Eventually, no matter how well you care for your digital camera, your lens will take some wear and tear. However, that doesn't mean that you can't still use it - or at the very least, minimize the damage to image quality. Here are some tips to taking pictures with a damaged lens.
While at this point it may be a bit too late, the most important thing you can do to avoid the hassle of learning to shoot with a damaged lens is to never damage it in the first place. Be mindful of your camera lens: learn how to clean it in a way that won't cause damage, and don't handle it in an unsafe manner. If possible, utilize lens protection accessories such as clear filters or lens hoods (which you can easily make yourself).
Also, make yourself familiar with your camera warranty. Under what circumstances can the lens be replaced for free? Is there a discount for repairs? And finally, consider whether such a repair would be worth it.
That being said, once the damage is done, the damage is done. This article will attempt to provide some tips to help minimize the effect that damage has on your photography.
Be Familiar With The Flaw
The most critical part of damage reduction is to become familiar with the flaw: every flaw is a little bit different. Knowing where precisely it is in an image is very important: front and center, or off to a side? Also, you can try zooming in and out or changing the focus to see how the flaw alters the final image. Your LCD screen is a powerful tool for this. Try taking pictures with both plain white and black surfaces at different settings to get a feel for the severity and location of the flaw.
Now you get to utilize this new familiarity with the damage. There are two main approaches to composition with damage reduction in mind. The first is to compose the image so that the damage is in the least conspicuous location. Shadows or other dark places, and places with complex irregular patterns, are both good spots to “place" the damage where it won't be as easily noticed.
Alternatively, the opposite is also an option: place the scratch where it's the most conspicuous, on a clean background like the sky or a wall. This will make it more easily dealt with in processing work (see later in the article) so that the image can appear as if there was never a flaw in the lens in the first place.
However, it's still a tricky balance: at what point do you sacrifice superior composition for a less conspicuous scratch? There's no real right answer to this, but hopefully some compromise can be found. Looking on the bright side, working within the bounds of a flaw might even help you find new, creative ways to compose an image.
Here's where a little familiarity with the image editing software of your choice can go a long way. The myriad of tools at your disposal will help you considerably: the only real limitation is your patience. The more time you spend working on an image, the less obvious it will be that it ever even existed in the first place. Also, keep in mind during the composition process that the easiest flaws to edit out of the image are the ones against the least complicated background.
Working delicately with a color selection tool and an airbrush can get a lot of the damage out of the way, especially if you're working with gradiated colors. The healing tool can duplicate simple patterns with a relative amount of success as well. Straight out cropping a flaw out of the image might also help. Again: the possibilities are limited only by your photo editing skills and your patience.
If you own Paint Shop Pro, these tutorials will help you learn more on how to edit you digital photos quickly and easily.
If you are looking for free photo editing software, take a look at this list.