How to Clean Your Lens and Filters


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Let’s start with some facts:

  • Dirty optics can and will affect your image quality.
  • There are correct methods and tools to clean lens and filter optics.
  • There are incorrect methods and tools to clean lens and filter optics.
  • There’s a great deal of information available on the topic of lens cleaning—some of it conflicting.

So, let’s try to keep things simple, and find the best and safest way to get your lenses clean, so that you can spend more time making photographs, and less time on cleaning chores.

“When you use your gear, it’s going to get dirty.”

Rule #1: Avoid unnecessary cleaning of your lens

Glass is relatively hard and durable. However, when advanced coatings and other chemicals are added to the lens, it becomes a surface that’s more vulnerable to scratches and damage from chemicals and contact. Because of this, we want to try to keep our lenses and filters free of fingerprints and dirt, and avoid repeated physical interaction—this includes touching the lenses and—yes—cleaning.

When stored in your camera bag or on your shelf, judicious use of front and rear lens caps will help keep your optics clean. But, when you use your gear, it’s going to get dirty. This cannot be avoided. Your lenses will benefit from an occasional cleaning of your camera bag innards, as dust and dirt will likely find a home inside your bag and attach itself to the lens.

Rule #2: Dust happens

Dust is everywhere and everywhere is dust. It will get on and inside your lens. Lenses are manufactured in extremely clean factories, where manufacturers go to great lengths to try to eliminate dust from the environment. Even then, brand-new lenses may have dust between the lens elements.

Dust, however, is not the main enemy. A lens that sits on a shelf in your home for years and collects a thick layer of dust will, obviously, produce image-quality issues. But, a few specs of dust here and there on or inside the lens will have no affect on image quality. A few specs of dust on or inside the lens will have no affect on image quality. That statement was intentionally repeated.

“Dust is everywhere and everywhere is dust… Dust, however, is not the main enemy.”

Trying to keep your lenses dust free through continual cleaning may serve to shorten the life of your lens, as you run the risk of scratching the lens surfaces every time you clean the glass.

Rule #3: Beware of rear smudges

Oily fingerprints and smudges on the rear element will have the most dramatic impact on image quality, because of the way that the light is focused narrowly through the back of the lens.

The good news is that the rear element of the lens is less susceptible to dirt and oil because, when mounted on the camera, it isn’t subject to kids’ sticky fingers, your sticky fingers, or other environmental dangers.

Cleaning your optics is easy to do, even in the field

Here is a simple, three-step process for effective lens and filter cleaning:

  1. Remove as much dust and dirt as possible from the lens with a blower or soft-bristled brush.
  2. Apply a few drops of lens cleaning solution to a lens tissue or cleaning cloth.
  3. Using a circular motion, gently remove oil, fingerprints, and grime from the lens surface, working from the center outward.

Analysis

Remember, you can perform those three easy steps in the field when needed but, unless there are greasy fingerprints or oily smudges on your lens, avoid unnecessary cleaning. You don’t need to be in a dust-free “clean room,” and don a vinyl suit and rubber gloves to clean your lens.

The parts of the lens that are most exposed to the environment are the front element and the barrel of the lens. The best way to protect the front element is to attach a high-quality filter. The filter, generally much less expensive than the lens itself, will serve as a sentry that absorbs the gunk headed for your expensive lens optics. The filter will be cleaned in the same manner as any other lens.

A dirty lens barrel will not degrade image quality, but keeping the lens barrel clean may help avoid potential issues with the mechanics of the focus and zoom mechanisms. Use a lens cloth or tissue and lens-cleaning solution to keep your lens barrel clean.

Brushes and Blowers

When it comes to dust removal by air, the best method is to use a blower, and to avoid using compressed air. Without a blower, you can always blow on the lens with your own lung power, but beware of spraying your lens with saliva or your lunch. A blower should be mandatory equipment in your DSLR camera bag for sensor and lens cleaning.

