Q&A: I’ve got dust spots on my images… help!


I`ve got a terrible problem with dust spots.  I use a hand blower to clean my camera and lenses but still get spots, especially when taking long exposures.  Any idea what else I can do.  Here`s a pic so you can see the extent of my problem…the photo was about after 30 shots..the problem gets worse the more I shoot.  


Gotta love finding out about dust spots! You get home, upload images, see them on your monitor and BAM… spots. When it’s just one, you deal. When they start to multiply, you get annoyed. Very annoyed.

Like this image… where I made my way to a lookout over Montreal, shot and then had some pretty annoying dust spots all inside my camera


If you have already checked your filter or your lens to see if the spots are easily cleaned, then you have dust on your sensor.   You can either have dust that can be easily blown off with a blower, or the more annoying dust that is lodged onto your sensor.   You mentioned you already used a hand blower, which is the first thing to try.  For those who don’t know, I highly recommend everyone have a blower. Many brands out there, I use a Rocket Blower from Giotto.

!! WARNING !! You do NOT want to use any chemicals inside your camera. So those compressed air cans that you use to clean the crap out of your keyboard? to…be…avoided!!!  They will leave a film of crap on your sensor that will be hell to clean yourself and you’ll have to send in your camera… if it doesn’t damage your sensor entirely.  So NO to any compressed air or chemical cleaner!

So the filter and front of the lens are clean…and the air blower didn’t get rid of the problem. You pretty much have two options to clean the actual sensor: Get it done by a pro, or do it yourself. It is not that hard to do it yourself if you are careful.


Get it done
Most local camera shops will provide a sensor cleaning service. It can be expensive, specially if you go with an express service to have it done on the spot. One store in Montreal charges from $30 (72 hour turnaround) to $60 (1 hour rush – if they have time).  For you locals, those prices are from LL Lozeau.  Photoservice has their prices set to $40 for a 48 hour turnaround and $60 for 4 hour service.  Considering the price we pay for our equipment, it is still a small price to ensure a good result.


Do it yourself

You need to buy lens cleaning products such as this kit.  This is a wet cleaning kit, there are some static brushes that can also be used, but in my experience, I almost always end up using the wet kits.

Note 1: You need both swabs and solution.  Some companies make you buy them both separately.

Note 2: You should also buy the right size swabs, some are made for full frame sensors (Canon 5D, 6D, 1D / Nikon D700, D800, D3, D4, etc) and some are made for crop sensors (uh… Canon and Nikon cameras not listed before hehe). Swabs are essentially a different size allowing for easier cleaning of your specific sensor.

Note 3: Don’t cheap out on the stuff you buy. It’s your sensor after all. Don’t use q-tips, rubbing alcohol, that cute brush you bought at the art store that looks like the swabs. These things are made for sensor cleaning.  There could be some oil or other liquid on your sensor and using a q-tip or random brush might cause more problems.

Once you have the product, time to get to cleaning.  Here are my steps:

1- Fully charge your battery.
Your camera may not allow you proceed if your battery isn’t charged

2- Clean the outside of your camera.
The last thing you want is for dust from the outside of your camera to fall back in to the sensor

3- Clean the area where you will be working.
Minimizing dust is big. Doesn’t need to be hospital level clean (and even that isn’t always the cleanest), but the cleaner the environment, the better the chances of having a totally clean sensor

4- Blow it!
Hold the camera upside down and use your air blower to get rid of any dust inside.

5- Lock up the mirror.
You should have a way to do this in your camera menu. dSLRs have a mirror inside that covers the sensor and this needs to be in the full upright position to expose the sensor. Check your camera manual on how to proceed.  Here are some quick shots from the back of my 5D Mark III

sensor cmaera

6- One good blow deserves another 😉
Use the air blower again to get rid of any dust again, holding the camera upside down.  Told ya the air blower would be a good investment!! 🙂

7- Sensor cleaning time!
Make sure to keep the entire part of the swab on the sensor and no dabbing around else you will create streaks of liquid. Steady motion.

8- Third blow’s the charm
Another blast from the air blower and you are good to go!

 That’s pretty much it! Again, it’s not too complicated, just take your time to properly prep your area.  Once you have everything on hand, you should be done in 5-10 minutes.  But take…your…time.  This is not a race 🙂 There are plenty of Youtube videos out there with instructions on how to do it.  Might want to check a couple out.

How to avoid getting dust on your sensor

It’s great knowing how to clean the sensor, but a little care goes a long way in ensuring that dust doesn’t get in.  One of the more “popular” ways to get dust in your sensor is simply by changing lenses.  This happens to me a lot when I shoot a show and switch out lenses.

  • Learn to change quickly.  Did you know that on most Canon lenses (at least all the ones I have), the little red dot you line up with the camera to connect the sensor is usually lined right up with the lense’s AF/MF switch?  So by feel alone you should be able to line up the camera.  Figured that out when I was finding ways to change lenses faster in a show 🙂
  • Dont change lenses in dusty or windy areas
  • Try and keep the camera pointing down when changing lenses.  Dust falls down.  Gotta love gravity, right?

Routine gear maintenance helps as well.  Without locking up the mirror, taking time to blow dust out of the camera body will mean that less dust will end up behind the mirror.  Keeping lenses clean, blowing the contacts and focus/zoom rings is also a good habit to get into.

Good luck! 🙂


  1. Hey I was reading this and you should mention that a blower is not a bottle of dust off (even if Canon CPS use it they have a few trick that one guy gave me a while back) like star the flow outside and not pointing at the camera.

    Other wise it all good but you should mention to clean the chamber to.
    I hilly recommend a arctic butterfly work wonders!

    1. I did make mention not to use cans of compressed air with a big red WARNING with it 🙂 Thanks for pointing it out if I didn’t make it clear enough… those cans of air are the death to cameras

Comments are closed.