Facebook Pixel Lens Hoods: What Are They Really For, and Do You Need Them?

Lens Hoods: What Are They Really For, and Do You Need Them?

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Most camera lenses come with something called a Lens Hood, which looks like a short circular tube that attaches to the front. These diminutive devices seem a little strange, but they can serve several very useful purposes. While some people might be tempted to toss them on the shelf and never give them a second thought, knowing what lens hoods are and how to use them can have a significant impact on your photography.

Lens Hoods: What Are They Really For, and Do You Need Them?

Why use Lens Hoods?

Imagine this: it’s a bright, sunny day and you are outside for a stroll. The sun is beating down hard and you’re having a bit of trouble seeing clearly, so you hold your hand up to your forehead in an effort to block the light. Congratulations, you’ve just made your very own lens hood for your face! I know this is a bit of an oversimplification, but the lens hood on a camera is about the same as using your hand or a ball cap to block a bit of light when it’s bright out.

Image: It’s kind of like putting a ball cap on your camera, but a lot more effective.

It’s kind of like putting a ball cap on your camera, but a lot more effective.

Why would this be beneficial for photography? Since you need light to make photographs, wouldn’t blocking the sunlight be counterproductive? It might seem so, but in reality, you aren’t making the scene any darker just as putting a cap on your head doesn’t make the sun any less potent.

Indeed, the primary reason to embrace your lens hood as an essential photographic companion is that it makes your pictures look better. Its purpose is to prevent your photos from developing a washed-out appearance that tends to happen under certain lighting conditions. They also offer other benefits mostly related to the protection of your camera gear.

Image: The lack of a lens hood gave this picture a washed-out appearance.

The lack of a lens hood gave this picture a washed-out appearance.

These types of pictures happen because harsh, intense light enters the camera lens and gets scattered across a portion of the image as a result. Lens hoods can mitigate much of this problem by acting as a shade over the front glass element.

Image: Attaching a lens hood gave the shot much more contrast and vibrance. Shadows can be brought u...

Attaching a lens hood gave the shot much more contrast and vibrance. Shadows can be brought up in post-production, but if a picture is too washed-out, it can be much more difficult to fix.

When I first got into digital photography many years ago, I didn’t understand the point of lens hoods. I kept them on a shelf at home because they mostly just got in the way and made my camera take up a lot more space in my bag than it needed to.

Or so I thought.

The nice thing about lens hoods is that they are a low-tech solution to what can often be a fairly major problem. Once you start to see the benefits of having a hood on your lens, you won’t see them as a useless waste of space, but essential components of your camera kit.

Image: I always use my lens hoods for portraits. I never know when I will be shooting a backlit scen...

I always use my lens hoods for portraits. I never know when I will be shooting a backlit scene, and if it happens, it’s good to have the hood to shade the lens.

One thing I have realized over the years is that you need to be prepared to meet the demands of whatever situation you are photographing. Few things are more frustrating than realizing you messed up a picture because of something you could have easily solved with a little pre-planning.

Lens hoods can indeed be a little awkward. However, it’s better to have one on your lens than realize afterward that many shots appear hazy and poorly-lit because you didn’t shade your lens properly.

Image: Lens hoods are particularly useful when shooting into the sun.

Lens hoods are particularly useful when shooting into the sun.

Additional benefits

Aside from protecting your pictures from harsh light, lens hoods can physically protect your camera gear too. This is one of the reasons I leave mine on at all times since I often bump and bang my camera. Having a hood protruding from your lens means it will absorb the brunt of most impacts.

If it does get broken, it’s far cheaper to replace than your lens.

Image: After years of use, my lens hoods are full of scratches and scuffs. I’d rather have the...

After years of use, my lens hoods are full of scratches and scuffs. I’d rather have these easily-replaceable plastic parts bear the brunt of any impacts instead of my actual camera lenses!

I try to be careful with my camera gear and I don’t intentionally abuse it, and I think the same is true of most photographers. But despite my best efforts, accidents certainly can happen. In the normal course of a photoshoot, my camera gets picked up, set down, bounced around, tossed into a bag, put in the trunk of my car, used, and maybe even abused just a little.

A protruding plastic ring isn’t going to save my camera if it gets run over by a dump truck, but it has helped avoid countless bumps and bruises over the years. Is it inconvenient to have the hood always sticking out of my lens? A little, but it’s a lot less inconvenient than having to buy new gear!

Image: I had to follow this cat for a little while and practically lay flat on the ground, to get th...

I had to follow this cat for a little while and practically lay flat on the ground, to get this shot. Having a hood on my zoom lens was a little extra peace of mind knowing that it wasn’t going to get scratched or dinged in the process.

If you do feel like your lens hood is a little too much to deal with, most of them have a simple solution. Reverse the hood and screw it on your lens backward. This might cover some of the knobs and switches on your lens, but it will keep the hood handy while simultaneously storing it in a convenient and easy-to-access location.

Image: You can attach most lens hoods backward for easy storage. This helps protect the barrel of yo...

You can attach most lens hoods backward for easy storage. This helps protect the barrel of your lens but can leave some controls covered up.

Drawbacks

There are a couple things to note about lens hoods that could be a factor in helping you decide whether to use them. The first and most important issue involves vignetting. Some lenses, particularly wide-angle lenses, can result in photos with darker corners with the lens hood attached. This isn’t a huge issue and can often be fixed on your computer, especially if you shoot in RAW, but it is something to keep in mind.

Additionally, there’s no getting around the fact that the added length of a lens with a hood attached can be inconvenient. This is especially noticeable on telephoto lenses and it can be annoying if you’re not used to it.

My solution has been to treat the hood as a normal part of any lens in my kit. If it means I need to find a larger camera bag or be a little uncomfortable shooting in tight spaces, so be it. For me, the tradeoff is worth it, but your opinion might be different. Regardless, it is something to keep in mind.

Image: Hoods on telephoto lenses can stick out quite far, but I have just come to accept this as a n...

Hoods on telephoto lenses can stick out quite far, but I have just come to accept this as a normal part of my kit. I don’t see it as an inconvenience in the same way that I don’t treat a seat belt in my car as an inconvenience.

Conclusion

Despite a few downsides, lens hoods can be an important part of your camera collection. I recommend using one at all times, even if you’re not entirely sure you will need it. I have found myself in more than a few frustrating situations where I know I would have gotten the shot if only I had a lens hood. As such, I rarely take them off my lenses now.

What about you? Do you use lens hoods, or have you learned to live without them? What other advantages or disadvantages do they have that I might have missed? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.