Today’s leading editing software can remove almost anything you want from your photographs. Found an old photo of yours but saw your nagging ex in the frame? You can now quickly remove a person with a single click in Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom software. Want to erase an airplane or bird from the sky? A quick swipe can do this, even in editing software on your smartphone. Skin retouching to make your face smoother, sky replacement to swap out your hazy skies with picturesque clouds, even changing a frown into a smile: all this is available in Adobe’s Photoshop software and is managed by their AI-enabled Sensei technology. But we’re still missing out on automating one of the most time consuming parts of editing: sensor and dust spot removal.
Things Get Spotty Too Often
“Always think of the bigger picture” was often repeated by my boss when I worked in IT. I was a programmer who wanted to go live with his code as quickly as possible, so this wasn’t a mantra I used to adhere to. But my boss would often tell me to think deeper about the potential implications of my code for the overall organization. Maybe that’s what the folks at Adobe and Capture One have been focusing on regarding their editing software. The bigger picture. Literally.
Content Aware Fill is one of the most amazing tools that Adobe has recently brought to Photoshop. When used along with Subject selection, you can remove a stray object or an unwanted person from your photo in just a few seconds. And most people will not be able to tell that an edit of such magnitude was done in the first place. What would take minutes and even hours in previous years can now be accomplished in no time.
But to serious photographers, especially those who deal with large-sized prints, advertising hoardings, and roadside billboards, one of the biggest niggles to deal with is sensor spots. Sometimes a few end up being visible enough to necessitate removing them. But often, especially for landscape photographers using narrow apertures, you see more than a handful. And having to manually sit and carefully clone out each and every one of these is a royal pain. Too much of my time is spent having to clone out dust spots, and it’s mainly when working on images where I’ve used f16 or narrower apertures.
I Do Have An Air Blower, Thank You
A number of you may say that I should clean my sensor before I shoot. I’d like to state that I live in a city that’s technically a metropolis surrounded by a desert. Dust is something I contend with every day I step out for a shoot. I make it a point to blow the dust off my sensor before I head out. Even then, inevitably, dust does creep into the camera, even if I’m not changing lenses outdoors. I don’t have the luxury of doing a wet sensor cleaning before every shoot. So, very often for me, there’s really no option but to shoot despite the sensor dust.
No client likes an image peppered with spots. As talented as a retoucher can be, there’s no denying that each spot needs to be manually cloned out before delivering final images. If you use Capture One, this can be more painstaking to do than if you use Adobe Lightroom. The color handling and overall output of photos are fantastic with Capture One, but the software still falls short in some aspects.
One Aspect Where Lightroom Trumps Over Capture One
An area where Lightroom really does better than Capture One is with the “Visualise Spots” option in the Healing Tool. Lightroom makes it easy to see dust spots in your photograph that aren’t readily visible to the naked eye.
The slider isn’t even halfway through, and we can already see that Lightroom has spotted (pun intended) some dust spots that weren’t immediately visible. But see what happens when we move the slider even further to the right.
I wouldn’t have seen most of these dust spots if I had my face all the way up to my screen at 100%. Adobe Lightroom does a great job in tackling dust spot removal.
This image shows the number of spots I saw when using Capture One 23. The software still doesn’t have a spot visualization tool at the time of writing this article. I need to view the image at 100%, scroll from edge to edge, and locate them myself. In total, there are 26 points I pinned for dust spot removal. I then decided to run the same photo via Adobe Lightroom to see what it could pick.
There are definitely more than 26 in here; Lightroom is clearly outdoing Capture One in the dust spot locating aspect of things.
Why Can’t You Remove The Spots For Me?
Do we really need more skies replaced in our photos? Can’t we also have a good tool for dust spot removal? Even when photographing good skies, there are bound to be spots on our sensors. If software like Adobe Lightroom can detect dust spots, why can’t they replace them for us? If I use the Spot Healing Tool over one of the visible spots shown to me, Lightroom uses an algorithm to heal/clone over that spot. Now, if it could detect these spots, what’s stopping it from going ahead and removing them for me? You might argue that it could mess up the image if it did this for the entire photo.
I suggest providing a selectable area or subject option to activate the AI dust spot removal process. That way, I could choose the areas of the image where I want the dust removed. It could leave out the genuine spots from being cloned/healed by the AI. I spent nearly an hour cloning out spots from a handful of images that needed to be sent to a client. That’s a lot of time when you consider that it was just a few images, but hundreds of spots in total.
Skylum Luminar is ahead of the main players
Skylum’s Luminar Neo had AI dust spot removal at the time of its release last year. In fact, a lot of their software edits are AI supported. If a relatively new player to the game can provide this, what’s stopping Capture One and Adobe from bringing this to their palette already? Adobe has been bragging about its Sensei tool’s capabilities for a few years. It’s about time that dust spot removal becomes an AI-automated tool to make our lives easier. Please let us edit faster by allowing AI to take charge of this painstaking task.