, narrow, full-screen, or pop the player out of the page into its own window.
Click on text in the transcript to jump to that spot in the video. As the video plays, the relevant spot in the transcript will be highlighted.
Your file was successfully uploaded.