There is a multitude of lens-cleaning brushes on the market. A high-quality one is recommended. Camel hair works very well. Also, do not touch the brush bristles with your oily fingers, unless you want to transfer grime to the lens while cleaning.

Cloth, Tissues, and Cleaners

Lens tissue is relatively inexpensive. One use only, please. Discard the tissue after cleaning your lens.

Microfiber cleaning cloths are popular as well. There are a few precautions to help ensure their beneficial use. Keep them clean, as they will likely be used for multiple cleanings, and you do not want to re-apply dirt and grime or particles that may scratch your lens. If you wash the cloth, avoid using liquid fabric softeners, as they may leave a chemical residue on the cloth and create streaks on your lens.

Use your cotton t-shirt at your own risk. Again, if the lens does not need cleaning, do not clean it, but if you find yourself separated from your lens-cleaning gear and need to remove a smudge, using a clean 100% cotton t-shirt and warm breath is not the end of the world. Again, avoid liquid fabric softeners. You will find better (and safer) results with dedicated lens-cleaning tissues and cloths.

Cotton swabs are a good option for cleaning, and can be especially effective for cleaning the edges of a lens.

Facial tissue is not recommended, as some brands are abrasive and others contain oils and lotions that can streak your lenses.

Many lens manufacturers market specially formulated lens-cleaning solutions designed to accommodate optical coatings. Again, these are relatively inexpensive, but if you want to make your own solution, or store a 50-gallon drum of the stuff, the use of reagent-grade isopropyl alcohol is recommended. De-ionized water is also safe, but is not a dedicated cleaner and, like moisture from warm breath, will only be effective on water-soluble smudges.

Do not use acetone. Acetone is a great cleaner, but, when used on camera lenses, it could have adverse affects on the plastic and paint of the lens barrel, as well as the optical coatings. Again, do not use acetone.

“Oily fingerprints and smudges on the rear element will have the most dramatic impact on image quality, because of the way that the light is focused narrowly through the back of the lens.”

Using household window cleaners is not recommended on coated optics. Stick to the dedicated lens-cleaning solutions, alcohol, or de-ionized water.

Apply the cleaning solution to the tissue or cloth, instead of directly to the lens. There are several reasons to do so. You want to avoid having beads of liquid running to the edge of the lens element and then entering the lens body. Even weatherproofed lenses might not be watertight, and the liquid may enter the lens body due to capillary action. Liquid droplets function as a lens and may focus sunlight to a point on the glass lens surface creating a super-heated area that could damage the lens or coatings. Also, mild liquids and water can have corrosive properties if left in contact with a surface for a length of time.

Cleaning Technique

Wiping in concentric circles will reduce the occurrences of streaking more than working across the lens.

Working from the center to the edge will move debris to the edges of the lens, away from the center of the image circle, in the event the objects do not get removed.

When wiping, apply only enough pressure to remove the offending smudge.

Lens-Cleaning Miscellany

On a DLSR, when you look through the viewfinder, many times you will see lots of dust specs throughout the image. This dust is on the camera’s mirror, and will not affect the photograph. The mirror can be cleaned, but the silvering is very delicate. Also, using air blowers here may blow dust from your mirror onto your digital sensor, which will definitely affect image quality.

A note to users of sport optics, telescopes, and night photographers: beware of inspecting your lens for cleanliness with a color-filtered flashlight, as some of the dirt and smudges may not appear.

Finally, you may clean your lens mounts (camera and lens) with a cloth and lens-cleaning solution. The digital contacts that allow the lens and camera to communicate may require occasional cleaning. Be sure to use a different cloth from that used for the optics, as wiping a metal lens mount to clean it may impart tiny metal debris on the cloth that should never be introduced to the glass.

Remember the three simple steps, remember that dust happens, and be sure to spend more time making photographs than cleaning your gear.

