A lens hood is a small accessory that is often overlooked, but it can make a huge impact on the quality of your photographs when used properly. This guide will help you understand what a lens hood is for, go over the different types, and describe when — and when not — to use one.

lens with lens hood
Photo by slon_dot_pics from Pexels

What is a lens hood for?

Many photographers mistakenly believe that a lens hood is merely there to make the camera look more professional. While that is a bonus of using one, they are about much more than looks! They serve a few purposes:

To minimize flare: Much like a visor works for shading bright light so your eyes can see better, the main purpose of using a lens hood is to block unwanted light from entering your lens, thereby reducing the amount of lens flare and glare that shows up in your image. While you might like to have some amount of lens flare for artistic purposes, too much of it can be distracting.

lens flare
Photo by JINGYU ZHANG on Unsplash

To add contrast: Hoods improve your images’ overall contrast because they reduce the amount of stray light entering your lens. So, even if you don’t notice a strong glare with your naked eye, be assured that a lens with a hood will still produce images with better color and contrast than a lens without one. Test this theory yourself by shooting the same scene with and without a hood, just be sure to keep your exposure settings exactly the same and then compare the two photos side by side.

To protect your lens: Aside from the benefits to your image quality, an added benefit of using a lens hood is that it will protect the front of your lens from bumps and scratches. If you’re shooting in weather, it will protect your glass from rain and snow.

Different types

They can be metal, plastic, or even rubber. There are two different shapes of lens hoods — cylindrical and tulip hoods:

  • Cylindrical: Otherwise known as round hoods, cylindrical lens hoods are typically meant for prime (fixed focal length) lenses and telephoto lenses. They are made to a particular length so that they won’t be seen through the lens when taking a photo.
  • Tulip: Also called petal hoods, they are uniquely designed to be shorter and have the corners cut away to strategically block the light while remaining out of the frame. They are designed for zoom lenses and wide-angle lenses.

What hood do I get for my lens?

Lens hoods are not “one size fits all.” But, it’s not too difficult to find one that will fit the lens you’re shopping for because there is typically only one hood that will fit each lens, so you’ll just need to research which one to buy. Most high-end lenses will already come with the proper fitting hood.

When to use a lens hood

Some photographers leave their lens hoods on their cameras at all times, which is fine. But you should at least use yours under certain shooting conditions such as these:

  • If you’re shooting near a strong light source, such as an off-camera flash, that might cause a lens flare.
  • When your subject is backlit or you are shooting into the sun or a strong source of light
  • If you’re shooting at night near a light source like a street lamp.
  • Any time you might want to protect your lens, such as when shooting animals up close or photographing in inclement weather.
lens hood on a camera shooting into the sun
Photo by Raul Hender on Unsplash

When not to use one

Despite all the great reasons to leave a lens hood on your camera, there are times when you’ll want to take it off:

  • If you want to achieve a lens flare for artistic purposes.
  • When the hood shows in your photo, such as when you’re shooting with a full-frame camera but using a lens intended for crop-sensor cameras or when using an ultra wide-angle lens at its widest setting.
  • If you’re trying to be discreet. The hood can add several inches to the front of your camera, so many street photographers and photojournalists remove them. This will draw less attention to their gear.
  • When you’re using certain filters or ring lights that block you from attaching your lens hood.
  • When the hood blocks your built-in flash.

Final thoughts

As you can tell from this guide, your lens hood is much more than just a good-looking accessory! Start using it regularly, and you’ll not only protect your gear, but you’ll find that the quality of your images is improved, too.