What A Lens Hood Does and 3 Reasons Why You Need One

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What A Lens Hood Does and 3 Reasons Why You Need One

When you got your first fancy lens for your DSLR, I bet it came with a lens hood.  If you were like me, then you probably wondered what a lens hood does and why you need one.  Also, if you were like me, you probably took it off the lens and stowed it somewhere safe, so it didn’t get broken, or you flipped it backward and let it ride around on your lens looking cool.

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 get 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.

What Does a Lens Hood Do?

#1 - It Protects Your Lens

One of the essential things your lens hood does is protect your lens.  It may seem silly 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.  When I turned quickly to say hello to a friend, 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 lens hood in the future.

It was pretty simple that day to know why I needed a lens hood.  Had I been using mine, 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, a lens costs a whole lot more than a plastic lens hood.  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 – the longer you shoot, the more likely it becomes that you will have a moment like this.  You will remember it forever when it happens!

What Does a Lens Hood Do?

#2 - It Minimizes Flare

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

Have you been out on a super bright day when the sun is high in the sky?  You know – when it 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, suddenly, you can see more clearly.  A lens hood is like a ballcap or a hand shade for your lens.  You need a lens hood to minimize the enormous amount of light entering your lens on days like this, and 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.

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 as you want to choose when to shoot in manual and when to shoot in auto,  you want to know how to create lens flare on purpose and when to prevent it.  This way, you have the option to choose to create a sun flare when it makes sense in your image and not just have one appear because you don’t know how to prevent it.

What Does a Lens Hood Do?

#3 - It Adds Contrast

Another thing your lens hood does is to add 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 images 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 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 a hazy and washed-out image.  When you control the light, you control the haze level 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 Side Note

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

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 it’s blocking the sun rays.  When the sun is shining directly into the front of the lens, even a hood won’t stop them.  A perfect example of when you want to shine the sun directly into your lens is when you are intentionally shooting for a starburst.  Check out Epic Photography – Capturing A Perfect Starburst Is Easier than You Think.   Once again, it’s all about knowing when to use your tools to achieve the effect you want.

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 professional series lenses such as the Sigma Art series or the Tamron SP series, will come with a hood when you purchase them.  However, you may find yourself able to replace a hood or add one to an older lens.

When You Need a Lens Hood

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.

Sometimes this lens hood is referred to as a Tulip Hood – and you can see why.  It looks similar to a tulip, and I should 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 hood will work best with wide lenses.  Use a petal lens hood when you’re shooting a gorgeous mountainscape or waterfall.

The design of the tulip hood is intentional for the shape 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 this way 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.

Here is a petal lens hood available on Amazon.  Be sure and order the correct size for your lens.

When You Need a Lens Hood

The Cylindrical Lens Hood

A Cylindrical lens hood

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. This hood is perfect for those closeups of your kiddo on the soccer field or a bird perched at the feeder in your backyard.

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.

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.

Putting it All Together

What A Lens Hood Does and Why You Need One

That was a lot of great information to digest.  Now I will tell you all about the FREE options available for a lens hood, in case you find yourself in a pinch without one handy.

  • Use your hand to shield your lens, just as you would your eyes.
  • Place a cardboard coffee cup insulator on the end of your lens.
  • 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 these days), 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.

Why do you need a lens hood?  Simple!  Because it is 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, 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, that is!  You can confidently go forth knowing how and when to get the effect you desire in your photos.  Happy Photographing!

Read more about lens hoods from my friends at Improve Photography

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