Digital Camera Sensor Cleaning

Digital cameras have sensors; unless your camera has a built in dust reduction system, sooner or later your sensor will need to be cleaned - it's inevitable.  Then what?? 

It's a lot quicker, easier and less costly to do it yourself - if you follow your camera manual instructions exactly and are careful, you can successfully clean your camera's sensor yourself.  A lot of photographers fear damaging their sensor and will do about anything to avoid cleaning it themselves.  However, there is no reason to be afraid to do this procedure yourself, provided you do it properly.

You will need the right sensor cleaning supplies - I use Eclipse Optic Cleaning Fluid and Photosol Sensorswab Ultra sensor cleaning swabs.  If your camera has a full frame (24x36mm ) sensor, you will need the Type 3 swabs; they are 24 mm wide, as is your sensor.  APS-C and smaller sensors will need smaller swabs.  Photosol's website has information that will help you determine which swab is right for your camera.

One of the most important factors in successful sensor cleaning is to perform this procedure in a clean, dust free environment.  Not many of us have access to a clean room such as computer manufacturers build computers in.  If your home has airborne dust issues you will need to clean your sensor in an environment where dust is less of a problem (you can check for airborne dust by looking through the beam of a bright flashlight at night; if you see a lot of dust particles dancing in the air, you should probably go elsewhere to clean your sensor).  Where would that be?  Try a museum or a library; find a spot away from frequent foot traffic, entries and exits and away from heating and cooling ducts that will cause airflow that will stir up any dust that may be present.. 

Another important point is this - do not use compressed air ("canned air") to blow dust from your sensor before cleaning.  Canned air can spray liquid propellant onto your sensor cover glass, something you do not want to happen.  That liquid can also get behind the sensor and into the electronic components of your camera.  If that happens, you are in for a serious repair bill.  Instead of canned air, use a blower bulb like the Giottos Rocket Blaster, which will safely remove loose dust particles from your sensor.

The sensor swabs I use are dry, which means I need to apply the proper cleaning fluid to them before use.  Too much cleaning fluid can damage the electronics inside your camera, so proceed with caution.  I have found that three drops on the 24mmwide swabs my camera requires is sufficient (two drops on one side, one on the opposite side); I would be comfortable using two drops per side, but no more than that for a 24 mm wide swab.  Again, follow the directions that come with your swabs and cleaning fluid to the letter.

Each camera has a specific procedure for sensor cleaning; if you precisely adhere to the instructions in your camera manual, you should have a successful sensor cleaning result.  If there are still spots on your sensor after cleaning, you can re-clean the sensor provided your camera manual does not advise against doing so (I once ended up with an eyelash on my sensor that required two cleanings to remove; the first try simply moved it closer to the center of the sensor; this happens sometimes).

If you follow the directions in your camera manual and in your swab and cleaning fluid to the letter, you should have no problems cleaning your sensor at home (or at your local museum or library, if need be).



The above description of sensor cleaning is simply a description of how I clean my sensor; it is not intended as training or professional advice in sensor cleaning.  Always follow the directions in your camera manual and in your sensor cleaning materials to the letter.  When in doubt, contact your camera manufacturer for advice on sensor cleaning, or return your camera to the manufacturer's repair department for sensor cleaning.  The author accepts no responsibility for any damage resulting from do it yourself sensor cleaning.  When in doubt, contact your camera manufacturer to return your camera to the manufacturer's repair department for professional sensor cleaning.


Why shoot film?

I remember the first time someone told me "film is dead - it's just a matter of time till you won't be able to buy it anywhere."  That was back in 1998. 

Today, B&H Photo of New York still offers 205 different options in color and black and white emulsions for the roll film shooter; they offer 84 different options for sheet film photographers; they offer 27 different movie camera film choices and 48 different instant film options.  Apparently it is taking film an awfully long time to die...

But why would anyone want to use film today, especially since there are many full frame 35mm format digital cameras that equal or exceed even medium format film in terms of printed image quality at a given size?  Why would anyone want to bear the burdens that come with film - the cost of buying film and paying for processing, or the cost (although minimal) of developing it yourself, the cost of having prints made and the issues of space and proper storage of an archive of film negatives and/or chromes (transparencies or slides)? 

There are many reasons.  The fingerprint of each film emulsion is unique and different.  Digital processing of DNG files can approximate the fingerprint of some emulsions - they are fairly close but not exactly the same.  There is a world of different options with film cameras - rangefinders, 35mm, medium format, large format, panoramic, instant - and most of these cameras are available on the used market for a song compared to what they sold for before the advent of digital photography.  Some photographers just can't get over mechanical film cameras (and I'm one of them).  These miniature little precision machines are nothing short of wondrous. 

Film based photography gives a photographer many more choices - cameras, lenses, emulsions, developers.  The array of options that film photography presents is dizzying.  Another reason to use film and film cameras is simply that it's enjoyable.  It's fun.  And fun is one of the main things that photography is supposed to be about; if it's not fun, you are not doing it right.

I have already seen my digital photos from our recent trip to Ireland.  My panoramic shots that were made on Kodak Tri-X with my Hasselblad XPAN II and 45mm lens are still hibernating in their yellow film canisters, waiting to be developed.  I'm starting to get the itch to see them. 

