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How To Ruin A Sunset Shot (And Save It In Lightroom)

I admit it…I’m not perfect. Sometimes the simplest things can come back and bite you. A few months ago, I made the trek up to Crescent City, California for a photo adventure in Redwood National Forest. The day I arrived, we checked into the hotel and went to find the beach for sunset. Being from the East Coast, I’ve dreamed of shooting a beautiful Pacific Coast sunset.

It was getting late when we checked in. I asked the hotel front desk representative what she recommended for seeing the sunset. Very nonchalantly, she responded that the sunset would be muddled by the incoming fog and that sunsets up in Northern California are nothing to write home about. Discouraged, we still headed out to see what we could find.

Not 5 miles from the hotel was Battery Point. As we followed the setting sun, just off the main road was a bluff overlooking Battery Point. From the car I could see a peach-colored sunset over a rock beach, so we parked quickly and ran to the edge. I whipped out my camera (a Sony A7r Mark II) and my tripod, then began shooting.

After 200 frames or so, varying looks, bracketing series of photos, and even a little video, I was excited to head back to the hotel to see what I had shot. I started scrubbing through the images in Lightroom and was not happy. My sensor was dirty. Each of the images was riddled with dust spots and I thought most of the images would be a waste. Shooting into the sun really enhances any dust or grime on the sensor. It occurred to me that I hadn’t cleaned the sensor since my last shoot and with an adventure like this, I should have made sure it was clean before flying out to California.

Discouraged at my mistake, I decided to turn in early. The next morning, I went to a local camera store and bought a sensor cleaning kit and cleaned my cameras. After breakfast, I started looking at the images in Lightroom and tried a few things to remove the spots and save at least one image. It took some time with the Spot Removal tool, but I’m pretty happy with how the image turned out. When using the Spot Removal tool, make your brush size the same or slightly bigger than the dust spot (shortcut [ or ] keys) and click. Don’t click and drag. Once clicked, Lightroom will sample around the dust spot and remove the blemish.

If you need help seeing all the spots, you can click on the “Visualize Spots” slider at the bottom of the image to enhance the dots. The Visualize Spots option shows up when you’re in the Spot Removal tool. This temporary changes the image to black and white, making it easier to see spots and sensor dust. Once you exit the Spot Removal tool, Visualize Spots will shut off but your changes will be saved.

Has this ever happened to you? I kinda felt like a photographic failure, but definitely learned from my mistake. Luckily Lightroom was there to help me through it.

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