When to Use a Lens Hood to Improve Your Shots

lens hood is a camera lens accessory that is often overlooked by beginners and even by some seasoned shooters. Many think it’s just there to make you and your gear look more professional, but this mere piece of plastic or metal that attaches to the front of your lens can make a huge difference in the quality of your images.

This article will hopefully help beginners understand lens hoods better and shed some light (pun unintended) on how lens hoods are meant to be used to improve one’s photography.

What is a Lens Hood For?

So what is the purpose of a lens hood?

There are actually several reasons why you should use one, particularly when shooting outdoors or in any shooting situation where you will be working with strong light sources. Since photography essentially involves chasing light, there are many instances when a lens hood could be useful.

But for you to really understand their value, find out how a lens hood can work for you once it is properly attached to your lens:

It Blocks Unwanted Light

The main purpose of a hood is to block or reduce the amount of lens flare and glare in your photos by acting like a visor for your lens. Flare and glare are types of scattered light that hit your lens from an angle (outside the frame) and makes it hard to see, like when you step out in bright light. This is more likely to happen if you’re using a low-quality filter or an old one that doesn’t have advanced anti-glare coatings.

While lens flares can serve as interesting elements in a photo, they can be distracting, especially when they end up covering your subject or most of your scene. Even when you intend to add flares, too much of it can make your image look amateurish, which is why many professionals recommend avoiding them in general with the use of a lens hood.

It Adds Image Contrast

When lens flares and strong glares hit your lens, they essentially block your view. They wash out your image and potentially even produce discolorations, thus reducing contrast and overall image quality.

With lens hoods, you can keep stray light from entering the lens and ensure that it gets a good, clear view of a scene. You can test this yourself, but make sure you use the same exposure settings in your comparison images.

It Helps Protect the Lens

An added benefit of using a lens hood is that it serves as an added layer of protection for the front lens element. Many photographers settle for a UV filter or even a lens cap to protect the external lens, but the external placement and material of lens hoods make them a better shield against accidental impacts, scratches, fingerprints, and even falling snow and debris when shooting in harsh weather conditions.

While there’s no assurance that a lens hood could keep your lens safe when you drop it, there’s still a pretty good chance that the hood will absorb most of the impact. Any shooter would rather have a cracked lens hood than a cracked front glass element, which is why many professionals would suggest that you keep it on even when you’re not worried about unwanted light.

Types of Lens Hoods

Lens hoods don’t vary wildly. They simply come in two different shapes: a cylindrical shape and a petal shape.

Cylindrical Lens Hoods

Cylindrical lens hoods generally work well in blocking stray light and protecting your lens. They often come with (or are bought for) prime or telephoto lenses. Although they are usually long, there’s very little risk of the hood showing up in your frame since the field of view becomes smaller when you start using longer focal lengths. You’ll also find rubber lens hoods that are cylindrical in shape and can be flattened towards the base when not in use.

Petal Lens Hoods

Petal (or tulip) lens hoods are uniquely designed to be shorter and have curved notches that strategically block out light while maximizing the frame size offered by wide angle lenses and full-frame camera sensors. It typically has four petals and will need to be rotated correctly so they don’t end up in your frame.

Fortunately, there’s no need to worry about which type or style of lens hood to buy. There is usually just one hood for each lens—each optimized for use with the lens’ focal range—so you can easily ask or research about the appropriate lens hood shape for your lens.  

When to Use a Lens Hood

You can use a lens hood at any time of the day and in most shooting situations. But if you must choose, remember to have them on when:

  • Your subject is backlit
  • You’re shooting into or near strong sources of light
  • You’re using an off-camera flash or any bright, off-camera light source that creates a lens flare
  • You’re shooting at night near street lamps, cars with their lights on, buildings, etc.
  • You’re doing a long shoot and there’s no time to store or put on a protective lens cap

Bottomline is, you may want to keep your lens hood mounted on your camera at all times, unless you need to save space in your camera bag and store your hoods elsewhere.

How to Use a Lens Hood

Lens hoods attach directly to the front of your lens. Simply screw it on until it’s mounted securely before shooting. When not in use, most lens hoods can be removed or mounted in reverse in order to save space.

Some photographers take all the hoods off the lenses that they’re carrying, stack them on top of each other, and store them like a long wide lens. Threading the camera strap through stacked hoods and securing them outside the camera bag also helps you clear up bag space.

Just make sure you don’t shoot with the hood in reverse. Not only will it make you look like an complete amateur, but you also won’t get to benefit from it and it might even cover part of your focus or zoom rings.

When Not to Use Lens Hoods

Despite all the reasons why you should keep a lens hood on, there are a few times when you may need to take it off. Here are a couple of those situations:

You want a flare effect

Flares and glares can help produce more creative images. In fact, it’s very similar to that “filtered” effect that many are trying to achieve with photo editing programs and applications. If this is what you’re trying to achieve, then go ahead and shoot hood-less!

The lens hood shows in your photos

It’s still possible for you to capture the lens hood in your photo even if you’re using one that’s specifically made for the lens that you’re using. This is commonly the case when you’re using a full frame camera with a lens that is meant for smaller sensor cameras. Some lens hoods for wide-angle lenses will also show up at the widest focal length and create a black vignette around your image.

So when you see it blocking your frame, just remove them. It only takes a few seconds, anyway.

You can’t attach a lens hood

There may be times when you have to use certain filters or accessories (like a ring light) on your lens, which don’t have the right screw mounting feature for lens hoods. If the accessory is crucial for the photo that you’re trying to achieve, then just go without the hood. You can always try blocking the light manually with your free hand or a piece of black card, or stand next to a anything that can provide shade for your lens.

The lens hood blocks your built-in flash

When using your camera’s built-in flash, there’s a possibility that the lens hood will create a shadow on your subject. In this case, just remove the hood—or use an external flash that doesn’t have to be positioned too closely to your lens and hood.

You want to shoot more discreetly

When you’re using very long lenses, lens hoods can attract a lot of unwanted attention. It can be counterproductive if you want to shoot candids out on the street, at an event, or at family gatherings. Journalists and street photographers blend into the crowd better with smaller cameras and prime lenses — without lens hoods.

The lens hood is catching in the wind

Finally, if you’re shooting where it’s very windy, it’s possible for your lens hood to catch the wind and cause the camera to shake, resulting in blurry images. Don’t make the mistake of using a lens hood when you’re using a telephoto lens (even when it’s on a tripod as the entire thing can go out of balance) or when you’re shooting from an airplane or helicopter.

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