That's another thing about film - there's no chimping like there is with a digital camera.  The latent images simply sit there in their canisters, patiently waiting immersion in developer - silently mocking you... 

Fat Books

Fat books are a natural result of engaging in the photographic process and living the photographic life.  Regarding photographers, a fortunate few of us make these fat books; the rest of us buy, read, highlight and obsess over the words and images contained in these fat books.  Many of us who inhabit the latter category hope to one day make the jump to the former category.  Many are called (by themselves), but few are chosen (by the publishers).

I am currently reading a fat book written by photographer Dan Winters; it is titled Road To Seeing.  It is a not a huge coffee tale size book but is formidable nonetheless.  It is mercifully illustrated with an abundance of photographs, making it much less of grueling read than its 665 pages would seem to indicate.  Awhile back, I read a quotation from Dan Winters somewhere on the internet; it was a quote from this book:  "The world owes a great debt to all who have, from a state of exceptional awareness, preserved stillness for us to hold."  These words struck me from the first moment I read them; they stuck with me.  I filed them away for future reference.  I made a note to myself to keep an eye out for more of Dan Winters' insights and images. 

I am not very deep into Road To Seeing yet, but it is yielding significant insights into the photographic life which in my experience ring true:  "As every photographer knows, the great images are elusive.  They do, however, become more apparent when one is actively looking.  This process speaks to the development of an internal dialogue.  It is basically noticing that which you are noticing.  This is a lifelong practice.  One must become conscious of the patterns in his or her own work and of the sensibility that forms as a result.  These are the building blocks, which allow us to consciously develop a unique photographic voice.  This practice transcends technique.  Technique is a part of our craft, and it plays an integral role.  However, it should not be at the core of our work.  Ours should be a pursuit of the soul."  There is a measure of truth in this passage, the relevance of which cannot be overstated.

The formula for success in photography

"We each have to find our own way. It’s a process that involves indecision, loneliness and uncertainty. There is no path and no road signs, encouraging words may be few, if any. If you choose this path, your rewards will be fleeting moments of intense joy and exquisite awareness. Those working in safer more predictably structured endeavors will have no idea what they miss or what we are talking about." – Jay Maisel

The formula for success in photography is something that some photographers are always in search of.  They seek a road map, a template that promises them success if they do steps A, B, C and D.  They want to succeed but even more they want that guarantee. 

So, bad news:  There is no formula.  There is no road map.  There is no template that will guarantee success.  You can't copy another successful photographer and expect to succeed by following in his/her footsteps.  You have to figure it out on your own.  This is one of the many things that makes photography - and any other creative endeavor - so difficult, so disheartening, so exasperating and so enigmatic.  It is also one of the many things that makes photography so rewarding, so uplifting, so enjoyable and so inspiring. 

There is good news, though:  It is possible to set goals in photography and realize them.  One of the key factors in achievement of your goals in photography is perseverance.  Nothing of value is easily achieved; it is the work, the struggle the sacrifice and the difficulty that gives a goal or an achievement its value. 

Some will ask, "Where do I start?"  You start where you are.  Some will ask, "What do I do?"  You figure it out.  Some will ask, "when will I be successful?"  The answer to that question lies in the following video:

New glass from Wetzlar

Be still, my racing heart:  Today, Leica Camera AG announced the release of the Summilux M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH lens. 

This highly coveted lens will begin appearing in the display cases of Leica dealers in June. Click on the following link for specs and photos of the 28 'lux to drool over -,4-ASPH 

Three weeks ago, Leica released the Monochrom typ 246 camera - and now this.  The Teutonic taskmasters in Wetzlar just won't stop torturing we who are afflicted with the Leica M penchant.


“What's really important is to simplify. The work of most photographers would be improved immensely if they could do one thing: get rid of the extraneous. If you strive for simplicity, you are more likely to reach the viewer.”  - William Albert Allard

Simplify.  I have been giving that some thought the last couple of days.  Photography is an art of subtraction.  It is incumbent upon the photographer to remove non-essential elements from the viewfinder until nothing remains but the essence of the subject.  Every object in the image will either strengthen or weaken it, concentrate the essence of the subject or dilute it. 

Simplifying in documentary photography is difficult at times, almost impossible at others.  It is most difficult when photographing human subjects.  That difficulty is multiplied exponentially by the inclusion of more humans in the frame. 

You are trying to be invisible in order to capture the unguarded moment, to not influence the interaction of the humans in your viewfinder.  They are totally out of your control.  They do what they do with no thought of how it will impact the images you are struggling to create. 

You know the shot that you want to create - you can see it coming; you can all but feel it.  You can watch their movements, their eyes, their hands, their feet; you can listen to their conversation.  You can anticipate.  More accurately, you can try to anticipate.  Sometimes you nail the shot.  Sometimes your best efforts produce photographic muck.  In the end, documentary photography is kind of a crap shoot. 

I guess that's why this genre of photography sinks its hooks into some of us so deeply.


Of photography and blindness

"One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you'd be stricken blind." 

