What is the purpose of a lens hood?

Have you ever wondered what does a lens hood do or what is the purpose of a lens hood? I’ve seen so many photographers using their cameras without using lens hoods and I don’t understand why, because a lens hood is essential and they’re very cheap. So I’m answering all the questions you may have about lens hoods to encourage you to start using yours.

When you buy a lens most of the time a lens hood comes with it, but if you didn’t receive a lens hood with your lens, read on to find out what type of lens hood you should get.

But before we get to that, we’ll answer these questions:

  • What is the purpose of a lens hood?
  • Why do you need a lens hood?
  • What does a lens hood do?

Woman at a lake backlit from the sun

A perfect example of when a lens hood is a huge help!

By the end of this post you’ll understand why you really need one …PLUS the one time it’s actually better not to use a lens hood.

Then we’ll look at:

  • Types of lens hoods
  • Which lens hood is better
  • How to store a lens hood

PS:  This post contains affiliate links. Buying something through one of the links won’t cost you anything extra, but we may get a small commission.

What is the purpose a lens hood?

There are just two reasons why you need a lens hood:

  1. To prevent light hitting the front of your lens
  2. To protect your lens

Only two reasons, but let’s find out why they’re important…

1. A lens hood prevents light hitting the front of your lens

Putting a lens hood on a lens is the same as raising your hand to shield your eyes from the sun. Because the sun is no longer hitting your eyes, you can see better.

Well, with a lens hood, because the sun is no longer hitting the front of your lens:

I know lens flare photography is really popular at the moment, but not all lens flare works and you don’t always want it. Sometimes lens flare just washes out a photo and trying to fix a cloudy photo with the wrong kind of lens flare is time consuming, so best avoided.

Besides, if a washed out photo is not the look you want, using a lens hood is the best way to avoid it.

Woman in early morning with lens flare from light hitting the lens

In this instance the lens flare works to highlight the early morning light and feeling of dawn. You can see the two small circles of light to the left of the image. This was taken with a lens hood attached and just a touch of light hitting the front of the lens. Without one the excessive light on the lens would have ruined the shot.

2. A lens hood will protect your lens

This is the less obvious reason for why you need a lens hood, but it’s the reason that I always always always use a lens hood. It protects my lens from:

  • Rain drops
  • Finger marks
  • Bumps and scratches

In fact, using a lens hood such a habit that I wouldn’t consider lifting my camera to my eye without it, even if the sun was behind me with no possibility of it hitting the front of my lens.

In my more dappy moments I’ve been known to fit my lens hood, but forget to take the lens cap off!

Rain on the lens

I’m not talking about wash-you-away torrential downpours, but if you’re out with your camera in light rain the lens hood will prevent rain from hitting the front of your lens and messing up your photos.

More importantly it’s essential if you fit a raincoat over your camera and lens, because then only the lens hood will protrude from the cover and your lens will be completely protected from the elements.

I live in a rainy place, so consider a camera raincoat one of my 5 essential camera accessories.

Finger marks on the lens

I can’t count the number of times my lens hoods have saved my lenses from sticky little fingers that suddenly reach out for my lens during a family shoot!

Sometimes little ones run up to me during a photo shoot and don’t stop until they’re really close, then reach for my lens. Finger prints are not a big deal, but I’d have to stop photographing and clean my lens before continuing, which would break the moment.

Bumps and scratches to the lens

For me a really good purpose of a lens hood is when I’m not concentrating on what I’m doing and accidentally bump my lens into something when photographing.

Even worse is when I let my camera hang from my neck without holding onto it, because I need to use both hands for something, and lean forward. The camera swings forward and could hit something, like maybe a table or a chair.

With the lens hood attached, the lens is more protected from potential scratches.

This makes me sound quite careless, but I’m actually ridiculously careful with my stuff. However, when shoots get busy these things do sometimes happen, so it’s better to be protected.

