Landscape Post-Processing: How to find and remove dust spots and water drops in Photoshop

You come home after your amazing trip to the epic landscape location, ready to review your accomplishments on the big screen. You open the file, adjust the exposure in the bright sky, add contrast, and what do you see? Dust spots in the sky! The landscape photographer's worst nightmare. At this time you promise yourself, that you will use that microfiber lens cloth more often from now on!

I can't tell you how many hours I've spent removing dust spots and water drops in post processing. It's especially cruel on large panoramas consisting of many photos, all with the same pattern of dirt on the lens.

But don't worry. It's really easy to find and remove all those little imperfections in Adobe Photoshop. In this short Landscape Post Processing Tutorial I will show you how to do it. All it takes is some time and concentration.

Pro-Tip: It's certainly better to invest the time to clean your lense before your take a shot instead of having to remove all the dust and water spots in photoshop afterward. Especially if you shoot a panorama.

I've found that dust spots and other lens dirt is mostly hiding in the highlight areas and become more pronounced when you add contrast to those areas.

So here is my workflow to remove dust, water drops and other imperfections in Photoshop

  • Create a new brightness & contrast adjustment layer above your photo layer.
  • Activate the "Use legacy" checkbox for the adjustment layer.
  • Turn up the contrast slider to find the dust spots.
  • Play with the brightness to find dust spots in shadows and highlights.
  • Select the Spot Healing Tool, which you will use to remove the dust spots. 
  • Select the "Content aware" healing method in the toolbar. 
  • Adjust the brush hardness to about 90%.
  • De-select the "Sample all layers" checkbox to only target the image layer.
  • Now make sure you have the original layer selected when you start removing the dust spots.
  • Adjust the size of your brush to be slightly larger than the dust spots. 
  • Now position your brush on top of each spot and left click on. Photoshop will work it's magic and remove the spots for you.
Pro-Tip: Remember when you do this zoom to 70-100% in order to locate the spots better. Hold down the spacebar to activate the hand tool, which allows you to quickly move around the image when zoomed in.