Events of late have shown me just how true these august words written by Dorothea Lange are.  We never know what the future may bring.  The past is gone; the future has not yet arrived. 

All we have is the present moment.  We should live and photograph as if that's all there is - because it could very well be all there is.  As the late Edward Abbey once said, "Ain't none of us gettin' out of here alive."  Given that fact, we should live accordingly.


Leica introduces the M Monochrom type 246

In a move destined to simultaneously enrapture committed Leica M photographers and  strike terror into the hearts of wives and other financial advisers around the world,  Leica Camera AG today announced the release of the M Monochrom type 246 digital rangefinder camera:

There's no denying it:  The Monochrom 246 is a beautiful and interesting camera.  It is based on the Leica M-P and is almost identical to the M-P in its specs and features, but with one major exception:  It makes black and white images.  ONLY black and white images. 


From my perspective, I would have to say that any serious photographer who says they have no interest in acquiring this beautiful little machine is either in denial, lying or is just flat out crazy.  That having been said, I will be sticking with my M4-P and Kodak Tri-X for my black and white endeavors (for now, at least).

Here's an interesting video of Ragnar Axelsson, road tripping around Iceland while giving the M/M 246 a shakedown cruise:


Thoughts on the Nepal earthquake

On Saturday, Nepal was hammered by the worst earthquake in 80 years.  By this evening, the number of dead rose to 4000, according to the New York Times.  Thousands of others have been injured and many people are unaccounted for.  Historic sites in Nepal - Buddhist temples and shrines - along with homes and businesses were reduced to piles of rubble.  There were deaths along the Nepal/China border in both countries; Saturday's horror did not recognize national boundaries.  The term catastrophic comes to mind.

On Sunday the 26th, it was my privilege to attend and photograph a Buddhist prayer puja for the victims of the Nepal earthquake.  This puja was conducted by Ven. Arjia Rinpoche and the resident monks of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center which is located in Bloomington, Indiana. 

The puja was attended by a small gathering of Sangha members and visitors who joined the monks in 108 recitations of the Green Tara mantra, "Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha" ("I prostrate to the Liberator, Mother of all the victorious Ones").  This mantra is a plea for liberation from suffering - not only physical suffering, but spiritual, mental and emotional suffering as well.  There could scarcely be a more fitting prayer for those who are suffering in Nepal and China.  Monetary gifts were given, which will be sent to a Buddhist monastery in India that will in turn send food, water and medical supplies to the earthquake victims and survivors in Nepal.

A disaster of this magnitude leaves the mind reeling and dumbfounded, searching for answers, searching for words when there are none.  At present, the only fitting words which we can offer the victims and families in Nepal and China are Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha.

(To learn more about the Green Tara Mantra, visit ). 


Grand Opening

Today is the grand opening of my updated and improved website.  Please - come in, look around, make yourself at home.  It is my hope that all who take the time to look at my galleries will find images that speak to them and strike a chord within. 

There are many people to whom I owe  debts of gratitude - people who have helped make this website possible, and have contributed to my photographic endeavors over the years in countless ways.  I would like to take a moment to recognize those who have helped, mentored and contributed to my improvement and growth as a photographer.  To all of you - thank you for all that you have done:

  • H.H. Ven. Arjia Rinpoche - mentoring, inspiration, spiritual counsel
  • Ven. Chunpay Jumai - mentoring, inspiration, travel assistance
  • Ven. Lama Baasansuren - photographic access in Mongolia
  • Ven. Batnairamdal Zundui, Ph.D. - medical assistance in Mongolia
  • Leslie J. Crofford, MD (Vanderbilt Medical Center)  - medical assistance in the U.S.
  • Larry J. Steele, DCM - chiropractic care in the U.S.
  • Hollie Hirst - friendship, inspiration, travel assistance, comic relief
  • Claire Potstada - friendship, inspiration, travel assistance
  • Onolmaa Tervit - friendship, inspiration, travel arrangements, photographic access in Mongolia
  • Badral Mandal - translation, assistance, transportation in Mongolia
  • Luvsandorj Batbaatar - assistance, transportation in Mongolia
  • James Kellar - website design and construction
  • Kendall Reeves - scanning, fine art printing
  • John Dossett, Ph.D - friendship, counsel, life experience
  • Roger Reeves - friendship, counsel, life experience
  • James Barton - friendship, mentoring, fine art printing
  • Paul Lightfoot - friendship, mentoring, inspiration, life experience
  • Tyagan Miller - mentoring, inspiration
  • Rod Planck - training, mentoring
  • Alison Shaw - training, mentoring
  • Constantine Manos - training, mentoring
  • Doug Beasley - training, mentoring
  • Sherry Krauter - friendship, camera repair, photographic counsel
  • Dan Leto of Camera West - friendship, photographic counsel, equipment acquisition
  • Sean Cranor of Camera West - photographic counsel, equipment acquisition   

Most of all I am grateful to Calista Yates, my wife of 22 years for her undying love and support of my ventures and misadventures in both photography and life.  Without her understanding, assistance and good natured forbearance, none of this would have been possible.  Her love and support mean everything to me.





all content copyright © 2000-2018 Allan Yates - All Rights Reserved