No camera or lens is perfect. Whether you’re using a smartphone or a high-end DSLR, they all have their own quirks and limitations. Fortunately, you don’t have to live with them.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the most common camera problems, including:
- Dust on the sensor.
- Stuck or dead pixels.
- Lens distortion.
- High ISO noise.
- Exposure and color problems.
You can deal with them all in Lightroom. It’ll improve the quality of your images and save you from having to make an expensive upgrade to a newer camera.
1. Dust on the Sensor
Specks of dust on the sensor and bad pixels are two different problems that have the same solution.
Dust can be an issue on interchangeable lens cameras, where the sensor gets exposed to the elements when you’re swapping lenses. Some cameras have a built-in sensor cleaning function that can help with this, and you can also dislodge dust using a rocket blower (never blow on the sensor with your mouth as you’ll make the problem far worse).
But some specks are more stubborn than others. If you don’t want to try a DIY cleaning job or get it done professionally, you can let Lightroom deal with it instead.
- Open the Develop module and click the Spot Removal Tool (or hit Q on the keyboard).
- Select Heal.
- Tick Visualize Spots below the image. Drag the slider to adjust the threshold level.
- Zoom in and scroll around your image. Specks of dust will be easily visible in white.
- Adjust the brush size so that it is about the same size as the dust.
- Click on or paint over the dust.
- Repeat until your image is cleaned up.
The Spot Removal tool replaces an object with detail and color blended from the surrounding pixels. With elements like dust or dead pixels the defaults should be good enough, and you shouldn’t need to experiment with the brush feather or opacity settings, or anything else.
You can copy your dust removal corrections to all other images using the Sync function in Lightroom:
- Select the image you’ve edited in the Develop module.
- In the Film Strip view at the bottom of the screen hold Ctrl (Windows) or Cmd (Mac) and select the other images you want to copy the spot removals to.
- Click Sync, select Spot Removal (unselect the rest), and hit Synchronize.
2. Fix Stuck or Dead Pixels in Lightroom
Bad pixels are fixed with the same method. A dead pixel is a pixel that no longer receives power, so shows in the image as a tiny black dot. A stuck pixel is worse: it’s permanently powered and shows as a speck of 100 percent red, green, blue, or white. A hot pixel is the same but only shows when the sensor gets hot (such as in long exposure shots).
Most cameras can deal with hot pixels in their firmware, and some can tackle dead and stuck pixels too. Lightroom can also automatically identify these bad pixels in an image and blend them out.
If neither option is available to you, use the Spot Removal tool outlined above to remove them from your images.
2. Lens Distortions
Distortion is another common problem photographers will face. It’s a result of the optical design of a lens, and is seen in these main ways:
- Barrel distortion. Straight lines in an image bulge outwards to form the shape of a barrel. Most commonly seen on wide angle lenses.
- Pincushion distortion. The opposite of barrel distortion: lines bulge inwards. Most often seen on telephoto lenses.
- Vignetting. The physical design of the lens, and/or the angle at which light hits the sensor, causes an image to be darker at the corners.
- Chromatic aberration. Different wavelengths of light fail to converge at the same point, causing the appearance of a color fringe along the edges of certain elements in the image (usually in bright, high contrast areas).
Lightroom supports lens profiles which can automatically fix these problems. If your lens has a profile, you should make use of it. If it doesn’t, you can deal with the problems manually.
3. Barrel and Pincushion Distortion
Although there are technical ways to check for distortion, the popular method embraced by many is the “brick wall test.” Point your camera square-on toward a wall — on a tripod is best to ensure it’s properly upright — and shoot.
You’ll be able to see if the lines of the wall are straight, or if they curve towards the edges. You can then use the image to figure out how much adjustment your lens needs.
To fix distortion in Lightroom:
- Open the Develop module. Scroll down in the Adjustment panel until you get to Lens Corrections.
- Check the box labeled Enable Profile Corrections. If your lens has a profile it should be applied automatically.
- If there’s no profile, uncheck the box then select the Manual tab.
- Under Distortion, slide the slider left to correct pincushion distortion, or right to correct barrel distortion.
- If sliding right, check Constrain Crop to crop any white that may otherwise appear around the edges of the image.
For prime lenses, you can save your lens corrections as a preset. That way you’ll be able to quickly apply them to all images shot with that lens.
Go to Develop > New Preset. Enter a descriptive name, then untick all the boxes apart from Lens Corrections > Lens Distortion. Then click Create.
Presets are less useful for zoom lenses. Zooms may have barrel distortion at the wide end, and pincushion distortion at the long end, and different levels of either at various lengths in between. You could make lots of presets for different focal lengths, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
Correction for vignetting can also be applied automatically through a lens profile in Lightroom, if there is one. If not, it’s very easy to do manually.
In Lens Corrections in the Adjustments panel click Manual.
In the Vignetting section, slide the Amount slider to the right until the brightness of the corners matches the rest of the image. You won’t need to go more than a couple of points.
This correction can also be assigned to a preset. Go to Develop > New Preset to do this. You can also save it in the same profile as your other lens corrections.
