Mastering Lightroom: How to Use the Spot Removal Tool

Lightroom 4 is a great tool for post-processing your work, especially if you tend to shoot RAW most of the time. It’s quick, easy to manage and offers an extremely wide range of color adjustment, as well as other kinds of processing. But what if you need to retouch your photographs? Does that mean Photoshop is the only way to go? While I certainly use Photoshop CS5 for more complicated retouching, I’m glad that Lightroom 4 offers options that are sufficient at least 90% of the time. In this short and simple tutorial I will teach you how to use the Spot Removal tool in Lightroom. This simple yet powerful tool will then let you remove small objects out of your photographs or fix flaws, such as skin blemishes or sensor dust spots. You will be able to perform these actions very easily and quickly and, more importantly, all within Lightroom 4 environment.

How To Use the Spot Removal Tool

1) Where to Find It?

Spot Removal Tool#1

Lightroom is a very photography-centered piece of software. Unlike Photoshop, which, from the very start, had a very broad range of applications, Lightroom doesn’t need many tools. Luckily, this makes finding them that much more simple – all the tools, including Spot Removal, are located under the Histogram tab. You can, alternatively, press “Q” to pick it up for use.

2) What’s Wrong with the Photograph?

I will be working on a photograph a friend of mine snapped while enjoying a walk in a park, and you can see it shown above. Nothing is really wrong with it per se – I think it’s a great, fun street shot. However, since Spot Removal is so simple to use, I would like to get rid of a small white spot right between the dog’s front legs. Take a look:

Spot Removal Tool#2

3) Let’s Get Rid of It!

Most of the time, Spot Removal works with just a single click. In order to remove the white spot (which may have been a chewing gum once, but let’s not think about that), first select the tool by pressing “Q” on the keyboard. You will notice your mouse pointer has been replaced by a circle, which defines how big is the area to be affected. My settings are currently at 75 (Size) and 100 (Opacity). Lets go ahead and just click on the white spot we dislike so much. Here’s what happened:

Spot Removal Tool#3

Now, if we remember that it was the white spot that bothered me most, Lightroom did a great job of removing it. Ok, so there’s part of a dog’s leg floating in the air, so what? Alright, fine. Maybe some of my setting were a little wrong to begin with… Thankfully, fixing it is very simple. Here are the options:

  • Change the Size of the Spot Removal tool: to do that I can either adjust the slider with that particular Spot selected, or remove it completely by pressing “Delete” on my keyboard. Then, I can place a new one that’s smaller. Before I place my Spot I can also change the diameter of it by scrolling my mouse wheel up (to increase) or down (to decrease), which is very handy and saves me time. Regardless of which way I do it, Size of 45-50 seems to do the trick much more accurately, but it’s still not perfect.

    Spot Removal Tool#4

    There is no trace of a dog’s leg floating out of nowhere, true, but there is a hard shadow right on the edge of my Spot. If I make it any smaller, it won’t cover the whole white-chewing-gum-thing I’m trying to remove, so the only way I can fix this, after selecting the right Size of 45, is by cloning from a slightly different place.

  • Tell Spot Removal Tool where to Clone from: there are, again, two ways to do it. If you want to specify a different cloning place with an already placed Spot, click and drag the second circle to a more suitable place in the image. Alternatively, when placing a new Spot, you can click and drag it initially to bypass Lightroom’s attempt and show where you want it to clone from yourself.

    Spot Removal Tool#5

    Much better!

4) Other Settings

Spot Removal Tool#6

Not a complex tool, Spot Removal offers two modes – Clone and Heal. If you want Lightroom to strictly clone from a specified place, set Spot Edit to Clone. I find it to work best on most occasions, especially with random textures. In Clone, the Spot will also have a less defined, dissolving edge.

If you choose Heal, Lightroom will attempt to make subtle changes to the way Spot is filled. It lets you avoid direct cloning and, thus, is sometimes less evident, because new detail are not identical to the source (that is why we had a hard shadow on the edge of our Spot before we moved it). It may also have rougher, more defined edges. You will notice that Spot Edit was set to Heal in our case and worked very well in the end. I may have as well set it to Clone, however, and the result would likely be just as good. Play around to see which one works better with each retouching you do.

