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My Experience Photographing UFOs

Welcome to another edition of Let’s Talk Photography!

Imagine this; you’re out shooting and you capture some really beautiful landscape shots or you’ve just taken a bunch of portraits and the sun was perfect, the lighting was in just the right place, the colors and composition were immaculate and you’ve never had sharper photos in all your life. The excitement is so intense that you just can’t wait to get home and get the photos on the computer and start working on them so you can enjoy your new masterpieces. You set aside the entire evening so you can be undisturbed and you wait anxiously while the photos are downloading into your software and then you pull up the first photo and that’s when you see them. To your surprise you stare at first, then you think “did I get them in every shot?” So, you cull through your photos and see them in just about every photo where the sky was in the frame. At this point you simply can’t believe what you are seeing! Then it finally hits home … “I’ve just captured a bunch of UFOs!”

That’s right, UFOs! Unidentified Fuzzy Orbs that appear where the sky is or where any bright part of the photo might be. In this photo, I’ve circled one of them but you should be able to see several all around the sky. At first, you start wiping your screen because maybe it’s a bit of dust that found its way onto your computer monitor. Then you realize every shot has the exact same pattern of dark orbs and you have the revelation that there must be some dust on your camera lens. If that’s the case, you can breathe more easily and give the lens a good cleaning before heading out for your next shoot.

For those of you with a point and shoot or fixed lens camera, that may be where the problem exists. Something got stuck to the front of the lens and it appeared in the shots as very large, faint, but noticeable orbs or smudges. However, those with removeable lens cameras may have to go a couple steps further to find the culprits.

First, you should understand that you can tell almost exactly where the dust is by the size and shape of your UFOs. If they are very large dark or light spots in your image then it’s most likely on the front of the lens. If the dark spot is clearly circular but still large and very soft then it will likely be on the back element of the lens, where the lens attaches to the camera. If the spot is a small, hard, very defined circle, then the dust is inside the camera and stuck to your sensor.

Dust on the lens is the easiest to take care of. Simply remove the lens and give both elements a wipe with a lens cleaning cloth. Dust on the sensor is a different animal all together. The sensor is extremely sensitive and does not like to be touched by anyone or anything. To access the sensor on a DSLR with a mirror, you must lock the mirror in the up, or open, position and you’ll see the sensor directly behind it. On a newer mirrorless camera, the sensor is right there when you remove the lens.

Most of the time, a puff of air will remove the dust and you’ll be good to go. Don’t use a canned or compressed air solution like you would on a computer. You don’t want to blast air onto the sensor. Instead, you can pick up a sensor cleaning kit on the Internet that will include a rubber ball with a small tube and brush on it that will allow you to squeeze a small puff of air and direct it onto the sensor. Never blow on it with your mouth because your breath will carry moisture that can damage the sensor or make the problem worse. Also, when cleaning your sensor like this, hold the camera above you with the sensor and the camera opening pointing down so all the dust that you dislodge will fall out and down. If you put the camera on the table so your looking down into the camera body while cleaning, then you’re just going to be blowing the dust around inside the camera body and it won’t fall out.

You can check to see if any dust remains by holding the camera in front of a light source and tilting the camera from side to side and up and down to see if you see anything on the shiny sensor. In the event a puff of air didn’t do the trick, you can use a cleaning swab and special cleaning fluid to “wipe” the sensor clean. I put “wipe” in quotes because you want to do this with the most delicate touch. Typically, you would wipe the top half of the sensor with one continuous wipe, then wipe the bottom half using the other side of the swab. Not a cotton swab! Do the Internet search for camera sensor cleaning kit and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Never, ever, ever use paper towels, toilet paper, facial tissues, or anything else that can come apart or leave more dust behind. These will all scratch your sensor and your lens if you use them.

Now check to see if you got rid of all the dust. Put your camera in aperture priority mode, set the ISO to the lowest number and turn off auto ISO and auto focus. Set the aperture to the highest number and aim the camera at the clear sky or, if indoors, aim it at a white sheet of paper or even your computer screen with a blank white screen. Zoom your lens, or move close enough so the white fills the entire frame and make sure your camera is completely out of focus. Now, take a picture. Look at the picture in the viewfinder and see if you can see any of those UFOs floating around in the shot. If so, you need to go back in. If not, you’re in great shape!

Until next week, happy shooting!

Is there a topic that you’d like to learn more about? Send feedback, share your photos, or offer topic suggestions to talkphotos@ecklof.com. If you’re looking for a place to connect with local photographers in Chautauqua County, search for the group “Shoot ‘n Share Chautauqua” on Facebook.

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