How to use the Lightroom spot removal tool

In an ideal world, we would never have anything in our images that we don’t want to be there.  In the real world, however, we often have unwanted items in our images.  We can likely all relate to having a conspicuous outlet cover or a stray crumb or a pesky little brother in one of our images and wishing that said outlet cover, crumb, or little brother had actually not come to life in our executed vision.  While we know that Photoshop has powerful cloning capabilities that can make these items magically disappear, did you know that Lightroom (LR) also has a terrific tool for removing unwanted items and making everything right in the world again?

That tool is LR’s Spot Removal (SR) tool, and I find myself using it on many of my images.  I love how easy it is to use, and it does come in handy quite often, so I thought I’d offer a basic overview of how to use the SR tool.  The SR tool has two options – clone and heal.  The clone option layers a part of your image on top of whatever area you’ve selected with the clone brush; the heal option results in something a little softer, as it takes pixel readings of nearby areas in your image to attempt to match the texture, lighting, and shading of whatever area you have sampled to the area you have selected to heal.

In LR’s SR panel, you can use the Size slider to increase or decrease the size of your SR brush, which indicates what area of your image will be affected by the tool.  You can also use your bracket keys to change the size; the

[ key decreases the size, and the ] key increases the size.  The Opacity slider allows you to change the transparency of the area you’ve selected to clone or heal.

The image below is the one we’ll be working with as an example while we’re going through the SR tool.  I’ve done all of my other edits already at this point.  Here’s a general rundown of what those other edits are: I’ve increased my exposure, adjusted my white balance, added some fill light, recovered some highlights, and cropped and sharpened the image.  I also applied the ‘Editorialize Me’ preset from the Clickin Moms’ Paparazzi set for Lightroom , because it worked so beautifully with this particular image.  So that’s where we’re currently at with the image below:

I’m really happy with the edit at this point, but there are several things in the image that I wish were not there – a couple of jet ski lifts in the water, a body board in the sand, something dark in the sand on the right side of the frame, and some small dark spots in the sand and grasses behind my subject.  I find these items distracting and/or unnecessary in terms of adding to the story and feelings I’m wanting my image to convey, so I want to get rid of them, and I’m going to use the SR tool to do so.

To open the SR tool, either press Q on your keyboard or click on the SR tool icon underneath your histogram; I have the tool outlined in red below.

Once the SR tool is open, move your mouse over your image, and you’ll see your SR brush appear.  Hover over the area you want to fix in your image, and adjust the size of your brush as necessary (I prefer to use my bracket keys for this).  When you are ready, click your brush, and LR figures out an area of your image that appears similar to what you’ve selected with your brush; an arrow points from the original spot circle to the sampling circle, which indicates the selected area that is being cloned or healed.   Though LR is supposed to be sampling a similar area, I find that the area LR selects for me is often not the best one to use; it’s typically very close, but I almost always have to manipulate the sampling circle a bit to get it precisely where I want it.  You can change the sampling area by simply dragging the sampling circle anywhere in your image.  When you do drag the sampling circle, watch your image as it’s changing to make sure that you’re not coming up with an area that doesn’t have the same lighting or texture, and also watch to make sure you’re matching up lines correctly if you’re working with any lines such as horizons in your image.

You’ll notice on the image above that I have a number of circles.  I find that it is sometimes more effective to use the SR tool in small portions when you’re attempting to remove something from an image, particularly with large objects.  In this case, for example, there wouldn’t have been a decent area to sample and use as a cloning patch if I had attempted to remove the entire body board at once.  But removing it in small parts makes the edit much easier and much more realistic-looking in the end.

And speaking of the end…voila!  Here’s my final edit with the unwanted objects removed.

Listed below are some additional tips and hints for using LR’s SR tool:

  • To adjust the size of your circles once you’ve placed them on your image, just move your mouse to an edge of the original spot circle until you get a double-sided arrow; then, drag your circle outward or inward to change both the original spot circle and the sampling circle.
  • You can hide the circles by moving your mouse out of the image area or by pressing the H key.
  • To get rid of a circle altogether, click it to make it active, and then press delete.
  • You can toggle your SR tool on and off using the button circled below:

Finally, here’s a before and after comparison of my image before and after using the SR tool.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy Lightroom’s Spot Removal tool and how great it can be for getting rid of those conspicuous outlet covers, stray crumbs, and pesky little brothers!

About the Author:

Ashley lives in Kansas City with her husband and their two children where they truly love being together and playing outside as a family. She enjoys cooking and baking, despite her claim to be unskilled at both. Twizzlers, ice cream, Doritos, coffee, pedicures and a good novel are her guilty pleasures. Currently, Ashley shoots with a Nikon D700, 50 f/1.4 and 24-70 f/2.8.

10 Comments

  1. sarah c. Jan 09 2012 at 7:24 am - Reply

    Thank you! I just recently switched from Aperture to Lr, and the spot removal process is very different. This was just what I needed!

  2. Keely Jan 09 2012 at 8:22 am - Reply

    Thanks Ashley! Super helpful…love the final edit!

  3. Susan O'Neal Jan 09 2012 at 10:13 am - Reply

    love the final edit & even more than that, — the beautiful SUBJECT !!!

  4. antonieta Jan 09 2012 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Thank you Ashley! …Love the final edit 🙂

  5. Chelsea Jan 09 2012 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    I've found I'm rarely happy with my spot removals in LR, so I'm so happy to see your tips. Maybe next time I'll be more successful! Thanks!

  6. Tony Sale Jan 14 2012 at 1:14 am - Reply

    Nice work, thank you for sharing

  7. Abbie Jan 22 2012 at 8:21 am - Reply

    Thank you so much Ashley! I just installed Lightroom yesterday. This tutorial is so simple and clear to understand. I'll be looking for more tutorials by you for sure!

  8. Noreen Feb 22 2012 at 10:06 am - Reply

    thanks for this. i have both lightroom and cs5. i just use lightroom to do minor tweaking or when i want to use some presets. all the other editing (i.e., cloning) is done with cs5. This tutorial would definitely come in handy…tfs.

  9. Von Barswell Oct 15 2012 at 11:51 pm - Reply

    I blog quite often and I really thank you for your content. Your article has truly peaked my interest. I will book mark your site and keep checking for new details about once a week. I subscribed to your Feed too.

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