How to remove spots and blemishes

How to remove spots and blemishes

This post was updated on March 14th, 2021

Estimated reading time: 23 minutes

Learning Adobe ® Lightroom

Last time we looked into straightening photos in Adobe ® Lightroom. Today we continue our exploration of the Local Adjustment Tools by learning how to remove spots and blemishes with the Spot Removal Tool.

The Spot Removal Tool

What kind of spots can the tool address?

The Spot Removal Tool helps you to remove dust spots, skin blemishes. However, you can also use it to remove distractions like power lines, highlights, or distant figures.

In my experience, in about 90% of all cases, it is a reliable tool. However, occasionally, I still have to open the image in Adobe ® Photoshop to remove some resisting spots. In other cases, it manages to remove distractions even better than Photoshop’s Healing Brush.

In this article, we will look at some examples of using the Tool after the general introduction. However, due to the lack of portrait photos, I will not show you how to remove skin blemishes. The process is the same as for other spots, though.

How to access the Spot Removal Tool?

You find the Spot Removal Tool in the Develop Module’s Local Adjustments bar next to the Crop and Straighten Tool. In the next figure, I have circled it in red.

Local Adjustment Tools with the Spot Removal Tool circled
Local Adjustment Tools with the Spot Removal Tool circled

You can either open the Tool by clicking on its symbol or pressing your keyboard’s the <Q>-key. Sorry to say, clicking the <Q>-key will only open the Spot Removal Tool and not hand you a tasty cookie. 😉

The Spot Removal Tool’s options

Once you entered the Spot Removal Tool, you see a small menu like the next figure.

The Spot Removal Tool's menu
The Spot Removal Tool’s menu

Let’s explore the options from top to bottom.

To Clone or To Heal that is the question

First, you have a choice between using the Tool to clone or to heal a section. Cloning will copy your source area to your target area, whereas healing will use the source area’s information to repair the target area.

Let me give you an example to make the difference clear.

If you have a spot in your image’s sky, like in the image below, you select the blemish as the target area.

Photo with Spot to be treated
Photo with Spot to be treated

If you then move the source to your photo’s forest scene, cloning will take a sample from that source and copy it 1:1 to your target area. You will get a forest in the sky, which possibly is not what you want.

Spot treatment with Clone activated
Spot treatment with Clone activated

If you instead chose to heal your target area, Adobe ® Lightroom will try to preserve the target’s colors but include the source area’s shapes.

Spot treatment with Heal activated
Spot treatment with Heal activated

From this example alone, you might think that neither is a good option, but follow me through this article, as we have just started our exploration. Then you will find out how to get results like the following instead.

Removed Spot with healing option and a better source
Removed Spot with healing option and a better source

Adjusting the size of the Tool

As you might have realized in the previous section, the Spot Removal Tool’s size did not fit the spot’s size. You can adjust it with the Size slider. The farther to the right you move it, the bigger your Tool becomes. However, it will initially always be a circle.

Smaller forest in the sky due to size slider adjustment
Smaller forest in the sky due to size slider adjustment

The easiest way to create a suitable size for your blemish is to click on the smudge and then adjust the slider while the Brush is active on your spot.

Changing the feathering

The Feather slider changes the hardness of the edges. If you like a smoother transition from the edges into the middle of your smear, you need to set a larger Feather-value. However, the largest value of 100 does not mean that your Tool transitions slowly from the edge to the center. Instead, it means that the area covered by the feathering is as large as the center area.

Let’s look at a few examples of different Feather-values for cloning the forest into the sky.

Feather value set to 0
Feather value set to 0
Brush Tool with a feather value of 50
Value of the feathering set to 50
Spot removal with a feather value of 100
Feather value of 100

As you can see in these examples, the higher you set the feather value the more of a transition you get from the area outside the Removal Brush to the area that is treated by it.

Adjusting the transparency

If you need your original target area to shine through to some degree, you need to adjust the Opacity slider. Now, when you are removing dust spots or blemishes, it is unlikely that you want the dirt to show at all. So you would set the Opacity to 100.

However, you might want to copy areas into your target zone without entirely losing the latter for creative purposes.

Maybe you have to remove three out of four people from your image’s background, but you messed up one of them. If you now need to find that one person you should not have removed in the first place, you could remove one of the corrections and hope it was the right one. However, it would be easier to click on the Tool, set the Opacity slider to a low value, like 2, so you can see whom you removed, and, if it is the right person, hit the key to remove the correction. Otherwise, move the Opacity slider back up and try with the next.

