In my early days:
When I started to shoot for the first time, I had many questions in my mind about this weird piece of plastic that was stuck on the front of lens. Initially, I thought it was only used to make us look cool as photographers, to let all the other people around us know that we mean serious business. (Surprisingly the lens hood did all the above things brilliantly!). However, on digging a little deeper, I found out there were many practical and important reasons for using the lens hood and it was NOT a fashion statement at all.
Here is all I came to know…
There are many types and shapes of lens hoods and all of them serve different purposes. However, you do not have to scratch your brains out to decide which one should you buy, as mostly every lens has a single lens hood that is shaped and optimized for it. In other words, there is only one unique lens hood for each lens.
Now let’s discuss the whys, whens and hows of the lens hood:
The primary function of the lens hood is to shade the lens from unwanted light that would otherwise fall on the lens and cause various problems such as lens flares and lower dynamic range. Have you ever noticed when you are trying to look a little away on a sunny day, you tend to squint your eyes a little and shade them with your hands so that you can see better? Lens hood performs the exact function as your hands and shades the front of the lens from unwanted light and glares. It helps your camera to ‘see’ better, specially in challenging light.
Blocking stray rays of light also helps you get better dynamic range in your photographs. As you know, the camera meters all the light that fall on the lens and depending on that decides what the “correct” exposure would be.
This happens specially while using semi-automatic or full automatic mode on your camera.
So, if these stray rays of light fall on your lens, they may mess up the exposure completely. Due to this, the photographs may appear washed out and unsaturated. They generally have visibly less dynamic range too.
Now you might be thinking, “Oh, so only during the day and under the sun, I should use the lens hood…”. The short answer is NOT EXACTLY. As the sun may not always be the only source of light when you are shooting, it is ideal and recommended that you use your lens hood as often as possible. A bright light bulb, a florescent tube, car headlights – all may cause problems for your photographs if you do not take proper care while shooting.
The humble lens hood performs few very good practical functions as well.
- It acts like a barrier for a host of things that may cause your lens to get dirty (e.g. grease fingerprints).
- It also protects it from physical bumps and scratches as the lens is now harder to get to, through the lens hood.
Other practical uses:
May God always protect you and all your camera gear but just think of a scenario when your camera accidentally slips out of your hands and lands on the floor, if by heaven’s grace the camera lands on the hood you may have just saved yourself from a very costly catastrophe. While shooting in close quarters like a concert or a large gathering of people, the lens hood offers substantial protection for the lens from accidental direct physical bumps and scratches.
I have noticed many sports photographers and photojournalists use just the lens hood by itself (and not the lens cap) when they keep their cameras in the bags. This actually saves a lot of time, especially when you may miss a crucial shot if you are a micro second late. They can just take the camera out and shoot, right away. The lens hood protects the front element of the lens inside the bag and therefore the lens cap can be done away with.
These are very helpful when shooting on a regular basis; especially when you think that all this is achieved by a single piece of plastic that is free and probably came with your lens and all you have to do is just put it on and forget about it.
When NOT to use a lens hood:
Okay now that I have advocated for the use of lens hood nearly all the time; there are a few exceptions when you may not want to use your lens hood.
- When shooting with a on-camera (specially pop-up) flash :
Pop-up flashes are located barely an inch above the head of the camera. So they may not always be able to disperse light properly with the lens hood on; even more so when the lens is particularly long. You may find a shadow on the lower part of the frame most of the time; (if shooting in landscape orientation) in case you do this. That is actually the shadow cast by the lens and the lens hood. An easy work around would be to take off the lens hood and use a smaller lens; or to find another light source for your subject so that you no longer have to use the on-camera flash or use off-camera flash with a trigger.
- When you want to shoot inconspicuously and be as invisible as possible:
Lens hoods are large and easily visible from a distance. People are going to notice you if you use them while shooting say street photographs or candid weeding shots. Not using the lens hood in these circumstances may be a better idea.
Shape and Sizes:
Lens hoods come is various shapes and sizes. The shape is largely dependent on the focal length of the lens. Generally as wider lenses cover a larger field of view; the lens hood has to be such that it doesn’t show up on the frame but can still protect the lens from any stray ray of light. The most widely used shape for wider lenses are petal shaped. This shape is the most optimum compromise; so that the hood can perform all the above-mentioned functions and can still keep out of the frame. If you experience vignettes on your wider lenses even when you use the proper lens hood; you have probably attached it wrong. Reattach the hood again rotating it 90 degrees and you should be fine.
Longer lenses tend to have lens hoods that are shaped like a tube. As longer lenses have a narrower field of view; the lens hood can be a little more covering than wider lenses.
That is all there is for lens hood shapes. It is NOT a fashion statement and the hoods ARE shaped in a particular way for a given purpose and not just to make your camera look beautiful.
When not in use, you may store your lens hoods by just reversing them on the lens itself. However please do not shoot with the lens hood reverse; it would do nothing but cause problems by blocking the focusing ring or making it difficult to hold on to the lens itself. Plus it looks really retarded! Please DON’T.
An easy way to store lens hoods would be to gather all the lens hoods that you have and pile them together. Take the largest one you have and place the second largest one inside it; repeat this process and in the end, just tie them together with a thread and store them safely in your camera bag. The hoods will now take up considerably less space and life would be so much easier for you.
Lens hoods are just a piece of plastic but they perform a heck lot of functions. (Wouldn’t you agree now?). You do not even have to buy the authentic lens hood from the original manufacturer. A third party Chinese hood also would work just fine as long as you buy the right size.
Okay time to go out and shoot. Let me know how you used your lens hood this time.