Note to self, clean your sensor or stop shooting photos with so much negative space…

It happens to everyone, eventually you will get dust in your images. Most of the time you won’t notice its there, until you get some neutral featureless tones behind it. FYI I am talking about sensor dust. Its surprising what you can have on your lens without ever seeing it. Check out this post on experimenting with a dirty/broken lens. Whether you see the dust on your chip or not depends on aperture as well as the backdrop in which you are shooting. The easiest way to check to see if you have sensor dust go and photograph either a pure blue sky, a super overcast featureless sky, or a grey card. From here either zoom in on the lcd monitor or better yet download it to your computer and zoom in with your favorite image editing software. Here is a discussing example from a recent shoot I did. (Look at the image at the bottom of the post, editing in post you can see all the dust circled as I manually cleaned it all up..)

So what can you do to get rid of this dust?? Option 1) spend a massive amount of time editing it out in post 2) take your camera to a camera store to clean your chip or 3) learn how to clean it yourself. I know exactly what you are thinking.

1) ‘I would rather gouge my eyes out than spend that much time tweaking each image. Batch would be handy, but the source of the dust repair needs to change based on what is behind the dust, which changes per shot…

2) ‘This might be pricey.’ Most camera shops will vary their cleaning rate depending on what type of dust / grime you have on your sensor. For example, if they can blow the dust off with a blower they might charge $10, but if there are chunks stuck they will have to use specialized solution and swab it out. This might run you upwards of $50 per clean. Believe me, stuck gunk happens more than you would think. Especially when the camera gets older. Your shutter is a machine, and over time bits of metal and grease will start to fly around, and eventually make it on your sensor. Its not all about not swapping lenses when you are on the beach, or always holding your camera body with the opening facing down. (I would still do this though!)

3) ‘I’m scared, what if I break something!?’ Yes, I feel the same way every time I clean my sensor. I used option number 2 about 5 times before I was sick of paying for it and had the guts to clean the sensor myself. I simply asked the guy cleaning my chip if I could watch him do it. I would feel comfortable saying all of the supplies will cost you about the same as 2 cleanings, so you will be saving quite a bit of money doing it yourself!

Here are a few tips to think about before you attempt to clean your sensor.

  • Be very careful! – Duhh
  • Remember what you are dealing with, if you ruin your sensor you will have transformed your camera into a pretty expensive paper weight.
  • Buy the right supplies for the job! Windex is probably not a good idea, I take that back, windex is an awful idea!! Sensor cleaning supplies are built for your cameras electronics, and as long as they are used properly will not damage your camera in any way. Let me repeat part of that “As long as they are used properly” one more time, “AS LONG AS THEY ARE USED PROPERLY” Please read the directions, twice. Three times if you didn’t use gloves with developer and fix like I did..
  • Watch your local camera store clean your camera a few times. Its worth the money!
  • Never blow into your camera! Whether you think you will or won’t, you will spit onto your sensor a little bit. And trust me, cleaning spit off your sensor is no fun.. Invest in a blower and use it instead
  • Clean your sensor in a clean environment. What use is it opening up your mirror only to have a ton of dandruff or dust from a dirty office fall into your exposed sensor..
  • Clean your sensor in a well lit environment. If you have to swab it, you don’t want to be poking around there in the dark. The sensor is tougher than you might think, but you still don’t want to ram a cleaning swab down in there.
  • Be delicate & take your time. Rushing will only lead to mistakes. When your camera is in cleaning mode, your sensor is not active so you don’t need to worry about exposing it to the elements. Unless you are using a loupe and working in direct sunlight. Then you could bake it. So no direct sunlight.
  • Make sure your mirror doesn’t close on your cleaning supplies. I own a Nikon D3, I can only clean the sensor on a full battery, so there is no chance of the camera dying on me and the mirror shutting on me. When the mirror is up in cleaning mode, the only way to turn the camera off. So keep away from the on/off switch. Please read your camera’s directions and see what the manual says about cleaning the sensor.
  • Ask questions! Head to the local camera store and see what they recommend on techniques and supplies. Most of them are there to help you and would love to sell you your own supplies. Now there may be a few who will try to talk you into having them do it..

Please feel free to add any tips in the comments if you have anything to add to cleaning a camera sensor yourself!

(Look at all the dust I found & was forced to fix in Bridge.. Not cool.)


Just saw this image over on Blaire Bunting’s Post on How to Light a Lamborghini. Fantastic BTS video, but check out the image before they take it to post..

Dust on the sensor!! See, it happens to the best of us.

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