Remove Dust and Specks From a Scanned Image With Photoshop Elements

Woman dusting a lamp with a feather duster
Nico Hermann / Getty Images

Below is a scanned slide of a child at about 8 months of age. You might not see it in the scaled down copy of the image, but there are a lot of dust and specks in the image. We're going to show you a quick way to remove the dust in Photoshop Elements without taking out too much detail, and without endlessly clicking on each speck with the spot healing tool. This technique should work in Photoshop too. 

Starting Image

Child standing in crib

This is the starting image for reference.

Start With a Crop

Crop image screenshot

One of the quickest ways to reduce the amount of correction work you need to do on any image is a simple crop. So, make that your first step. We're using the rule of thirds to crop this image so that the focal point (the child's face) is close to one of the imaginary rule of thirds intersections.

Remove the Largest Specks With the Spot Healing Tool

Spot healing tool screenshot

Next zoom to 100% magnification so you are viewing actual pixels. The quickest way to 100% zoom is Alt+Ctrl+0 or double-clicking on the zoom tool, depending on whether your hand is on the keyboard or the mouse.

Mac Users: Replace the Alt key with Option and the Ctrl key with Command throughout this tutorial.

Pick up the spot healing tool and click on the largest spots in the background, and any specks on the child's body. While zoomed in, you can move the image around as you work by pressing the spacebar to temporarily switch to the hand tool without taking your hand off the mouse.

If the spot healing tool doesn't seem to work on a blemish, press Ctrl+Z to undo and try it with a smaller or larger brush. We find that if the area surrounding the flaw is one similar color, a larger brush will do. (Example A: the speck on the wall behind the child's head.) But if the blemish overlaps an area of color variations or texture, you want your brush to just barely cover the flaw. (Example B: the line on the child's shoulder, overlapping the folds of clothing.)

Duplicate the Background Layer

Duplicate the background layer screenshot

After you've healed the larger blemishes, drag the background layer up to the new layer icon to duplicate it. Rename the background copy layer "dust removal" by double-clicking on the layer name.

Apply the Dust and Scratches Filter

Apply the dust & scratches filter screenshot

With the dust removal layer active, go to Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches. The settings you use will depend on the resolution of your image. You want the radius just high enough so that all the dust is removed. The threshold can be increased to avoid losing so much detail. The settings shown here work well for this image.

You will still notice a significant loss of detail. Don't worry about it — we're going to bring it back in the next steps.

Click OK when you get the settings right.

Change the Blend Mode to Lighten

Change the blend mode to lighten screenshot

In the layers palette, change the blend mode of the dust removal layer to lighten. If you watch closely, you'll see a lot of the detail come back into the image. But the darker dust spots remain concealed because the layer is only affecting the darker pixels. (If the dust pecks we were trying to remove were light on a darker background, you would use the darken blending mode.)

If you click the eye icon on the dust removal layer, it will temporarily disable that layer. By turning the layer visibility on and off, you can see the difference between the before and after. You may notice there is still some loss of detail in some areas, such as the pony toy and the pattern of the bedding. We're not too concerned about the loss of detail in these areas, but it shows that there is still some loss of detail. We want to ensure there is as much detail as possible in the subject of our photo — the child.

Erase the Dust Removal Layer to Bring Back Detail in Areas

Erase to bring back detail in areas screenshot

Switch to the eraser tool and use a large, soft brush at about 50% opacity to paint away any areas where you want to bring back the original detail. This is why we had you use the healing tool to fix the spots on the child in step 3. You can turn off visibility on the background layer to see how much you are erasing.

When you're done, turn the background layer back on and go to Layer > Flatten Image.

Fix Any Remaining Spots With the Spot Healing Tool

Fix any remaining spots screenshot

If you see any remaining spots or splotches, brush over them with the spot healing tool.



Next, go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. If you're uncomfortable dialing in the right settings for Unsharp Mask, instead you can switch to the Elements Quick Fix workspace, and use the Auto Sharpen button. It still applies Unsharp Mask, but Photoshop Elements tries to determine the best settings automatically based on the image resolution.

Apply a Levels Adjustment

For the final step, we added a Levels adjustment layer and moved the black slider just a smidgen to the right. This boosts the shadows and the mid-tone contrast just a tiny bit.