What are lens hoods really for and how do you use them?

Feb 21, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

What are lens hoods really for and how do you use them?

Feb 21, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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If you listen to folks on Facebook, you might think that lens hoods are designed as some form of mystical lens protection. They’re often touted as the alternative to UV filters as a way to defend your lens against the evils of the world that might otherwise turn it to glass dust.

But, no, their primary function is actually to flag stray light from entering into your lens and causing flare. In this video from Adorama TV, photographer David Bergman talks about lens hoods, when you might want to use one and when you might not.

YouTube video

As mentioned, light sources hitting the front of the lens can cause flare. Even if they’re not in the shot, they can hit that front element, bounce around inside, and then you get those bright spots. It can even wash out your entire image and reduce contrast. Great if you want to use it for creative purposes, and by all means discard the hood in those instances. But otherwise, it’s best to keep it on and avoid the flare.

Do note, though, that when the light source is directly in the shot, as it is in the image at the very top of this post, a hood isn’t going to help you. There’s no point having lens hoods that actually appear in the shot. And if the hood isn’t in the shot it’s not going to block the light. So, you get flaring. Hoods are to prevent flare from lights hitting your lens element from outside of the frame.

Ok, yes, lens hoods may help also a little with protection from scratches, and it’s rarely a bad idea to keep one on your lens, unless you have a reason to take it off. But, they’re not going to prevent your lens from being destroyed. And it’s never been a thought I’ve entertained when choosing when to use or not use one.

For me, it’s always about flare control and preventing flare from happening. But, if it makes you feel better, sure, your lens will become invincible.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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5 responses to “What are lens hoods really for and how do you use them?”

  1. Johny Krahbichler Avatar
    Johny Krahbichler

    They’re most commonly used to make your lens look more expensive from a distance

  2. Robert Guimont Avatar
    Robert Guimont

    As a bonus, they’re sometimes protect you lens from damage.

  3. Marco Pinto Valerio Avatar
    Marco Pinto Valerio

    But I like flares

  4. David Fiorito Avatar
    David Fiorito

    The only time I don’t use a lens hood is when the camera has no means to attach one.

  5. Coalfire Avatar
    Coalfire

    Walking around a city with a hoodless camera, I find the lens gets very dirty very quickly. With a hood, I can give it a few blasts of air every morning and it’s clean. No more fuss.