Let’s have a look at some brief examples of the effect of the Opacity Slider.

Spot Removal Tool's Opacity Slider set to 100
Spot Removal Tool’s Opacity Slider set to 100
Opacity Value set to 50
Opacity Value set to 50
Spot Removal Tool's Opacity set to 0
Spot Removal Tool’s Opacity set to 0

As you can see above, the higher you set the Opacity value, the less you see the original target area shining through.

Settings outside the Spot Removal Tool’s menu

Below your image, you find a little toolbar, which allows you to make two more settings. Let’s examine these before we start removing spots.

Additional Settings for the Spot Removal Tool
Additional Settings for the Spot Removal Tool

Tool Overlay

This setting determines when the target-circles for your removed spots show while you are in the Spot Removal Tool.

A circle determines the location of a previously removed spot. This circle has the Spot Removal Tool’s brush size and shape when you treated this particular blemish.

Spot Removal Tool showing all brushes
Spot Removal Tool showing all brushes

But before we look into the Overlay options, let’s have a brief look at what those two types of circles mean.

First, you can see a circle that connects to a second one with a straight line. This figure is your currently active Spot Removal Tool. One of the two rings is the target area from where you want to remove the spot, and the other one is the source area, from which data Adobe ® Lightroom uses to treat the target area.

Then, farther to the right, you can see two more circles, which are not connected. These two are currently inactive target areas from which you have already treated.

If you click on an inactive target area, it becomes the active one and shows connected with its respective source area.

Choices for the Tool Overlay

Always: No matter where you point your mouse, you will find shapes with grey outlines marking all areas from which you previously removed spots.

Auto: Only while you are hovering over the image area will you see all the areas marked that you have already treated. Auto is the setting I use most of the time.

Never: You will not see any of the previously treated spot-areas. This setting can be useful if you want to treat a new spot close to an already healed one. Hovering over a treated area will not change your mouse pointer to indicate that you indeed are above one such place.

Selected: Adobe ® Lightroom only shows the currently active Spot Removal Tool area. If you remember where you previously treated a spot, you can hover over that area, and once your mouse pointer changes from the Tool’s circle to the hand, click to activate the located treated area.

Visualize Spots

This setting helps you to find blemishes in your photo. When you activate it, you will get a black and white preview of your image, where the identified spots show as white circles. If you move the slider to the right, you increase the preview’s sensitivity; if you move it to the left, you decrease it.

Image in standard view
Image in standard view

How many spots can you detect in the image above?

I could find one from this blog’s image size and two more if I enlarge the photo and look hard.

Visualize Spots view activated
Visualize Spots view activated

Can you detect more blemishes when we activate the Visualize Spots preview? Once you have used this preview a few times, you will know what you are looking for.

The content of your photograph determines how useful this tool is. For example, if you have a photo of a group of women in polka-dot dresses, Adobe ® Lightroom might get fooled into believing that all those dots are blemishes.

Examples of spot removal

Now let’s get some work done, and look at some more practical examples.

Moving the source/target area

When you place your Spot Removal Tool on a target area and click, Adobe ® Lightroom automatically selects a source area it thinks to be fitting. That does not necessarily mean that this is the perfect source to start with, although it often is a pretty good one.

You can now activate the source are by clicking on it. As you can see, this brightens the marking of this area too.

Upper left brush is activate and the target area is selected
Upper left brush is activate and the target area is selected

If you now hover with your mouse over the active area, the mouse pointer will change into the hand Tool. Once you see the hand, click and drag your mouse to the new location before releasing the mouse button again. You have now successfully moved your active area. Of course, you can do the same with the target area.

While you are doing this, note how the line that connects the source and target area changes into an arrow. The arrowhead is always pointing from the origin to the target area. 

Deleting an applied Removal Tool

If you have removed a spot, but you are not satisfied with the results, and no setting can fix this, you can delete your approach by hitting the -key as long as your Spot Removal Tool and the appropriate spot are active.

Additional ways of changing the size of the Spot Removal Tool

We discussed earlier how the size slider in the menu changes the Spot Removal Tool’s size. However, there are two more ways of archiving this.

If you have a keyboard enabled that allows you to use the <[> and <]> key without using the <Alt>-key, you can use the <[>-key to shrink and the <]>-key to enlarge the Spot Removal Tool. This trick works, for example, with English keyboards.

