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Post Production Tips

2 Reasons Why You Need to Clean Your Camera Lenses and Sensors for HDR Photography – From the HDR Photography Workshop Series

By Pye Jirsa on April 30th 2013

The following is an excerpt from our HDR Tutorial by SLR Lounge. This workshop dubbed “the gold standard of HDR education” by FStoppers contains over 13 hours of tutorials, RAW files for you to follow along, and dozens of full prep to post examples. We cover bracketed HDR, in-camera HDR, single-shot faux HDR, single-shot bracketed HDR, panoramic HDR and more! Click here for more info.


We have one rather silly but important practice tip when shooting HDR photography: clean your camera lenses and sensors frequently! Having a clean lens and sensor can significantly save you time in post production because you do not need to spend time editing out little dust specks. In addition, your final HDR images will be better quality since dust specks can kill the detail in your images.

In this article, we will discuss 2 reasons why it is important to clean your camera lenses and sensors when shooting HDR photography. In addition, we will go over some general rules of thumb that you should know about cleaning your camera lenses and sensors.

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1. Avoid Amplified Dirt and Dust

It is natural for lens dust and sensor dust to occur so it is important to clean your lens and sensor frequently. Although dirty lenses and sensors pose a problem whenever we shoot, it is an even bigger problem when shooting HDR photography. In our “Reasons Why You Should Shoot HDR Images at the Lowest Native ISO Setting” article, we explained that it is important to always shoot at the lowest native ISO setting since noise will be amplified when we shoot HDR photography. Noise is amplified since we are stacking images on top of one another to create the final HDR image. For example, when we shoot at ISO 100 and then stack 3 images, the final HDR image no longer looks like it was shot at ISO 100. Instead, it will look like it was shot somewhere between ISO 200 – ISO 400. The higher the ISO, the more noise will appear, which will kill the detail in the image.

The same thing is true with dust and dirt on your camera lenses and sensors when you stack your images. Although it may not be noticeable in one of your images, the flecks of dust and dirt will amplify in your final HDR image. Like noise, the dust and dirt specks will kill the detail in your image, significantly decreasing the quality of your HDR images.

2. Save Time in Post Production

Another reason to clean your lenses and sensors frequently is because it will save significant time in post production. As mentioned before, flecks of dirt and dust will be amplified in your final HDR image, which significantly decreases the final HDR image quality. If you want to edit those flecks of dust and dirt out of your images, it will probably take you at least 20 minutes to fix each photo.

General Rules of Thumb

Here are some general, but important, rules of thumb to be aware of when cleaning your camera lenses and sensors.

1. Periodically Clean the Camera Sensor
If you are shooting often, we recommend that you get your camera sensor cleaned at least 2-4 times a year.

2. Clean Camera Lenses AT the Scene

You should always clean your lenses and sensor before you go out and shoot. However, when you get to your scene, clean your lenses and sensor again before you start shooting.  Especially if you are shooting at ultra-wide focal lengths, or if you are shooting at very tight apertures such as f/16 or f/22, and also especially if you are shooting into the sun or if the sun is hitting the glass of your lens at all.

3. Avoid Changing Lenses in Dusty or Moist Scenes

When you are in a scene where there is a lot of dust flying through the air or a location where it is moist and humid, do not change your camera lens. Once again, you will have to spend a lot of time in post production to remove those flecks of dust, and moisture in general could shorten the overall lifespan of your equipment. Especially in humid conditions, dust can adhere more strongly to the sensor, and may require a professional cleaning in order to remove. Also, some dust spots may not be fixable in post-production, if they are covering a very important part of your image.



Conclusion & Learn More!

Make sure that your lenses are as spotless as possible before you start shooting every time, especially ultra-wide lenses. In addition, clean your camera’s sensor periodically. Your HDR images will be better quality and you will save a lot of time in post production!

For more HDR education, be sure to check out our HDR Tutorial by SLR Lounge. This comprehensive “gold standard” guide will give you a mastery of HDR photography, from the scene considerations to the actual shooting to the post production. Click here for more info.

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Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Great article

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  2. Jean Smit

    Thanks for the great article, im still new to photography and SLR Lounge for that matter, do you perhaps have an article that shows the proper way to clean your lens, and areas to avoid?

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  3. Jason Teale

    This has always been a challenge. I usually forget to give the lens a wipe before I shoot. The worst is getting a great shot and then spending hours removing the dust spots.

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