When to Use a Lens Hood
A lens hood is a plastic accessory that comes everything from the cheapest kit lens to the most expensive professional options.
It’s a simple device that’s cylindrical and attaches to the front of your lens – usually via a screw thread.
Despite their basic form, they serve an essential part of the photography process.
What’s more, there’s a range of third party and aftermarket lens hoods that come in all shapes and sizes.
Some photographers can’t leave home without their lens hoods, and others turn their noses up at these simple camera accessories – let’s discover why.
The main reason for using a lens hood is to reduce the amount of incoming light. This allows you to control lens flares and maintain clarity and contrast in your images, even on bright days. Second to this, lens hoods can help to protect your lenses from damage.
What’s the Point of a Lens Hood?
There’s a range of compelling reasons for using a lens hood with almost every lens you own.
It’s important to understand those reasons to ensure that you make the most of your photography gear to deliver picture-perfect images.
Here are 6 reasons why you’d use a lens hood on your next shoot.
1. Blocking Sunlight
Too much sunlight – especially direct sunlight, such as in the image above – can have a detrimental impact on your pictures.
Imagine being out on a sunny day, and the sun’s angle makes your eyes squint. Instinctively, you hold your hand up to shield against the harshness of that light. A lens hood works in precisely the same way.
Inside the lens, there are up to twenty glass elements all grouped and aligned to achieve focus, zoom and image clarity, and to reduce aberrations and distortions.
Lenses also control the direction of light travelling to the image sensor.
Sunlight hitting the lens directly or at an angle impacts your image with flaring – bright spots and streaks on your image.
The light coming in at sharp angles from the side of the lens is a big problem as those waves will bounce around inside it, much like the effect of light leaks.
Obviously, sun light isn’t the only light source that a hood can help block – perhaps you’re shooting under bright street lamps, or maybe it’s the strobes in a studio setting – whatever the case, a hood can be the answer to unwanted glare.
2. Damage Avoidance
Lenses are expensive – some of the best ones can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Despite being a pro and knowing what you’re doing, there’s always a risk of accidental damage to the lens element or lens face.
I’ve bumped the front of my lens several times when out on a shoot. It’s especially easy to do when the camera is slung over your shoulder or hanging in front of you.
If you damage that front glass element of your lens, you might as well replace the whole lens or send it off for repair.
Fitting a hood provides an additional layer of protection and insurance. Think of it like a bumper bar on a car – the bumper will take a knock in a car park, but the rest of the car will be fine.
You can live with a few marks on your lens hood, but you can’t live with a damaged lens.
3. Weathering The Storm
Some lenses have weather sealing allowing you to use them when it’s raining, snowing or in dusty conditions.
Being out on a wildlife excursion with a weather-sealed camera and telephoto lens all but guarantees a stunning shot of a snow leopard. But all that pricey gear is worthless when the front of your lens is caked in snow and ice.
The simplest way to manage this is with a lens hood. It provides a natural overhang that’s usually deep enough to shield your lens from the elements.
4. Sticky Fingers
We’ve all had the global issue of finding fingerprints on the front glass of our lenses.
Most of the time they’ll be our own, as we often reach for a lens only to discover the lens cap is missing and we’ve just smudged our fingers across it.
While lenses are being treated with all sorts of smart coatings to keep the front element clean, you can’t defeat the sticky finger.
A simple way to manage this is with a lens hood. Much like the previous two points, the hood grants a layer of protection from fingerprints and any other surface that will leave an oily smudge.
5. Contrast And Clarity
While some may say that a lens hood does little for image quality, the reality is they can make all the difference.
In an image, a flare hitting the lens at the right angle can seriously wash out all the detail and contrast available. Colours can become severely faded and muted, turning what would be a punchy image into one that’s unusable.
It’s like driving your car on a sunny day, and the light is shining in your eyes. You see a small amount of detail, enough to drive safely, but the clarity is gone, and the glare is intense.
With a lens hood, the light that attacks the front element of the lens and causes the flare disappears.
What’s more, your images will benefit considerably as the light is held at bay to allow for contrast and clarity to be evident, such as in he image above.
6. You’ve Got The Look!
While I find this a little silly, it’s still worth mentioning – especially if you’re a gear nerd.
Placing a lens hood on the front of a lens can significantly add to the overall look and balance of a lens/camera combo.
Some lens hoods, especially those on telephoto lenses, can be very deep and can make a lens look twice as long. If you like to show off your gear or compete with a fellow gear nerd, then a lens hood can add a lot of value to your kit.
The kinds of hoods used on wide-angle lenses can also provide a dramatic and pro-level look to your set-up.
Finally, some lens hoods, especially some aftermarket products, can add a lot of style and flair (pardon another pun) to your kit. Some have a retro-inspired aesthetic reminiscent of old-school film cameras and lenses.
There’s certainly a trend among photographers of showing off gear not just for its practical applications, but also for its looks.
When Shouldn’t You Use a Lens Hood?
Now that I’ve set the expectation of when and why you’d use a lens hood, let’s undo entirely everything I’ve said so far!