If you want more of an overlay effect, you should also adjust Opacity slider. In my case, I wanted the white spot completely gone, and that is why I used 100% Opacity. Had I used 60 or 70 percent, the chewing gum would be slightly visible with other detail, possibly, blending in better. Opacity slider is useful if you want to turn down certain detail of your image and make them less noticeable rather than hide them completely.

5) The Result

That’s about all there is to Spot Removal tool. Once I worked out my settings, I removed some more white spots that were too visible in the image. The environment may not have been that clean in reality, but for me, photography has always been about the way I see things, not how someone else does.

Spot Removal Tool #7

Don’t forget – you can use this great tool to retouch skin or remove bigger objects from your image. It may not be as powerful as Photoshop’s Clone Stamp or Spot Healing Brush tools, but then again, Lightroom is not about excessive retouching in the first place.

  • Sivacharan

    Great to know about this tool in lightroom.. I used to switch to Photoshop for this feature..
    Thanks a lot..

  • Scott S.diVincenzo

    Sure wish the LR4 spot removal performed similar to Picasa (3.9 for OS X) Unless I have missed something LR4 spot removal does not allow overlapping spot correction as does Picasa 9.

    Just Sayn’

    • Romanas Naryškin

      You can actually overlap several spots, Scott, if I understood you correctly. :)

  • Scott S.diVincenzo

    This would be a great discovery, however, all my experiences with LR4
    spot clone & heal are like were like [x] [x] [x] “can’t touch this again”
    either with one big circle or 100 minis.

    Hence, I do what any other reasonable photographer does when LR 4 objectes
    to repairing impossibly destroyed highlights – I delete the image.

  • MJohn

    Great… Need to learn more in LR. I used to take it to CS6 to get a scar removed.
    Please share more tips…

  • Stephen McCullough

    Another well executed tutorial: simple and easy to follow.

  • Graham

    I have never come across any software ‘fix’ designed to be more annoying! (Haven’t yet tried Silkypix!) However I’d be glad of your comments please. I happen to have a very short scratch on the extreme edge of a sensor — longer however than 2 spots. So every ‘keeper’ requires a small clean. The overlapping, *self-willed* circles (that in other instances also choose the wrong portion of sky to match) make this simple correction frustrating to the point of driving one wild! Have you ever removed parallel telegraph wires (even across a whole panorama) in Nikon Capture NX or even in Photoshop? — Dead simple, just set a ‘clone from’ spot and drag across. Now try this in Lightroom. Even the simplest fix bigger than one spot wide will invite so many overlapping, self-referencing circles as to drive you crazy. Please write everything you can to FORCE Adobe to reintroduce the Photoshop clone tool instead: there should be no need to have to visit that program for so many photos! This tool is a huge mistake.

  • Anthony


    Very Educative. Thanks.

    I would like to ask you though, if you used LR4 to enhance the quality of the picture by any chance. I mean, looking at the ‘color vibrance’ of the picture, how did you do that? Is it straight from camera?

    Lots of times I take pictures of family and friends and want to make it look ‘enhanced’ or ‘vibrant’ but dont know how. Can you help with this in LR4?

    I know you added some vignetting to the picture but it still looks really colorful and exciting. I would love to learn how you got it to look like this.


  • Venkat

    Thank you Roman. Its a nice little tool. Quick and easy. How do I get to the screen to change the mode on settings from Heal to Clone?

  • yogesh

    Hi ROman,
    thanks for a nice and easy to understand article. I use lightroom and i have another question. I dont know how to put my name/logo to the pictures i took and edit under lightroom. Sorry it may sound silly but i dont know, can u pl guide me?


  • tobiah

    I shoot almost strictly film (b&w); develop and scan myself. this is my dust removal tool. works great. tedious sometimes, but… Lightroom is all I have. no photoshop yet.

  • Claudia

    Thanks for the information! I always have problems using this, but with your help, a few things got clearer!

  • Harsh Javeri

    This is regarding CLONE function in LR 5 which is different than LR 4. I don’t know if this happens in LR 4.

    When you go to CLONE function, a CIRCULAR target comes up to select the area. Today, by mistaje I pressed the ALT (PC) key and the icon changed to SCISSORS! Moving the CURSOR created a dashed-line Square / rectangular but that’s all, it didn’t do anything!

    Am I doing something wrong or is this a bug? BTW the normal CLONING with circle icon works just fine.

    Harsh Javeri

  • Yev Studios

    Thanks! Very helpful! Saved my photos today :)