5. Chromatic Aberrations
In the Lens Corrections box tick the Remove Chromatic Aberration option and Lightroom will attempt to fix this problem automatically.
To fine-tune the effect, switch to the Manual tab and play with the Defringe sliders. Use the eyedropper tool to select the color fringe in your image, then move the Amount slider to desaturate it.
Although chromatic aberration is a lens issue, it doesn’t occur on every shot. Therefore, it’s less useful to use with a preset (though you can if you want).
When you open a photo and see random specks of color or variations of brightness at a pixel level, that is image noise. It mostly occurs when you increase the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor (such as when shooting with a high ISO setting in low light) or when the sensor gets warm (like when shooting long exposures).
Most cameras will apply noise reduction when you shoot in JPEG mode. In RAW, your photos may look far noisier and you’ll need to fix them in Lightroom.
There are two types of noise. Color noise is very unappealing, but also the easiest to fix. The randomly colored specks are simply blended with the colors of the surrounding pixels. The effect on the quality of the image is minimal.
Luminance noise — the variation in brightness of individual pixels — can take on the appearance of film grain, and can be attractive in certain shots. Removing luminance noise softens the image, with the effect that fine details get blurred. Noise reduction is about finding the right balance between the two.
- In the Develop module scroll down to the Detail section of the Adjustment panel to find the Noise Reduction options.
- For JPEG images, both settings are at 0 by default. For RAW files, Color is set to 25. That is usually enough to remove color noise.
- Zoom into the image and start moving the Luminance slider to the right.
- Recover fine details and add micro-contrast using the Detail and Contrast sliders.
- Once you’re done you may need to sharpen the image, which may result in some noise returning. If so, repeat the steps until you find a result you’re happy with.
Noise reduction is best applied on a per-image basis, or to a group of images shot with the same lighting.
7. White Balance Problems
The white balance setting is essential for getting a camera to shoot accurate, consistent colors. Where our eyes naturally adapt to changes in color temperature from different light sources, a camera cannot. Shots under fluorescent lights will have a cool, blue tint, and those under bright sunlight will have a warm, orange hue. A correct white balance setting removes these color casts.
For most users shooting on auto white balance is the way to go. It removes the risk of you forgetting to switch the setting from Cloudy to Sunlight just because the weather changed mid-shoot.
But auto white balance is not flawless. There will be times when it gets tricked into making an image too warm or too cold. Jump into Lightroom to fix this.
- White Balance (labeled WB) is the first option in the Basic box.
- If you’re working with RAW files, click the drop down list to see a full range of white balance presets. Choose the one that matches your shooting conditions and it should be okay.
- In JPEG, you will need to fix it manually. First, click the eyedropper icon.
- Zoom into the image and use the eyedropper to select a neutral color. Ideally, this would be gray, but can be anywhere the RGB values are roughly the same.
- Click on your selected part of the image and the white balance will change. You may need to do it a few times to get the result you want.
Frequent any gear forum and you’ll encounter people describing how their camera’s metering is a little off, and that every shot is under or overexposed by maybe a third of a stop. The obvious workaround to this problem is to leave the exposure compensation dial set permanently to +1/3 or -1/3 (or whatever) to correct for it. If that isn’t convenient for you, you can do it in Lightroom instead.
In Lightroom, the numbers on the Exposure slider correspond to stops of light. Dragging the slider to +1 increases the exposure by one stop, the equivalent to doubling the amount of light.
You can do it in the Library module, too. The single arrows correspond to 1/3 of a stop, and the double arrows a full stop.
Once you have made your adjustment you can save it as a preset, in the way we have outlined above. Or, to automatically apply the exposure correction to all images taken with this camera, you can change your default Develop settings. We’ll look at that next.
Change Your Default Develop Settings
We’ve talked a lot about creating presets to fix some of your camera problems. They’re a simple way to apply one, or a group, of tweaks consistently, and with a single click. You can also set a preset to be applied when you import your images.
An alternative method is to change the default develop settings that Lightroom uses.
This is a good choice for any changes that you want to make to every image. Like correcting exposure problems, or increasing the default amount of noise reduction.
- Click the Reset button at the bottom of the Adjustment panel to ensure you don’t accidentally save any unwanted changes. Next, make the adjustment that you do want to save (eg. dial in your +1/3 exposure tweak).
- Hold the Alt key and the Reset button will change to Set Default… Click it.
- A dialog box will open. Click Update to Current Settings to confirm. Where the box says that changes are not undoable it doesn’t mean the settings changes are permanent, just that you cannot undo them by pressing Ctrl + Z.
The changes are specific to a file format and camera model, but not to a lens. It means you can make the adjustment that will be applied to RAW files and not JPEGs, and it’s ideal if you work with more than one camera.
To return to the original defaults, the Restore Adobe Default Settings button.
Easy Fixes in Lightroom
All these fixes are easy to do, and they all help to overcome the limitations of your camera. And the less time you have to spend worrying about your hardware, the more you can enjoy going out and shooting.
Just us in the comments to share your Lightroom tips. Leave your questions too, and our community of photography may be able to help.