For the Do-it-Yourselfer

When owning a digital camera, chances are you’ve had the unfortunate occasion of noticing ugly spots, dust, hair and other foreign objects implanted on your photographs, after downloading and observing them closely. The blotches are most evident on a blue sky or bright, light-colored scenes.

Most of the times, the phantom stains on the pictures are a result of a dirty lens, which can be remedied by carefully cleaning it with a soft cloth and lens fluid, or by this handy tool, which I like the best:


The suction-cup tip has a carbon-based powder that removes grime, fingerprints, dust, etc., by swiping the lens clean. A brush with soft bristles is a nice feature as well. This device cost $11.00 on Amazon. Other manufacturers offer them as well.

I found out about this item in a photo shop at Charles de Gaulle Airport on the way home after a trip to Paris. Having tried with a soft cloth to clean a lens in a Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot camera that had a mechanical lens cover didn’t cut it. I was miserable, after seeing photos like the following, especially one of my favorite Parisian icons.


Travel Tip: clean your camera lens before photographing.

I was heartbroken to find shots like the above throughout my entire trip. What a bummer. Fortunately I had bought Photoshop when it was available for sale, which, with the clone tool, I was able to get rid of the blemishes.

Can’t buy Photoshop anymore. They lease it through their website.  Makes it more affordable that way, although, I’m glad I splurged at the time and have my own lifetime copy, which has paid for itself over time.

While owning a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses, one has to expect dust, unwanted specks of dirt and other foreign material to sometimes accumulate inside the camera. A pivoting mirror is located in front of the image sensor for seeing in the viewfinder what you’re photographing.

Cleaning it isn’t as critical as cleaning the image sensor. If you happen to smudge the mirror or leave dust behind, at least it won’t show up on the photo, but it will annoy the user to no end, upon their seeing the debris in the viewfinder.

The lens pen is good for keeping the mirror smudge-free; however, I absolutely do not recommend using the handy cleaner on the image sensor, whose compartment may get particles that pass behind the mirror when the shutter is activated. The reflective component pivots out of the way when taking a picture, to allow the sensor to do its job.

On Friday I was out photographing in Burlington, NJ, taking photos of the Burlington-Bristol Bridge from close by with the big lens to check on the hawks that live in both towers, and using the other lenses for portraits. While firing away, I got a tap on my shoulder by a Burlington City police officer, who asked me for identification, and why was I taking photos so close to the underside of the bridge?

He was nice about it. After my answering a lot of questions regarding the area, the camera and 500mm lens, bird-watching, my haunts up and down the Delaware River, American history, my avid interest in photography, blah-blah-blah, he determined I wasn’t a terrorist, looking to blow up the bridge.

The patrolman told me a story about how someone he caught taking pictures under there had been bamboozled by a terrorist linked to Russia. The bad guy told the cameraman he was a lawyer, looking for evidence that the bridge was unsafe, to settle a claim for his client, and that the advocate would pay well for an array of photographs showing the river crossing’s understructure, for which the photographer told the officer he was presently doing.

Telling him to delete the photos from his camera, for which the photographer said he couldn’t because it was film, the law officer let him pack his gear and go home, filing his report at headquarters after taking down all the man’s identification.

To make a long story short, the photographer got busted by the FBI and locked up for three years after they raided his darkroom and found hundreds of bridge photos showing the various river crossings from the PA-NJ Turnpike Bridge, down to the Delaware Memorial Bridge. “Ignorance is no excuse,” the judge said, explaining why the man was sent to jail.

The so-called lawyer got incarcerated for his terrorist ties after being told by the photographer, who was working with the feds to lighten his sentence, to come to his house and pick up the photographs of all the bridges. The house was under surveillance to catch the shyster.

Fortunately, the cop believed I was just a photography enthusiast, and let me go after saying never to take photos of the bridge as close as I had been doing. “Take them from down there,” he said, pointing to about an eighth of a mile away, for which I thanked him and went on my merry way.


Burlington-Bristol Bridge from 1/8-mile away.

Getting back to image-sensor cleaning, I noticed several specks and blotches on my photos that got progressively worse as the day went on, especially on the moon photos. I had been leaving the camera body exposed a lot while switching lenses on a windy afternoon. The unwanted spots were driving me crazy.


Note the foreign particles on the photo.

Finally fed up, I decided to try using my lens pen on the image sensor, which was a bad mistake:


Never use a lens pen to clean an image sensor!

I flipped out upon seeing the result of my tampering behind the pivoting mirror, swiping the image sensor with my handy-dandy tool. Bummed-out totally, I gave cleaning the sensor a last attempt at home, using lens fluid and tissue wipes to see if the specks would disappear:


Wondering, where did that little hair came from? I bet it’s a bristle from the lens pen.

Deciding to let a professional clean the sensor, I took the camera Saturday afternoon to a reputable camera shop nearby. The technician said, “Let’s take a look at how bad it is,” taking a photograph of the florescent lighting. “Yup, like you said, it’s pretty bad. In fact, this is the dirtiest image sensor I’ve ever seen. Hey, Fred, come over here and look at this.”

He had motioned to one of the shop’s other repairmen, who checked out the photo and asked me, “Were you changing lenses in a barbershop?” Everyone is a comedian. I told him not to quit his day job.

The first man said he could clean the sensor right away and for me to return in about an hour. I was hoping it wasn’t damaged by my shenanigans and lucked-out. The camera is back to splendorous photo-taking.


These Canadian geese were heading north. I yelled up to say they were heading in the wrong direction and told them to turn around.

So, take it from me. Let the professionals do the dirty work when cleaning a DSLR image sensor.

Lastly, please allow me to share my latest cover of a tune called “Good” by Better Than Ezra, a song which can apply to the many everyday interactions with intellectually challenged individuals of whom I’m one at times, summed up by the lyric: “Searching for signs of life, but there’s nobody home.”

Thanks for your continued support, and Happy Halloween.

About Mike Slickster

As an early retiree with an honorary doctorate degree from the proverbial "School of Hard Knocks," this upcoming author with a lot of free time on his hands utilizes his expansive repertoire for humorous yet tragic, wildly creative writing that contains years of imaginative fantasy, pure nonsense, classic slapstick, extreme happiness and searing heartbreak; gathered by a wealth of personal experiences throughout his thrilling—sometimes mundane or unusually horrid—free-spirited, rock-'n'-roller-coaster ride around our beloved Planet Earth. Mike Slickster's illustrious quest continues, living now in Act Three of his present incarnation, quite a bit on the cutting edge of profundity and philosophical merriment as seen through his colorful characters, most notably evident in the amusing Thirty Days Across the Big Pond series, all of which can be found at
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2 Responses to For the Do-it-Yourselfer

  1. Jack Maher says:

    Thanks for the tip Mike

  2. You’re welcome. Glad you found the info useful. Thanks for commenting, Jack.

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