Lots of Things Need Periodic Cleaning
From fingerprints and smudges on lenses to dust spots on images and more, there sure are a lot of things to clean periodically on your quest for good images. And not all such things are as obvious as others.
Lens Smudges and Fingerprints
Try as you might, fingerprints and smudges can find their way onto the exposed glass elements of your lenses. No matter how careful you are, cleaning lenses will always be necessary. Forget the idea of "keeping your lenses clean." That sounds great but can't possibly work. The front element of your lens has to be exposed, for at least as long as it takes for the light that will in turn expose the image you shot during that time. And don't think a "protective filter" is going to prevent you from having to clean the front element. Without getting into any other arguments for and against such filters, they won't mean much to your lens cleaning regimen. You'd only be trading the need to clean the front element of your lens for the equivalent chore of cleaning the front of your filter. And if you ever change filters, you'd be opening yourself up to fingerprints, dust or pollen getting in between lens and filter. Yet more class surfaces to keep clean. And don't forget about the rear element on a lens either. It's may be less likely to get dirty than the front, but it can happen. Give it a quick check now and then.
Camera Bags Hold Whatever You Let in Them
Whether you prefer one that you can sling over your shoulder, strap around your waist, or wear on your back, a camera bag is useful for getting around your gear to where you are planning to shoot. But they can also carry a fleece jacket in case it gets cold later. Or you could bring a sack lunch with you for a leisurely dinner before shooting sunset. Or maybe something even more creative. Camera bags are basically indiscriminate containers, holding whatever you put in them. They will also do a fine job of holding whatever just happens to fall in while you have them open, and any pollen or fine dirt that may hitch a ride on your gear when you're done shooting and pack everything up in your bag to go. Over time, you can accumulate dirt and dust and who knows what in a camera bag that really doesn't belong there. The problem is, if you ignore it, it just might find its way onto and into the camera gear your bag was primarily designed for. At least now and then, take some time out to clean your camera bag. A good vacuum cleaner nozzle should do nicely.
Can I Get a Hand Here?
I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention that keeping your hands clean will obviously help keep your gear clean. As primarily inclined toward nature photography myself, I'd also be remiss if I fail to admit that keeping them so in the field is often not terribly practical. But try we must. Depending on the conditions you find yourself working in, consider bringing some hand wipes with you perhaps. That's a non-camera item worth allowing into your camera bag.
If you give it the opportunity or perhaps simply wait long enough and let entropy to take over, dust will eventually find its way onto your camera's sensor. Practice changing lenses so you can do it quickly. If your camera has a built-in "dust reduction" function that vibrates the sensor to shake anything loose, use it. The less of an opportunity you give dust and pollen to stick, the longer you can hopefully last without a full cleaning, but if you take enough images, or rather if you change lenses often enough, the inevitable is, well, ... "inevitable." If you've never faced this, I would recommend considering how you want to approach it before the need actually arises. If you're willing to pay for it, you may find you have a trusted camera store near you that can do it, or you could pay even more and wait a while as you send it in for factory service. Or if you have even a reasonably steady hand and a fair attention to detail, you should be able to master cleaning it yourself. Just be aware, while it's not overly difficult, any damage you may cause will be on you to pay for repairing. Learn all you can about the process before you dig in. This is not a time to go for that mad scientist sort of vibe you've always dreamed about.
Cloning Image Spots
Obviously, the best way to deal with dust spots on your images is to avoid letting dust spots get there in the first place. If I've managed to keep your attention up to this point, I've hopefully convinced you to redouble your efforts at keeping your gear and associated tools clean. But if you zoom in close enough on at least some of your images I'm betting you can find dust spots. Since we pay good money for the highest resolution cameras we can afford, it seems reasonable to cut them some slack for rendering visible even the tiniest dust spots. Thankfully, the cloning tools in Lightroom, Photoshop and pretty much every upstart competitor can help make quick work of getting rid of those spots. But only if you take the time to look for them and deal with them. Don't forget to do this as part of your digital darkroom workflow.
Habits Can be Habit Forming
There's one more thing worth keeping clean that you may not have considered. If you like taking pictures of a certain type, whether that be based on subject matter, composition or other criteria, it's easy to develop habits on how you approach things. This makes sense, to a degree. There's really no reason to reinvent the wheel every time you set out to take a photograph. It's much more efficient to build on what you already know works. But doing so can leave in a rut, with every picture of that type looking remarkably like every other one. Learning and growing means approaching each challenge anew when you can. At least after you've shot your safe bets, find some other way to capture that subject. Try a different focal length or an unusual shooting position, or perhaps slow the shutter speed way down. Think out of the box. Make it a personal challenge with a familiar subject.