1. A Little Flare Goes A Long Way
Where a lens hood blocks excessive light and prevents severe lens flares from ruining an image, the opposite can be quite appealing.
Adding a little flare in your image can turn a simple composition into a more pronounced story.
Lens flare can help to narrate that it’s bright or hot, for example.
It’s just important to remember that excessive flare is not your friend and that it’s best to take a balanced approach in how often you introduce flare to your photos.
2. The Wrong Hood
If you lost your original lens hood or perhaps picked up a lens without one, you can purchase a range of third party hoods.
However, some exist to suit a particular filter size. To explain what that means, filter size is the diameter of the thread at the front of the lens. You use this to screw on lens filters and also lens hoods.
Some third-party hoods don’t possess the necessary precision for a specific lens. As a result, you may see the edges of the hood in your frame when you look through the viewfinder.
This also applies with extremely wide-angle lenses or fish-eye lenses. They’ve such a wide field of view that they can include the lens hood in the composition.
3. Filters First
The front of a lens has a filter thread that’s primarily used to attach filters. Some lenses will have this thread and a separate thread or mount for attaching your lens hood.
But a lot of lenses only have the one point of attachment, so it’s either the filter of the hood, but not both.
Some filter systems will sit snugly and not impede on the lens hood – or vice-versa. But other filter systems have a bracket that holds large square glass filters. With these, it’s impossible to also attach a lens hood.
For those shooting landscapes in Iceland or some far-flung place with a filter system, it’s up to you to make the call on what’s more important – the filter or the hood, but things like UV filters remain a popular choice with many photographers.
4. Flash Obstruction
Some cameras feature a built-in flash mounted on the front of the camera body or a pop-up flash on the top.
If you’re using a hood that has a wide diameter, it will obstruct the light emitted by the flash. In some cases, this won’t cause too much issue, but in other situations, it will result in an uneven shadow thrown over your subject.
So if you’re using a built-in flash, remove the lens hood no matter how good it looks when on.
5. You Don’t Want The Look!
We talked earlier about lens hoods adding to the overall size and look of a camera/lens combo.
The downside of this style expression is that it can draw unwanted attention. In most situations, this is harmless showboating, but in others, it can be a little risky and even dangerous.
If you’re travelling with your camera, the last thing you want to do is draw unwanted attention to yourself – especially if you’re in a location known for pickpocketing and theft. It’s hard enough to keep your gear safe when travelling without hanging a flag off the end of it.
The other side of this is for those that want to be discreet for artistic purposes. I’m a street photographer, and one of my key objectives is to be unnoticed so I can capture candid shots of people interacting with their world. As a result, my kit is minimal, and I don’t use lens hoods as they increase the overall presence of a camera.
6. Sail Away
While lens hoods can be great to help shoot in foul weather, they can also be a detriment to your process. Lens hoods are made of plastic, and when mounted form a hollow chamber. This means that strong winds will buffet the lens.
While I’m sure that you’re strong enough to handhold a camera in a gust, if you’re shooting long exposures, the smallest of camera movement will register on your image, especially with a longer focal length or zoom lens.
And with your camera mounted to a tripod, the chance of movement caused by wind is even higher.
Types of Lens Hood
There are a few different types of lens hoods, including those offered by the lens manufacturer in the box and those you can buy after the fact.
Cylindrical Lens Hoods
A cylindrical lens hood will usually have a diameter that’s only slightly wider than the widest part of the lens – they also have a straight front edge.
That way, you can mount the lens backwards when not in use and it will stay snug against the lens barrel. Lenses with a long focal distance (35-90mm) or longer telephoto lenses will usually have a cylindrical lens hood.
These lenses have a compressed field of view, so you won’t see the tips of the hood in your image.
Petal Lens Hoods
Some lenses will have a petal-shaped lens hood – otherwise known as tulip-shaped. These have four curved petal-shaped edges and when mounted are longer at the top, bottom and two sides.
The design of these hoods allows optimal light while avoiding flare. You’d use this type of hood with a wide-angle lens – some of them have a considerably wider diameter than the front element to prevent the edges of the hood appearing in images.
Other Lens Hoods
There are other forms of lens hoods that have been made by third-party manufacturers for prime and zoom lenses.
Some of them are made from rubber with collapsible segments so you can easily store them and also use the one hood for all of your lenses.
Some aftermarket first-party lens hoods can be a premium product made from alloy or metal to complement a specific lens.
Fujifilm offers several metal lens hoods that mount with a round thread but have a rectangular form – reminiscent of a videography lens.
Lens Hood FAQs
Should I use a lens hood at night?
While not imperative, lens hoods can be useful at night for blocking unwanted artificial light from causing lens flares on your images.
Should you use a lens hood indoors?
There’s no real need to use a lens hood indoors as it won’t impact image quality either way. That said, you might keep one on while indoors just to help protect your lens from damage.
Does a lens hood affect exposure?
Yes, a lens hood affects exposure in a good way as it stops unwanted light from overexposing elements of your image.
How should I transport/store my lens hoods?
Due to the shape and material of lens hoods, they easily crush if squished into a camera bag. One way to minimise risk and save space is to transport them attached to your lens in the reverse position.