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Greater Storytelling Images by Shooting Collections

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You hit the export button and now your shot is ready for your website, blog, Facebook photography page, or an email attachment to a client. Be honest with yourself. Why is it a great image? Many photographers fall into the trap of thinking an image is stellar because of its textbook perfection. Beware. “Regular Joe” isn’t as interested in technical precision as they are the story in the frame.

Many photographers concentrate on leaving a shoot with that one glorious image. However, it is rare that a single picture is powerful enough to tell a larger story. Regardless of the technical expertise of a photograph, most people find storytelling images more captivating. Viewers want to attach themselves to a photograph and invest in a greater narrative. Considering this, you would be wise to ease up on the quest for the “money shot” and begin to devote energy to the search of multiple frames that can be pieced into a collection that relates a much more interesting overview of your subject.

In his article “Telling Stories With Photos” Digital Photography School founder Darren Rowse likens a captivating image to a short story. If you are like me, you would rather use your time for reading a whole novel, than to flirt with a short story. When your single image isn’t potent enough or you fail to capture the impressive shot you initially intended to get, shoot variations of a scene and present them as a cohesive collection. Similarly, learn to view each shoot or location as an opportunity to create a visual essay that presents a grander tale.

Possible Variations in a Collection

The following are common types of photographs included in a multiple image collection. While it is not necessary to have each type of photo in your compilation, it is important that your variations have a logical sequence and rhythm.

Setting the Scene

This is the image that creates a sense of place. The scene setter is typically a great opener for your collection. It identifies location and introduces subject matter to your audience.

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Mid-Range Shots

Pull back a bit and give more information to the viewer. Using a wider focal length includes some of the larger scene. By doing so, the collection starts to take shape and you have prepared your audience for the action of your story.

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Portraits

Most collections will have a human element. The reason why portraiture is so popular is because, as viewers of photography, we personally connect in some way to every other human. People identify with others and by including a portrait in your collection, your audience can emotionally leap into your narrative.

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Detail Shots

There is small detail in every scene that most overlook. Whether it is the trampled confetti on a dance floor or the untied lace of a child’s shoe, the magic is often captured in the minutia. Detail shots also make great transitions in a multiple image collection.

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Differentiation Shots – get outside the box

Have you ever been to a tourist hotspot and seen a clump of photographers pointing their 70-200mm lenses in the same direction, from the same height? Even after the individual photographers edit, I am willing to bet that photographs taken from the “clumps” are, you guessed it, the same. To make your photography stand out and to improve the interest of your collection, shoot variations that other photographers fail to notice.

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Action Shots

Action shots are a great way to identify what is commonly thought to be the crux of any story. However, the action shots are just the gravy on the mashed potatoes. The real story lies in the elements surrounding the action. Think about a wedding. The pinnacle of action of a wedding involves the words “I do” and a kiss. However, the best shots are captured before and after that moment. Many photographers concentrate on the action shot and are left without time or energy for anything else. My advice is to shoot every other variation first so that there is the scaffolding on which to build a larger story.

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Closing Shots

How does your story end? To finalize a collection, think about what lasting image you would like to leave with your audience. Make sure that the concluding shot offers your audience a sense of closure.

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The Greater Story

When you pack your gear for a shoot, remind yourself that a single stellar image is not always the greater story. There is photographic gold to be mined if you give yourself time and allow yourself to break from the paralyzing tunnel vision that plagues most photographers. The next time you hit the export button, make sure that you are telling a greater story by producing variations and presenting them as a collection.

Gear tip: quite often, a scene unfolds rather quickly. Whether it a sporting event, party or field trip, photographers should be at the ready to capture the larger story quickly. While many telephoto zoom lenses do not have the character of their prime lens counterparts, they are extremely useful when attempting to create a collection in a short amount of time. Try a 24-105mm (or comparable) lens to capture both the wide and tight elements needed in an effective storytelling collection.

For more on creating storytelling images read these: 

The post Greater Storytelling Images by Shooting Collections by Andrew Faulk appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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