While trying to move an active area, you might have discovered that your mouse pointer changes to an arrow pointing to two opposite sides while you are hovering over the area’s edges. If you click and drag the mouse when this pointer is visible, you will change the active area’s size and its associated source/target area.

Round blemish removal

Removing a round spot is the easiest treatment, though the other ones are not that much harder.
Let’s remove the middle blemish (circled in red in the figure below) together.

Photo with blemish to be treated marked
Photo with blemish to be treated marked
  1. Activate the Spot Removal Tool by clicking on its icon or hitting the <Q>-key.
  2. Click on the spot and immediately let go of your mouse button again. This action creates a target area with an associated source area. <Adobe Lightroom with spot removal tool on the spot>
  3. Use the size slider to enlarge the active source and target areas to fit the spot you want to remove. (I used a size XX here)
  4. In this example, the source and target area overlap after I changed the size. <Adobe Lightroom with overlapping areas>
  5. Now I move the source area out of the target area by activating it and clicking and dragging my mouse once I see the hand tool. < result>
  6. If the healing is not perfect yet, I will try to change from Heal to Clone or use the Feather setting to improve my results.
  7. Once I am satisfied with my result and there are no more blemishes to remove in the photograph, I press <Enter> or click the <Done>-button below the image.

That was easy.

All blemishes treated by the Spot Removal Tool
All blemishes treated by the Spot Removal Tool

Straight Lines

Who does not dislike power lines in their landscapes? However, with the above two methods, it would be cumbersome, to say the least, to remove them from your photos. So what to do?

Since version 5 of Adobe ® Lightroom, you can create a straight line with the Spot Removal Tool for your target area. Let’s have a look at how to do that.

In the next figure, you see the photo from which we will attempt to remove some of the power lines.

Photo with power lines to be treated
Photo with power lines to be treated
  1. Activate the Spot Removal Tool.
  2. Click on the start of the power line on the left side of the image and let go of your mouse button. (Red circle in the figure below)
  3. If necessary, adjust the size of your Spot Removal Tool.
  4. Press the <Shift>-key and hold it down.
  5. Click on the end of the power line (Magenta circle in the figure below) on the right side of the image, and finally let go of your mouse button and the <Shift>-key.
Photo with start (red) and end (magenta) points circled
Photo with start (red) and end (magenta) points circled

Now Adobe ® Lightroom creates a straight-line target area between the first and second mouse click and connects a source area to it. So the result should look something like in the following figure.

Two power lines sucessfully removed
Two power lines sucessfully removed

Irregularly formed spots

Let’s say we wanted to remove the crane on the left edge of the photograph below.

Photo with the crane on the left side to be removed
Photo with the crane on the left side to be removed

Using a circular tool would mean using a far bigger spot than what needs to be adjusted. However, if we removed the crane as if it were a straight line, it would not work perfectly either. There is a third way of using the Spot Removal Tool to give us the desired result.

Let’s have a look at how to do this.

  1. Activate your Spot Removal Tool
  2. Click on the spot (here crane) that you want to remove, but do not release the mouse button yet.
  3. Draw along the shape of the blemish crane that you want to heal. And make sure that you cover the edges and the inside of that spot while drawing over it.
  4. Release your mouse button once you have covered the target area.
Irregular shaped spot removal
Irregular shaped spot removal

As before, Adobe ® Lightroom will now create the associated source area. You can move the source and target area around after the fact if you didn’t get a perfect result. However, with this approach, you cannot change the brush’s size after you have started filling in that blemish area. It is also not possible to re-edit the shape that you have created by adding or removing new areas to/from it. So if you find that you have covered too much space, you have to start from the beginning. Should you not have covered enough space, you can either start over again or use the Tool a second time to remove the remainder.

Summary

Over the course of this article, you have learned how to use the Spot Removal Tool. You also had a look into the effects of the different settings and some practical examples.

I hope you enjoyed this article and are now more confident in using this tool.


All trademarks and copyrighted items mentioned are the property of their respective owners.

I am in no way affiliated with any of the products used in this post-processing process. I do not receive any kind of compensation for this article, it was neither offered or asked for.

THIS BLOG ARTICLE “How to remove spots and blemishes” IS NOT AUTHORIZED, ENDORSED OR SPONSORED BY ADOBE SYSTEMS INCORPORATED, PUBLISHER OF ADOBE ® LIGHTROOM

All photos taken by Lille Ulven Photography.

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