3 Reasons Why You Need to Use a Lens Hood

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What did you do with the lens hood that came with your favorite lens?  If you’re like me, you probably took it off and stowed it somewhere safe so it didn’t get broken, or you flipped it backwards and let it ride around on your lens looking cool.

Here are three reasons you’ll want to pull that hood out of storage and put it to use!  Don’t worry if you can’t locate yours.  We’ve got lots of solutions here for that!  And some of them are FREE!!!  But first…

1 - It Protects Your Lens

One of the seemingly silliest reasons to use your hood is that it protects your lens.  But – shake that thought.  It is not at all silly.  I learned this the hard way after bumping the front of my lens into a piece of chain link fence at my son’s soccer game.  I had removed the cap from the lens and left my camera hanging from my cross-body strap.  I turned quickly to say hello to a friend and wham-o, the glass on the front of my lens took a clean swipe across the fence.  After discovering a little chunk out of the glass on the front of the lens, I wiped away my lone teardrop and vowed to be more mindful of using my hood in the future.

If I had been using a hood, the glass would have been safe while the hood took the brunt of the clunk.  A hood is easily replaced, but once a lens is scratched, there’s not much you can do to fix it.  Sadly, a lens is much pricier to replace.  And we would all rather spend our hard-earned cash on a fun new lens, and not a replacement lens for the one that got scratched or dinged.

Photo showing big lens flare and dust on lens
A massive lens flare – and look at all of those dust specks!!! Ugh!

2 - It Minimizes Flare

Think of when you’re out in bright sunlight and it’s hard to make out the details of a scene because the light is so bright.  When you pull down the brim of your cap, suddenly you can see more clearly.  A lens hood is like a ballcap for your lens.  It will help you decide how much light you have entering your lens.

When light enters the front of your lens, it bounces around within the lens, causing reflections to bounce back onto the sensor.  This creates the colored blobs in your photos that we call flare.  The newer lenses on the market have coatings on the glass to reduce this effect, but they are not always effective.  Using a lens hood is a simple solution.

Now is as good a time as any to point out that lens flare is sometimes really cool in a photo, but not always.  Just like I mentioned in YOUR ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SHOOTING IN MANUAL, you want to know how to do it on purpose and how to prevent it.  This way you have the option to choose to create a sunflare when it makes sense in your image and not just have one appear because you don’t know how to prevent it.

3 – It Adds Contrast to your Photos in Brightly Lit Situations

Using a lens hood to let in the light you want and block out the light you don’t will cause your photos to be clearer and have brighter colors.  On the flip side, when you have too much light blasting into your lens, you’ll likely get a distracting haze and a very washed out end result.

When bright sunlight enters the lens from a side angle, a hood will block the light from entering and hitting your lens’s front element.  Too much light hitting that front element causes your photo to be washed out and hazy.  When you control the light, you control the level of haze that occurs from too much light on the element.  When you reduce the haze, you will naturally have richer and more deeply saturated colors and more contrast.

A hazy image with no lens hood
You can see how washed out this photo is due to lens flare. Sometimes that’s what you want, but it can be frustrating when you aren’t trying to achieve that look.

An important note! Don’t miss this detail!

One situation in which a hood offers little help is when you’re shooting directly toward the sun and you want the sun in your image.  A hood is only useful when it’s blocking the sun rays.  When the sun is shining directly into the front of the lens, even a hood won’t block them.

Image showing how light is blocked with lens hood

Now that we’ve covered WHY you want to use a lens hood, let’s talk about the two types of hoods available.  Most high-quality lenses, including the professional series lenses such as the Sigma Art series or the Tamron SP series, will come with a hood when you purchase.  However, you may find yourself in a position to replace a hood, or add one to an older lens.

The Petal Lens Hood

picture of a petal lens hood

This lens hood is easy to identify, because like its name, it is shaped with petals on the sides.  This style of lens hood is meant to work best with wider lenses.  If you need a refresher on some basic terms like “wide lens”, be sure and check out TEN NEED-TO-KNOW PHOTOGRAPHY TERMS FOR THE BEGINNER.

The tulip blades are designed to line up with the camera’s sensor and should be used with the shorter petals to the left and right and longer petals along top and bottom.  This allows as much light into the sensor as possible, while still blocking unnecessary light.  In addition, the short side petals help keep the hood from appearing in the frame or causing a vignette, or darkening effect, in the corners of the image.

Here’s a great example of a petal lens hood available on Amazon.  Be sure and order the correct size for your lens.

The Cylindrical Lens Hood

A Cylindrical lens hood

The cylindrical lens head is also easy to identify as it is shaped like a cylinder.  The edges are uniform instead of different lengths.  The cylindrical hood works best with longer lenses and will block light from all angles.

Here is a basic, collapsible cylindrical lens hood available on Amazon.  Just like the petal lens hood, you’ll want to be sure and purchase the right size for your lens.

One of the nice features available in a cylindrical lens hood is that you can purchase a collapsible style, rubber hood.  These are great for packing in your bag, but the drawback is you lose a bit of the protection that a hard plastic hood gives your glass.

Putting it All Together

You’ve hung in for this long, so now it’s time to tell you all about the FREE options available for a lens hood. 

  • Use your hand to shield your lens, just as you would your eyes.
  • Use a cardboard coffee cup insulator on the end of your lens. You can read about how to do that in Five Cheap Photographer Equipment Tips https://veronicajunephotography.com/five-cheap-photography-equipment-tips/
  • If it’s absolutely not in your budget to purchase a hood, or even a cup of coffee (which is sometimes as costly as a hood), then you can always print a PDF hood template from THIS HANDY WEBSITE. It’s simple to find your lens, print the pattern, cut it out, and Voila!  You have a temporary hood.  Also lightweight for travel.

Lens Hoods are a critical part of your photographic equipment.  You should have the right style for your lens and keep it close at hand so it’s available when you need it.  When you don’t want it on your lens, then it is simple to turn it around and mount it backwards on your lens.  It will slip right into your bag around the lens and you’ll barely know it’s there…  til you need it for protection and ultimate light control!  You can confidently go forth knowing how and when to get the effect you desire in your photos.  Happy Photographing!

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