The main function of a lens hood, also known as a lens shade, is to block glare or lens flare and protects the glass from damage.
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2019. It’s been freshened up with new pictures and commentary on January 7, 2020.
Table of contents
The purpose of a lens hood
In photography, a lens hood which is also called a lens shade serves two purposes, to protect the glass from damage and block lens flare.
It protects your lens from damage because it attaches to the end and replaces the glass as the first point of contact if you were to drop it. This is beneficial for shooting outdoor photos because there are many things that can potentially scratch or damage the glass.
The other purpose is to prevent or reduce the amount of glare that’s caused by the sun or another light source.
Lens flare or glare occurs when a light source outside of the image light and angle of view enters the lens. Here’s how it’s made:
The stray light outside of the angle of view is what causes lens flare. The following is an example of lens flare:
As you can see from the photo above, glare the contrast and generally creates an undesired effect. On the flip side, glare can be used intentionally and artistically.
When you use it, make sure it enhances the photo and serves a purpose.
The benefit of using a lens hood is that it blocks or reduces the amount of stray light that reaches your lens. Therefore, you’ll have a deeper contrast and saturation in your images.
Petal vs. round
There are two types of lens hoods: Cylindrical and Petal (Tulip). While they help block and reduce unwanted light, they aren’t perfect.
In some cases, you won’t be able to get rid of all stray light but they do make a difference.
A Cylindrical (round) lens hood works well because they completely block stray light. These are often used with a prime or telephoto lens.
Petal (Tulip) lens hoods are shorter and have curved ends. The shorter length is beneficial when using a wide-angle lens because it won’t block your frame.
Frequently asked questions
To protect your lens from damage, use it at all times. Regarding glare, use it when you’re photographing outdoors with bright light or reflections and in the city where there are many light sources.
Don’t use a lens hood if you want glare for artistic purposes or if it’s visible in your photo.
Some lenses come with a lens hood. If yours doesn’t or you want to purchase another one, you can expect to pay between $10 to $50.You can find popular lens hoods on Adorama that are right around that price range.
Technically, you can but you shouldn’t. It’s reversed as an easy way to store and transport it but shooting with it like that will defeat the purpose. Not only is there no benefit of using it this way because it won’t block any light but it’ll also make you look like you don’t know how to use it.
Other ways to block light
Aside from using a lens hood, here are other ways to block stray light:
1. Use Your Hands. Placing your hands on the sides of your lens can mimic the effect of a lens hood. You can angle your hands in different ways depending on the direction of light.
2. Composition. If you notice that you’re getting a lot of glare in a certain frame, change the composition. Figure out what’s causing the glare and shoot from a different angle or move around to see where you can get the best photo.
3. Use Paper. This method is similar to using your hands but you can hold or tape paper on your lens to block stray light. This is the best option if you don’t want to purchase a proper lens hood.
4. Lens Filter. UV, ND (neutral density) and polarizing lens filters have a coating that reduces reflections. Using one can reduce flare and retain contrast in the image.
A lens hood is an affordable camera lens accessory that protects your lens from damage and blocks unwanted light from the image. Unless you want lens flare in your photo, using one can help you capture great photos.
Featured photo courtesy of Unsplash.