Improve Your Photography – 3 Reasons For Using A Camera Lens Hood

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Improve Your Photography – 3 Reasons For Using A Camera Lens Hood

Even if you are not a beginner photographer, you may not know what a lens hood is and what to do with it.  You may even have a lens hood and aren’t sure why or how to use it.  Maybe you’ve taken your camera lens hoods off your fine lenses and put them somewhere safe and out of the way.  But today, we’ll talk about image quality and the main reason you want to use that bad boy instead of keeping it somewhere safe.

Whether you are an amateur photographer or a pro, these good reasons for using a lens hood will keep you shooting clear photos and controlling the extraneous light that often prevents you from creating the strongest image.

Today we’re going to talk about what that lens hood does and why you need one so you can put it to work! Go ahead and take that hood out of storage and dust it off!  And 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, let’s talk about what a lens hood does so you can put it to work instead of keeping it flipped around on the end of the lens looking cool.

The Main Purpose of a Lens Hood is to Minimize Unwanted Glare

Have you been out on a super bright day when the sun is high in the sky?  When that strong light source is so bright that it is hard to make out the details of a scene? When you pull down the brim of your cap or shade your eyes with your hand to get rid of the stray light, suddenly, you can see more clearly. A lens hood is like a ballcap or a hand shade for your lens.

The first and most important reason to use a camera lens hood is to minimize the enormous amount of light entering your front lens element on days like this.

Here’s why: When light enters the front of your lens, it bounces around within the lens, causing reflections to bounce back onto the sensor. These reflections create the colored blobs in your photos that we call lens 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 to reduce unwanted light from entering the front element of your lens.

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

Now is as good a time as any to point out that lens flare is sometimes really cool in a photo, but not always.  Knowledge gives you choices in photography.  The same is true with a lens hood.  You want to know how to create a lens flare on purpose and when to prevent it.  This way, you can choose to create a sun flare when it makes sense in your image and not have one appear because you don’t know how to prevent it.

Click HERE to learn all about camera settings and how to use your camera in manual mode.

A Camera Lens Hood Adds Contrast

Now that you know how to lessen the accidental impact of a lens glare in your photo.  The next reason to use a lens hood is to add contrast to your images in brightly lit situations. Use a lens hood to let in the light you want and block out the light you don’t.  Your pictures will be clearer and have brighter colors. When you have too much light blasting into your lens, your images will have a distracting haze will look washed-out.

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 a hazy and washed-out image. When you control the light, you control the haze level from too much light on the element. When you reduce haze, your result is a clear photo with richer, deeper saturation of colors and increased 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.

A Camera Lens Hood Protects Your Lens

We know that a lens cap exists to protect your lens when not in use.  But did you also know that a lens hood will protect your lens when it is in use? Lens protection may not be the first thing to consider when considering a camera lens hood, but it makes the number three spot on my list of reasons to use a lens hood.

Using a lens cap to protect your lens may seem silly but shake that thought! 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.  My camera was hanging from my cross-body strap without a lens cap. When I turned quickly to say hello to a friend 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 lens hood.  This particular lens was one of my favorite telephoto lenses, and now it was damaged.  Excuse me while I have a moment of silence.

Suddenly it seemed clear and simple that a lens hood would have protected that lens.  The glass would have been safe while the hood took the brunt of the clunk. You can quickly and inexpensively replace a lens hood, but once a lens is scratched, there’s not much you can do to fix it. Sadly, replacing a lens is much more expensive than replacing plastic or rubber lens hoods.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend my hard-earned cash on a fun new lens and not a replacement lens for the one that got scratched or dinged. Good for you if you’ve never had an accident like this one. Trust me when I tell you that the longer you shoot, the more likely you will have a moment like this. You will remember it forever when it happens!

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What Type of Lens Hoods Should I Use?

Now that we have covered the three main reasons to use a camera lens hood let’s talk about the two types of hoods available. Most high-quality lenses, including professional series lenses such as the Sigma Art series or the Tamron SP series, will come with a hood when you purchase them.  Some wide-angle lenses, such as the Tamron 15-30 f/1.8 G2 will have a hood built right in.

You may still find that you need to replace a hood or add one to an older lens, so let’s discuss the universal lens hood types available.

Petal Lens Hoods

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 lens hood is easy to identify because it is shaped with petals on the sides, as the name indicates. Sometimes these are referred to as tulip lens hoods – and you can see why. It looks similar to a tulip, and I better know what a tulip looks like since I live in Holland, MI, home of the world’s largest Tulip Festival.  But I digress.

A petal lens is sometimes known as a wide-angle lens hood because it will work best with wide-angle lenses.  Click HERE for a refresher on basic terms like “wide lens” and “long lens.”

The design of the tulip hood is intentional to line up with the camera’s rectangular sensor. You want to line the edges up with the shorter petals to the left and right and longer petals along the top and bottom of your lens.

Aligning the hood allows as much light into the sensor as possible while still blocking unnecessary light. Also, 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.

Click HERE for a petal lens hood available on Amazon.  Pay attention to the thread size of your lens, and be sure to order the correct size.

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When You Need a Lens Hood

A cylindrical lens hood
A cylindrical lens hood

When You Need a Lens Hood and When You Don’t

The cylindrical lens hood is also easy to identify because it looks 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.

One of the excellent features available in a cylindrical lens hood is purchasing a collapsible style rubber hood. These are great for packing in your bag because they do not take up much space, but the drawback is you lose a bit of the protection that a hard plastic hood gives your glass.

One of the 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.

Click HERE for 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.

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When You Don’t Need a Lens Hood

Now that we have covered the three main reasons to use a camera lens hood and the two main styles of hoods let’s talk about when you DON’T need one.  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 functional when blocking the sun rays from your camera sensors. When the sun is shining directly into the front of the lens, even a dedicated lens hood won’t stop the glare.

A perfect example of when you want to shine the sun directly into your lens is when you are intentionally shooting for a starburst effect in your image.  Excellent photography is all about knowing when to use your tools to achieve the effect you want.

Image showing how light is blocked with lens hood

Putting it All Together

That was a lot of information to digest. Now I will tell you all about the FREE options available for a lens hood if you find yourself in a pinch without one handy or you want to test out how a hood works before spending another dime.

  • Use your hand to shield your lens, just as you would your eyes.  It is free and simple to put your hand in front of your camera lens and block the incoming light.
  • Place a cardboard coffee cup insulator on the end of your lens.
  • If it’s not in your budget to purchase a hood, or even a cup of coffee (which is sometimes as costly as a hood these days), 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 that is lightweight for travel and offers compact storage.

Why do you need a lens hood? Simple! Because it is a critical part of your photographic equipment.  And because it is one of the most important accessories you can purchase for one of the lowest prices!  Before you buy, remember to find the correct style for your lens.  Keep it close once you have it, so it’s available when you need it. When you don’t want it on your lens, it is simple to turn it around and mount it backward. It will slip right into your bag around the lens, and you’ll barely know it’s there until you need it for protection and ultimate light control!

I would love to see your images with and without a lens hood.  Please comment below or in my Facebook group HERE!  

PIN image for Lens Hoods showing diagram of how a camera lens hood works

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