Many photographers argue that if you drop a lens, with lens hood fitted, the front of the lens would be protected from damage. This is true, but not always, because of course it depends on the quality of the lens you dropped, plus the height from which you dropped it.

Whatever the case, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to spend a tiny amount on a lens hood to protect your investment.

When not to use a lens hood

With all that said you’d think there would never be a time when the lens hood should come off, but there is one.

The only time a lens hood isn’t a good idea is when you’re using a flash on your camera, especially with a long lens. The lens gets in the way of the light and you end up with a shadow at the bottom of your image.

Types of lens hoods

There are different types of lens hoods – some look like tubes and others have wavy sides. The really good reason for different types of lens hoods has nothing to do with personal preference or looking fancy.

1. Petal lens hoods

These lens hoods have wavy sides and are for the wider angled lenses and zoom lenses. Both my 24 – 70mm lens and my 70 – 200mm lens have a petal lens hoods.

The reason is that when you use the wider angles, because the sides of the lens hood have been cut away, they don’t appear in shot.

Nikon 70-200mm lens with lens hood

Above is my 70-200mm Nikon lens and below my 24-70mm Nikon lens. You can see that the lens hoods differ slightly between lenses. They both have wavy sides, however, and are examples of petal lens hoods.

Nikon 24-70mm lens with lens hood

2. Cylindrical lens hoods

These are suited to longer focal length lenses.

They’re a solid tube shape, so the sides aren’t wavy, and the front of the lens is well protected from the sun.

You’d think that if they’re that good why not just have cylindrical lens hoods? If you were to use a cylindrical lens hood at a wide angle you’d have black corners on your shots as the lens hood would be in shot.

What lens hood should I buy?

Sometimes you have to replace or purchase a lens hood separately from a lens.

I don’t know why, but not every manufacturer supplies a lens hood with every lens they sell. They’re essential in my book, so should be supplied with every lens, just like a lens cap is supplied with every lens.

If you don’t have lens hoods for each of your lenses, I strongly recommend you buy some. It’s not complicated though as there’s only one style of lens hood for each lens. Also, they don’t cost much, but can save you a fortune in damage.

There are, however, more expensive and cheaper versions. You don’t have to buy the more expensive branded lens hoods. I prefer them as they’re guaranteed to fit smoothly, but the cheaper versions are also okay.

Look for lens hoods to buy for your specific lens and then choose either a branded or non branded version. There are many options for each type of lens hood. Make sure you search for a lens hood for your type of lens, e.g. “lens hood for Canon 18 55mm”, to see your options.

As you can see, there’s not a lot of difference between branded and unbranded – here’s a branded lens hood for Nikon 24-70mm lens or you can get this unbranded lens hood at half the price.

Storing a lens hood

A lens hood won’t take up much space in your camera bag, because to pack it, reverse fit it onto your lens. When you take your camera out of your bag, you just take the lens hood off, turn it around, fit it back on and you’re good to go.

Nice and easy.

Nikon 70-200mm lens with lens hood stored

Both lenses with lens hoods stored for packing in my camera bag without taking up much extra space.

Nikon 24-70mm lens with lens hood stored

Leave a comment

If you have any questions about the purpose of a lens hood, let us know in the comments.

Also, I love good news, so if my lens hood tips have helped you to understand what a lens hood is for, share that too.

4 thoughts on “What is the purpose of a lens hood?”

    • Hi Greg
      As long as all you want the lens hood to do is shield the lens from the light, a rubber one will be fine. A solid plastic one, however, will protect it more from bangs if you’re careless (or distracted) when using your camera.

      Reply
  1. I know none of us ever wants to think of dropping a lens or camera but if the impact could misalign the lenses wouldn’t the lens hood amplify that impact being larger diameter and attached to the front of the lens?
    Thanks for the article, it’s very helpful. (I am always getting smudges on my lenses.)

    Reply
    • Hi Luke

      I imagine that with enough impact all kinds of damage can be done that you can’t immediately see, even with high end lenses that are made to withstand every day commercial use.

      Reply

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