All sorts of photographic accessories are vying for our attention. And for our dollars. From remote flash controllers to variable neutral density filters, we can fill up our camera bags and empty our wallets. Some accessories are valuable beyond their actual cost.
Lens hoods fall into that category. Many of my own lenses come with their own lens hoods. Other lens hoods I added to my gear after market. What makes a lens hood such a valuable accessory in the first place?
5 Reasons Why You Should Be Using a Lens Hood
1. They Block Light
The main reason many photographers like to use a lens hood is to block extraneous light from striking the front of the lens element. Light from outside the image area hitting the lens element tends to cause lens flare. Unless we’re trying to imitate J.J. Abrams, most of us like to avoid lens flare.
There I go picking on famous directors again. Seriously, though, lens flare can ruin an otherwise fine picture. I used to think I was being very creative, adding lens flare on purpose. The truth is, when I look back at some of my earlier images, I cringe a little.
What exactly is lens flare? A lens focuses rays of light from area to an image sensor or film frame. Light sources that aren’t actually in the image area can strike the surface of a lens element and find their way into the image by means of reflection and refraction.
Lens flare can look like a beam of light or it can appear as a blob of bright color in the shape of the iris opening of the lens aperture. Except in certain artsy types of images, lens flare tends to degrade an image. Besides the light artifact itself, it also lowers contrast and adds dust scattering highlights.
2. They Protect the Lens
Especially so do rigid lens hoods add a layer of protection, but even a soft rubber collapsible lens hood help cushion a lens from bumps and bruises. Well, scratches more than bruises. A hood extends beyond the edge of the front element, making it harder for something to harm the glass.
A lot of photographers will use a filter, such as a UV filter or a skylight filter, as a layer of lens protection. Other photographers are adamant that nothing should be in the light path of their precious premium optics. No sub standard piece of glass will sully their images.
A lens hood has no such issues, since a hood shouldn’t be in the image area at all. Lens hoods are made in various depths depending on the angle of view of the lens. A telephoto lens has a narrow angle of view, so a lens hood can be fairly deep without intruding into the field of view.
A wider angle lens would require a shallow depth so as not to interfere with the image frame. To counter that issue, petal types of hoods are used. That’s what looks so odd to some people, with the top and bottom of the hood sticking out further than the sides, matching up to the dimensions of the film frame or sensor size.
Even a soft, collapsible rubber hood offers a measure of protection to a lens. A rubber hood also cushions the front of a lens rather well. A rubber lens has another good use.
3. Eliminate Glass Reflections
I’m not talking about removing reflections from a glass surface, for that we would use a polarizing filter. What I’m talking about is shooting through a piece of glass like at a zoo or a museum.
Here’s how it works: Shooting through glass is difficult due to the reflections, including a reflection of the camera itself. Using a rubber hood, place the camera right up on the glass. That will keep the light from glancing off the glass, reflecting into the image.
A rigid hood could possibly work, too. Provided the light isn’t coming from a direction that gets by the short part of the petals. If it’s not a petal style hood, a rigid hood could block light well enough, but you would be limited to shooting pretty much straight on.
With a rubber hood, since it’s flexible, you have a range of movement available to you, even if it is somewhat limited. A built in lens hood can work for this method, too.
4. Keeps the Lens Clean
Just like with reason 2, protecting from damage, a lens hood will be an effective barrier for our fingers. Other things that can get on a lens in use might be splashing water, a bubbling pot we’re using to illustrate a recipe blog post, or even rain.
I find that when my lens has a hood on it, especially a rigid hood, I am more conscious of the where the front of my lens is. Because of that, I am less likely to accidentally touch the front of my lens.
Another way we keep our lens clean is during misty weather, or in blowing sand, or when out in the rain. We can put our camera inside a protective weather proof or weather resistant bag, and use the lens hood as the last part of our protective foul weather gear.
5. Crumple Zone for Droppage
Let’s face it. Accidents do happen. One of the worst accidents that can happen to a photographer is dropping our camera rig.
Just like newer cars are designed with a crumple zone, protecting the occupants of the vehicle by sacrificing an exterior zone, a lens hood can absorb the force of impact from a fall or drop. What would you rather do, replace an inexpensive piece of plastic or send in a lens or camera (or both) to repair impact damage.
A lens hood is one of the best accessories any photographer can have.
A hood is an inexpensive way to enhance our imaging and protect our gear. I never leave for a photographic excursion without checking my memory cards, my battery charge, and attaching my lens hoods. On more than one occasion, a lens hood has saved me from sort of photographic problem.
If you want to learn more about lens hoods, you can check out my guide on the best lens hoods for Canon lenses here.