The longest hike we attempted at Yellowstone National Park last month was the Beaver Ponds Loop. At one point, I shot this photo:
I didn’t realize until I opened it in Lightroom how much I liked it; now it’s one of my favorite photos from the trip. When I uploaded it to Flickr, I tagged it beaverpondsloop. Today, I discovered that someone else took almost the same photo almost exactly one year prior:
It’s one thing to see a pile of nearly identical photos from a hotspot like Inspiration Point; it’s entirely different to see two from a relatively out-of-the-way trail like the Beaver Ponds Loop.
Shortly before we went on our epic road trip, I tried to clean the sensor on my DSLR with a blower. But tiny bits of dust have built up over the four-plus years that I’ve had it, and the blower was just not cutting it. I was terrified of cleaning it manually for fear of ruining it, and there was no time to send it away to Canon for an official cleaning, so I figured I’d just deal with the spots.
I wound up on the road trip with a camera sensor so covered in dust that any photo shot with an aperture smaller than f/8.0 has required serious attention in Lightroom with the Heal brush before I feel good about it. Sometimes no spots are visible, but check out this photo of a squirrel at Bryce Canyon; the dark spot on the brick behind the squirrel is actually dust on the camera’s sensor. Other photos have even more glaring imperfections.
I googled “dslr sensor cleaning” and got even more terrified. Everywhere there are tales of folks voiding their warranties and ruining their cameras in search of a clean sensor. Eventually, however, I found a link to the “Copper Hill Method” tutorial, and it seemed legit. I ordered the Basic Kit, and it arrived a few days later.
The box sat on a table for a week before I was ready to open it.
Today, though, I finally got up the nerve. I took a photo at f/11 of the cloudy sky as a “before” shot (both of the following images have levels adjusted to show off all the dust):
I followed the instructions included; it took about five minutes. This is the “after” shot:
There are still some little bits on there, but it’s like night and day. The instructions suggest cleaning once, than shooting for a bit, then coming back for another try at getting the rest of the dust bunnies.
The upshot of all this is that, given some basic precautions and careful hands, cleaning your DSLR sensor is no big deal. Yes, it will void your warranty, but my camera was out of warranty to begin with, and there are stories of camera manufacturers doing a piss-poor job at cleaning sensors themselves. If you’re sick of dealing with dust spots on your photos, give cleaning your sensor a try.